By Rajendra Kshetri
The idea of developing and/or upgrading the existing cities as smart cities is the talk of the country, not excepting Manipur. Indeed, much has been said, suggested and written and will continue in the days ahead vis-a-vis development/up gradation of Imphal city into a smart city. As someone born and brought up in Imphal ( who loves Imphal as much as you do) coupled with some little exposures to other cities (national and international), I would like to share with my fellow-Manipuris, particularly the town/city planners, some of my random thoughts concerning issues involved in making Imphal city a smart city.
The essence of an ideal and attractive city is not about tall buildings, fly-over’s and multi- lane- streets, desirable though they are.
My basic premise(s) for a model city(read smart) is therefore to treat the five letter word SMART as acronym for Sanitation, maintenance, amenities, recreation and traffic. These five elementary elements namely sanitation, maintenance, amenities, recreation and traffic (SMART) are, to me, at the core of transforming a city into a smart city. A sine qua non. A few words about each one of them will drive home my points.
In the literal sense of the term, it means measures which are necessary for improving, promoting and protecting health and well being of the people. When we talk about sanitation, we are referring to those conditions relating to public health, especially the provision of clean drinking portable water and adequate sewage disposal. In other words, sanitation is the hygienic means of promoting health through prevention of human contact with the hazards of wastes as well as the treatment and proper disposal of sewage or wastewater. Health hazards can be either physical, microbiological, biological or chemical agents of disease. It is this notional understanding of sanitation that leads me to come up with more than a couple of questions regarding the sanitary conditions of Imphal city. Firstly, do Imphalites have access to clean drinking potable water? Secondly, do we have adequate measures for sewage disposal? Thirdly, and more importantly, how hygienic is our Imphal city? How many sanitation trucks do we have? And how many of them are functional and put into tasks? How many sanitation workers are employed? More importantly, how many of them are made to perform their assigned duties?
A random visit to any place/area in and around the city anytime of the month let alone a survey, is all that one needs to do.
“Buying a car is easy but maintaining it is not”. So goes the popular saying and it holds true in the case of city maintenance too. It is not that Imphal city does not have minimum infrastructures required for a city. It is not that the city does not have parks, swimming pools, gymnasium, monuments of historical importance, stadia, museums, archives, theatres, educational and commercial institutes, hospitals, clinics and laboratories. What Imphal lacks is proper maintenance of the existing structures. Imphal city may perhaps be one of the worst capital cities of the country in terms of maintenance record. No doubt, managing a city’s maintenance operation can be complicated and challenging. But it should not mean that the town planners and the policy makers shy away from giving the much needed attention to maintenance services. The creation of Maintenance Service Division in the Imphal Municipal Council could be a starter.
Imphal is one city in the country that provides very poor quality in terms of basic and other urban amenities. Whether it is ‘good urban parks’, ‘access to nature’,’ clean air’, ‘good roads’, ‘drinking water’, ‘good traffic’, ‘diverse population’,’ public toilets’, Imphal lags far behind other cities of the country. Take any one of these amenities and you will notice how terribly Imphal have failed.
Unless and until these amenities are taken care of and considerably improved and improvised, the very idea of transforming Imphal into a smart city will be nothing short of far-fetched idea. It will be akin to putting the cart before the horse.
City dwellers need ‘leisure-life’ in the form of taking part in activities for pleasure, relaxation, fun, enjoyments, entertainment, amusement when they are not working. ‘Leisure-life’ is important because it reflects the values and character of a city. Leisure in fact is considered a human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is where the importance of recreation centred in the making of a city comes in the picture.
Imphal is not without recreation centres and therefore not totally devoid of leisure life. But most of the recreation centres in and around Imphal are outdated and archaic in nature and style. They naturally failed to attract city customers. There is therefore an urgent need to not only improve and provide state of the art facilities to the existing centres but to create more public spaces such as parks, reading centres, rock-climbing walls. They are essential avenues for many recreational activities. Of late, tourism has recognised that many visitors are specifically attracted by recreational offerings. The state government should take active role in the creation, maintenance, organisation of recreational related business centres as they are important factors in the economy.
As more people move to the edge of towns and cities coupled with the increasing number of vehicle users, traffic congestion is bound to take place. The most common example is the physical use of roads by vehicles. The traffic congestion in the heart of Imphal city during peak hours presents a dismal scenario of traffic movement. Vehicles of all sizes, heavy, medium and light including bicycles, rickshaws and auto rickshaws cut in, drive in, move in to any available space showing scant respect to traffic rules and regulations. The increasing instances of traffic violations by VIP vehicles make a mess of traffic flow in the city. This has caused serious problems and inconveniences to the pedestrians as the city hardly have any pedestrian-only streets or lanes.
A case in point is the ever-increasing traffic congestion in and around Khwairamband bazaar. A living nightmare. Town planners and city fathers of Imphal city must initiate some concerted plan/efforts to ease out the traffic jam, to disperse crowd so as to bring well-regulated traffic flow with a long term perspective ( as against the existing trial and error piece-meal measures). Making cognisable offense with heavy fines for parking on footpaths; no parking zone/space in the market area; demarcation of bicycles tracks/lanes; creation of more bypass routes could be considered as kick-starters for Imphal Decongestion Plan.
This random thoughts of a sociologists is not to be construed as opposition to transforming Imphal into a smart city. My humble submission here is that the basic requirements and amenities of a city in terms of sanitation, maintenance, amenities, recreation and traffic (SMART)should be provided first before digitising , e-servicing and e-governing the city. A smart city without SMART would only remain as a moribund city. I don’t want my Imphal city to lie in a moribund state. Do you?
I may as well and my submission with a line from Italo Calvino, the Cuban born Italian journalist/writer: “you take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours”.
The writer is Professor of Sociology, Manipur University. He can be reached at aardhikshetri(at)gmail(dot)com