By Puyam Rakesh
Everybody hopes to be a smart person in one sense or another. Who will not like to be identified with a smart city? It can be a difficult attempt without making the inhabitants smart. The question of ownership arises because there is need for taking good care of our homesteads, playgrounds, parks, water bodies, soil, atmosphere and what not. When the inhabitants are not ready to live in such a city, the city will be anything but smart city. Similarly, there will be difficulties when we think of making the historic Imphal city a smart city without dutiful and responsible inhabitants.
The historicity of the city is fundamental in such a discourse. The name ‘Imphal’ is a corruption of the original term ‘Impham’ (Yumpham). But it is also called the ‘Laipham’ based on the belief that the earlier inhabitants were the divine beings called ‘Laiyam’. It can be described as the centre of human habitation flourishing in the valley and the surrounding hill areas. The hill ranges enclosing the fertile valley facilitate the evolution of a distinct socio-cultural system. To the eyes of a keen observer, the state is in totality a Laipham.
The philosophy of ‘Malem Pungmayol’ or ‘Malem Leimayol’ is deep-rooted in Manipur. It is the Manipuri counterpart of China’s ‘Middle Kingdom’ (Zhongguo). The earth (Malem Leikoipung) has a centre and it is believed that the centre (mayol) of the earth is Manipur. If the world is a flower (lei), Manipur is the leiyon. As a result, the terms Malem Pungmayol and Leimayol (leipak mayol) were developed. When? It is the place of procreating living beings including human beings. Again, it is believed that the land was the first place created by the creator and will be the last place to be destroyed (hanna semba konna loiba; houroipung). The best spiritual centre where the heaven (Nongthou/Aatinga) and earth (Malem/Leipak) meet is the Kangla Laiphamlen. Therefore, the city should reap the vital energy of such ancient teachings for the people of Manipur and beyond.
Imphal should become a global smart city. In few decades, the city will expand covering a large tract of the valley areas to develop a cosmopolitan city where peoples coming from India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and other interact. Building a smart city demands certain preparations. First, the inhabitants should stop learning the bad habits from others and learn good things from other places on earth. Secondly, the people of Manipur should start taking care of everything necessary and good for the state and beyond. The mentality of “everybody’s property is nobody’s property” should go. We need to think of the forest cover in the hills, health of the rivers and lakes. Where to throw our garbage and left-over? Is the Nambul River bank a good dumping site? The need of the hour is: smart thinking for smart living.
The traditional ingkhol surrounded by organic fence (sambal), leipal (earthen wall), wapal (bamboo grove) and khongbal (drainage) is a good example of layout. Some of our elders swept the bamboo grove to keep it clean. They did not let grass grow on the courtyards and the kitchen gardens were properly groomed. The fence of the homestead was attended regularly. Such example of yumlei-keirei has been replaced by modern day lifestyles. Growing vegetables in one’s garden is equated to downgraded life (chaokhattaba punshi). Buying vegetables with unknown proportion of pesticides and chemical fertiliser is modernity. The stinky neighbourhoods and polluted rivers cannot be parts of smart city. Our generation has forgotten how and where to dispose garbage and left-over things after so many years of education and global exposure. Nowadays, we interact with other fellow beings elsewhere and are constantly exposed to different societies. It seems we end up learning the worst of almost every society and are working hard to turn Manipur into a dumping site of stinky minds. We are not the only group to do so but we are doing much better than others in this field.
Being a smart city means looking smart and plus. It should not mean only some glittering high rises and modern infrastructures. We need to have smart thinkers who can keep the city grow smoothly for generations. Electricity department, PWD and forest department should coordinate well to avoid cutting trees in few years after plantation for road expansion or electric wiring purposes. A well-thought out model of Imphal city development requires good homework on our part. Every anti-people, anti-Manipur government will neglect the issue of electricity.
Manipur has to learn the land use policy of Singapore, Japan, Taiwan etc. Being an earthquake prone area, the city should take precautions to manage its disaster management system. Instead of encroaching into kitchen garden, brothers can think of double-storied or triple-storied buildings for dwelling while saving kitchen garden and other space for useful and productive purposes. But it comes with the danger of earthquake. Do we need earthquake resistant buildings? Most likely in near future, the government of Manipur will have to sponsor scholarship scheme for students and engineers to master the earthquake resistant engineering by sending some bright minds to countries like Japan, Taiwan and Germany.
A modern city is like an ever evolving organism. It has a life of its own. There will be decay and demise. The population of the city can be checked for proper management through development of twin cities around Imphal to control over population and breeding of slums. If not, the city will become a messy urban concrete jungle infested with urban beasts. Proper policing of such cities for protecting life, dignity and property of the residents and visitors need special attention. They should be trained only to help the people, not humiliate them. They must be outside the purview of the counter-insurgency ring.
For those old thinkers, they better learn the art of using Wi-Fi in the shade of bamboo grove. Under the tree one can get access to global information networks. Ukhongda Wakhongda Wi-Fi sijinnaba kaide. Modernisation and development should not mean cutting trees and bamboo groves to make place for concrete buildings or other man-made structures. Such a city should be a garden of man-made structures and organic contents of the space properly laid out for healthy and productive living.
In Manipur, the concept of Lawai is associated with paddy field, fish farms, wetlands, bamboo groves and open fields with some domesticated animals. On the other hand, Imphal is the mirror reflection of shopping centres, big markets, concrete buildings and heavy vehicular density on the roads. This contradiction remains a constant source of humiliation and public harassment. This very understanding is anti-development and it is the seed of unsustainable development. However, there is another definition. Lawai-Imphal lamna khaide meedugi machatna khaibani. In a smart city, the two concepts need to be integrated to create or preserve Lawai features. But it needs some modern touch and modification to give a global taste. That will boost tourism.
A healthy society cannot survive on poisoned vegetables, food grains, fish and other edible stuffs. The smart city should not destroy agricultural land areas, wetland areas and other water bodies. Rivers and streams should be kept clean to let fresh water fish varieties breed. The water bodies should be developed to reap the rain water for providing drinking water and for industrial use. A homestead where one can have a small fish pond, kitchen garden, bamboo grove and trees continues to be a model. For those who do not have the privilege to own such land, the best strategy is to get access to safe and healthy food materials. After all, health is wealth. That requires good relations between the so-called Imphal and so-called Lawai areas.
A healthy lifestyle is necessary. Healthy citizens can enhance productivity of the land. Air pollution, soil pollution, contamination, water pollution and deforestation affect the society. A city with a large percentage of used (second-hand) vehicles is against the definition of the smart city. Any definition of smart city cannot negate the deadly effects of dusty roads. Unsafe drinking water and airborne diseases (including dust problem) should be taken care of so that the city residents end up in offices as productive work force. Uphul waiphul chendaba lambi karamna semgani? Parks and sporting facilities should be developed for a healthy work force. Where will the government lead the people to? Work places to improve economy or hospitals?
Another important issue is that of electricity. We cannot do almost everything without electricity. Internet broadband service is necessary for informational connectivity and banking services. To put it simply, Manipur’s productivity will increase when the supply of electricity is improved. Human resource development will get major boost under a new situation where 15 hours regular power supply is available. As suggested by some experts earlier, the city needs to work till 10 p.m. to feed the state’s economy. A city life with candles!
A smart city without smooth and friendly transport system is unthinkable. I have some experiences to offer. Bangkok city has an integrated public transport system where the sky train, metro train and road transport are integrated for millions of tourists and city residents. A first time visitor like me could easily make use of the networks with little efforts. A visit to the Lumpini Park in the heart of Bangkok will make one forgets the concrete jungle for a while. In Guangzhou, one can see the metro train service connected to the high-speed train (bullet train) network of China. Like the Yuexiu Park, some of the historically important pilgrimage centres on hill ranges in Manipur can be developed into ecological gardens cum pilgrimage centres where a large number of tourists can be attracted in future.
Imphal can learn a lot from Kunming city. The most impressive experience in my life so far was in Kunming city in Yunnan Province of China. It was in Kunming where I enjoyed cycling in the bike lanes. Cycling is one of the best exercises still practiced in China. Besides, the city has a large number of electric two-wheelers. The Dianchi and Dali lakesides have electric poles having solar plates and wind turbines to convert both the solar energy and wind energy into electric energy. This combo is used for electrification of roads running along the lakes reflecting green energy project.
In recent period, we have seen increase in the number of four-wheelers in our state. The bike culture continues undisturbed. The widening of the roads will facilitate the popularisation of four-wheeler culture. What if the used cars find a haven in Imphal? In addition, the dusty roads will encourage the four-wheeler culture. The bad road conditions affect fuel efficiency, low mileage and quick wear and tear of the vehicles thereby draining out the economy. Moreover, traffic congestion should be addressed in the smart city.
In order to see a planned city in Imphal without much disruption, we can use the Mao Zedong method of revolutionary warfare. We can start planning and constructing from the periphery of the city to get control of the central zone. This method will avoid unnecessary disturbances and chaos in the daily activities of the state. If modern transport system such as the proposed ring road is the artery of the city, a well-planned network of sewerage pipelines should be the veins of the city. Smart toilet complexes in strategic locations will help in lessening the burden of the city. The government should explore the possibility of linking Imphal city with Loktak Lake. Start from the city periphery and conquer the city centre to make Imphal a smart city. Last but not least, we should learn the art of proper disposal and maintenance.