By Rocky Wahengbam
“With our days and nights increasingly stretched across the vastness of megacities, we’ve turned to these smart little gadgets to keep it all synchronized. It’s no accident that the most common text message, sent billions of times a year all over the world, is ‘where r u?’”- Anthony M. Townsend
The above statement is quite reflective of the society we live in wherein everyone has a mobile phone even if one doesn’t have access to clean drinking water or health care. The 375 million internet and 960 million mobile phones users in India can be a driving force for a radical change on how economic system should be running with the world’s new economic order of fast and door-step service delivery. Few months ago, I came all the way from Bishnupur to Keishampat to submit a scholarship form online by the name Ishan Udhay for my sister, for there was no good broad band internet connection in entire Bishnupur district. The cyber cafes were non-functional and the CIC (Community Information Centres) were closed. I had to skip my lunch to finish the work for the next day is the deadline for submission. It took me a long time to finish the task because of the crowding in the server of the UGC site and the poor broad band connection at Imphal. After that, I came out of the cyber café to search for a public toilet. I had to run from one shopkeeper to another to ask if there was a public toilet at Keishampat (a place at the heart of Imphal City). To my utter surprise, there was none. I had to catch an auto to go to Nagamapal beside the Ima market just to attend to my nature’s call. I happily paid whatever they had asked me, for providing me a service which I was in dire need. On that day, I realized the reality of Imphal in being a City that we live in wherein basic infrastructures development should start from the scratch in every sphere.
To such a City, where local talents and entrepreneurs cannot establish their own BPO service centres due to slow internet connectivity and had to migrate to Bangalore for such endeavors, proposing an Innovative plan for a smart city is a challenging task. Smart City according to people of Imphal, is not about automatic waste management system or automatic street lighting system or even, Ultrasonic sensors to detect leakage in the water pipelines. It is also not about distributing computer simulated bracelets to wear around our wrists to monitor our sleep cycle or siren us if anyone breaks through the gate /garage as done in smart cities like Barcelona. For Imphal, a smart city would be a humble start by providing all basic amenities that an urban population would need, by putting all the necessary basic infrastructures in place.
Smart Imphal City of my dreams would require a comprehensive development of basic physical, social, institutional and economic infrastructures. All of these would be important in improving the quality of life and attracting tourists and investments to set in motion a virtuous cycle of growth and development. It doesn’t mean that I will see this city of my dreams over-night, I wish to set it as a long term goal through incremental infrastructure development and capacity building processes, adding layers of smartness step by step.
Though this smart city plan was built as a solution to urban congestion, Imphal will need to prioritize its task according to its local needs. The need for a master plan to make the city plan replicable to other cities is inevitable. To monitor these entire Pan City program, the SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) will need a Central Command and Control Centre. This Command centre can be executed under the Digital India e-governance plan. A public Information portal website or a mobile app will help in spreading information to the public at a faster pace. This Centre should work in co-ordination with the DIPR and the NIC. A Public grievance redressal portal will also help in updating the real-time issues of the citizens. Electronic Service delivery such electronic FIR registration, e- birth certificates, e – caste certificates, e –domicile certificates, payment of taxes, job application and passport facilities should incorporate in such plan. All these can enormously increase citizen engagement with the Govt. A crime reporting and monitoring system put in place along with CCTV camera installation in sensitive areas can be a helpful tool to fight nuisance and crimes and also increase the response time of the police. Simple GPS installation in Manipur Police vans recently did wonders in coordinating, to tackle a crime and track the police on duty from a Central system, in case of any aberration. This Central Command system can also look into the ‘necessary updates’ of govt. department websites for efficient citizen service delivery. This portal can also incorporate dedicated support system for the safety and security of citizens; particular women, children and the elderly. Basic services like the fire services and ambulance should be made accessible just one call away through this Central Command Centre. This Centre can be handy in cyber inspection of worksites too. Hence, implementation of a secure ICT Infrastructure, comprising wireless hotspots, wi-fi networks and fibre optic internet delivery at home, remains fundamental.
We cannot have a smart city without adequate clean drinking water. The need to lay pipelines to every household and supply clean and hygienic drinking water is beyond questionable. Future add-on can be optical fibres along these pipelines to check any leakage and smart metering system to avoid wastage and also installation of water quality monitoring software at water treatment plants. It may sound insignificant, but one drop per second leakage of water leads to a wastage of 10,233 litres per annum.
Regarding Solid waste management, one can look forward to converting those waste into other clean energy sources. The waste generated at market places and hospitals are the key concerns of the day. Most of the urban waste cannot be converted into Compost or dumped as landfills and therefore, augmentation of the Lamdeng Solid Waste Management Plant is the need of the hour to convert plastic and other electronic waste into electricity through the process of Pyrolysis or Incineration by bringing private players under the PPP model. Domestic waste can also be tackled through ‘polluters-pay’ formula. Regarding waste water treatment and sewage problems, the Sewage treatment plant at Lamphel needs to be rejuvenated as soon as possible.
In a Smart City, One cannot always expect the traffic police to act as traffic light. We need Traffic lights at major traffic points to manage the traffic through intelligent traffic management system using new technologies and softwares. These traffic lights should incorporate specific time for the pedestrians to cross the road. A Rapid Bus Transport system with real time updating of bus arrival through a mobile app can tremendously ease the traffic congestion. Imphal City should design bus routes to ensure multi-modal integration. A city-level Unified Transport Authority, backed through legislation, should facilitate coordinated planning and implementation of transport projects. We need an intelligent software to improve systems for vehicle location, collecting online fares, priority signalling for buses, and real-time bus information. Imphal should also set up Traffic Information Management Control Centres for effective enforcement and monitoring of traffic rules. A system of smart parking wherein each particular area is assigned for a particular type of vehicles will avoid clustering of all types of vehicles at the same place. A smart card payment system with a standardized rate of this bus rapid transport and parking, will do away with various middlemen with ambiguous transportation and parking fees. If this traffic system is coordinated with the central command centre of SPV, one can easily get the real-time information of any traffic jam through its app and plan one’s journey to avoid such traffic congestion. Above all, construction of pedestrian pathways for walking and cycling is a must.
In addition to this, Citizens should be sensitized for affordable housing through ‘Housing For All’ scheme, health and education. A smart city should provide digitized recognition of property titles, along with increasing transparency and registered brokers, cutting down long search times and high costs of acquiring real estate. A less cumbersome process of accessing land records through the Department of Registration would increase its use, while helping to show actual transaction prices. Further, land inventory needs to be mapped comprehensively, and be accessible to buyers. Construction of proper public sanitation system and infrastructures can be implemented by incorporating the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) scheme with the Smart City Plan. For a clean sustainable environment, the SPV can join hands with private NGOs and the local self government to go for smart sweeping during the night. Fund allocated through Swachh Bharat Abhiyan can be of great help in this. A person who goes for a early morning walk in the city has always been a victim of the dusts generated by urban sweepers. How good if such a night sweeping practice is implemented throughout the city? The SPV can also link up with the forest department and other NGOs to plant more trees and develop recreational parks for a cleaner and a sustainable environment. Dust generated in the city can also be reduced to a minimal level only when the urban construction sites are cordoned off using dust barrier fences. The need for a recreational park inside the Kangla can also be initiated under the National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY). Solar panel and LED street lighting can also be brought about through the PPP model as was done in Vishakhapatnam just after the Hudhud cyclone. Finally, the institutions should provide ambient environment through one time online file clearing system for the growth of economic and employment opportunities. In addition to retrofitting and redevelopment through area-based development, one should also look for a green field city development to meet the rising urban population.
Imphal- My dream smart city will be born, the day business transaction are done and other govt. services are delivered through the click of a button in the mobile phone and the government becomes accountable and transparent enough even before filing an RTI and smart citizens revolving their life around optimization of resources and minimization of wastage. It is a journey – not of bits and pieces- but of holistic approach amongst Government, Industry, Society and Technology. For all these, an assured revenue model should be worked for Public Private Partnership (PPP) by the SPV. The Urban Local bodies should also be financially empowered through financial devolution by the state government. Lastly, For a City to be smart, the basic prerogative is that the citizens have to be smart. Smart City is all about good governance and the government with the help of good administration, management and the use of new technology delivers services in a transparent, accountable and sustainable manner. For this, it not only requires smart technology, but also requires smart people with smart institutions which can optimally use these infrastructures for efficient and effective citizen service delivery.
The writer is a graduate from Hindu College, Delhi University and can be reached at rockywahengbam(at)gmail(dot)com