Smart city on Faulty SWOT

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By Deben Bachaspatimayum

Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threat (SWOT) analysis is a method used in corporate sector when a company/organization wants to assess and review its strength and weakness to determine what it can or cannot do in the light of opportunities and threats in the external environment to take strategic direction in a highly competitive world of business. SWOT requires a realistic assessment of the internal strengths and weakness of the company, in the first place, wherein it has greater control and influence and then to do the same exercises with the external environment or the highly competitive market where the company has neither control nor influence, provided the state, through its policies and institutional mechanism, creates a congenial and business favourable environment – an ideal situation of corporate world of the developed and developing countries. SWOT analysis is traditionally done in a grid of four coordinates to establish logical order of using internal strengths to address internal weaknesses and external threats by capitalizing on the promotional opportunities of the external environment based on the realistic assessments.

Over past few decades, International donor agencies, especially from the developed countries, supporting various NGOs/GOs in the developing and under-developed countries, transplanted SWOT analytical method in launching new intervention programs and stabilizing long term partnerships in community development projects and programs. NGO sector in Manipur also gained some experiences of having used SWOT analysis method in determining strategic directions in their long term engagements with various community development engagements in the state, albeit in a non-business sector. It is interesting to note the Imphal City planners have also used this method in envisioning Smart City in Imphal for public consumption through of hectic public consultations and webcasting and hence, deserving some comments from informed section of civil society.

First the fundamentals, then the perspectives, attitude and technicalities:

SWOT exercise begins with a group or a company who has a clear vision-mission already set and has a purpose. By this premise, the question that pops up is who is dreaming Smart city of Imphal city? PDA or IMC or key stakeholders in the city including legislators, the contractor class, successful entrepreneurs, CSOs, NGOs, Professional groups, etc. or the city itself based on its cultural, political, economic and environmental historical backgrounds. No one seems to represent all of these to be able to incorporate multiplicities of ideas, perspectives and experiences. But more fundamental question is also to ask whether Imphal – the capital of the State, has actually attained the status of city before dreaming to make it smart! This question is pertinent, if one looks back at the tragic political history, chronic political instability of elected governments and the systemic corruption in the governance and administration that has become an accepted tradition and practices in any Govt Dept in the context of armed conflicts over the last three decades all of which still remains unaddressed or unresolved only to further complicate by ways of either wrong diagnosis or faulty treatment under the AFSPA regime. What is more alarming is also the fact that the state still remains under “disturbed area” tag only to be extended, annually making the Supreme Court, recently taking cognizance of series of extra-judicial killings by law-enforcing agencies and security forces, ask whether AFSPA is eternal in Manipur? How can any place of historical, political and commercial importance for that matter, Imphal as historical capital, emerge as a city with ever growing incidences of bomb blasts, claimed and unclaimed, killing, rapes, kidnappings, bundhs, strikes, blockades, riotous outbursts of pent-up mass angers, burning public properties on issues of right of life, dignity, basic necessities and identities, etc? A frank self-assessment of the sum total lawlessness and chaotic socio-political scenario of violence must also inform any SWOT analysis as the other aspects of the colourful art and cultural traditions and the history of the state not only the lifeless ruins of the Kangla as sites of tourist interests. Moreover, why smart city calls only now? Why not any initiative of the most stable government over the last one plus decade before Delhi calls for 100 Smart cities under Act East Policy under the new regime at the centre? Does the state’s legislative class have no dreams for their own people and the state? Whose dream is Smarty City for Imphal, anyway, then?

Attitude, perspectives and technicalities of SWOT analysis in planning Smart city

The PPT presentation on Smart city with SWOT analysis of final draft proposal, made available to the public view through official website and hurried last hour consultations, under the central directives for “mandatory public consultations”, naturally invite few comments. In the first place, incomplete presentation of SWOT analysis seems to reflect the bureaucratic attitude: I know everything/ people don’t know to informed audience. And there is no surprise for the fact that we do have a yawning gap between the people and the elected class /bureaucrats. The sooner this attitude is reflected upon and amended the better to work with the emerging mass of educated and aware citizenry in the state. Here, it may be worth-mentioning that an accumulated amount of awareness, exposures and level of education in the civil society and voluntary sector, by far, may not be less than those in the political class and bureaucracy in Manipur, by any measures. If one goes by past trends on how the state bureaucracy has been looking at and dealing with the public on policy matters starting from the ways and manners in which the first ever mega project like the Loktak Hydro Power project to some of the latest legislations and policy framing exercises like Loktak (Protection) Act 2006, Land Acquisition Act 2013 & NLUP 2014, the attitude does not seem to have changed, qualitatively. The same is reflected in Smart city planning exercises, also. The only difference between 1980s and 2000s is that earlier, public consultation was not considered important at all after having attained statehood in 1972 and presently the observed trend is ‘pick and choose favoured audience’ for reporting purposes. And if, by default, informed audience do have a chance to give comment and suggestions, such are not often registered and acted upon. Such has been experiences of a growing power of informed civil society in the state.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis listed in order of one after another, instead of presenting them in a grid of four coordinates, misleading and not educating the people (who has lifelong right to education) on how strategic directions are drawn out of analysis of the four factors, to focus on IT, Sports, Cultural traditions and Tourism potentials for economic growth and employment generation avenue. There is also glaring flaw in the logical state-centric perspective and conclusion, thereof, that insurgency has caused a huge population of educated unemployed youth in the state and therefore, the strategic idea that employment creation will solve insurgency. This is the same self-defeating theory which has made AFSPA almost eternal part of the civil authority in the state. And more so because, it was not the unemployment issues of a generation of educated youth who took to arms in the origin but altogether a different issue. The analysis therefore is superficially floating in the air, disconnected and misplaced from the roots. A city cannot be built on in the air in the same manner as any ‘future proofing’ engineering structure and designs of the Super market complex in the premises of erstwhile Tombisana High School cannot stand for good by sweeping under carpet the truth about skeletons found during excavation at the site, nor the Ima market complex, rebuilt or repaired, by keeping simply silent over the issue without pinning down responsibilities on those who compromised with the structural and quality standards of the multi-crore building construction. Going by the state-centric security perspectives in building Smart city one can only foresee Imphal as security smart city as the analysis overlooks underlying causes of violent conflicts and culture of violence that has become part of Manipur’s political culture. To return to the technicalities of the SWOT method, again, one wonders whether the planners have done a comprehensive exercise on the internal strengths and weakness of the city or the agency that will be implementing the project even while the fundamental question remains: who should plan the city, unclear.

The list of strengths shown on PPT such as topography, climatic conditions, history (ruins of Kangla), culture and traditions (Cultural Univ), sports development policy (academy), medical institutions, and international airport, are list of things that may also be outside of or external to the institutions and areas where smart city is being planned, whereas strengths and weakness are to be looking at the internal strengths and weaknesses of the implementing agency of the proposed smart city. The list of weakness (internal) begins with the ‘absence of Railway connectivity’ and includes rise of unemployment and insurgency which are also external to the implementing agency without updating the progress on railways construction underway and considering the facts that unemployment is a result of the misplaced diagnosis of an underlying deep-rooted socio-political issues that is officially termed as ’insurgency’. One would have liked to see how Smart city is designed to resolve or transform the protracted violent conflicts in the state since it is also listed in the threat list rather than putting up concrete jungles of flyovers, malls, sub-ways and multi-storeyed buildings for car parking in trying to live up to the modern lifestyle and standards for moneyed class of the so called developed exteriors. To cut short, the list of threats also include items such as ‘unplanned and haphazard development’, ‘non-conformance to regulations’ and ‘enhanced traffic congestions’ as though these are external to the implementing agenc(ies) of the proposed Smart city. This list could as well be considered as internal weaknesses of the institutions responsible to city’s development, instead. The overall analysis does seem to be misplaced and unrealistic of the socio-political context and historical backgrounds therefore, the strategic directions drawn are skewed and superficial inviting reviews and more rigorous exercises. The colourful pictures shown of the developed in the PPT may best be cut-paste exercises as baits for only uninformed and gullible sections of society. This also invites more authentic and serious engagements.

Furthermore, though the city planners have dutifully been organizing series of public consultations under the mandatory procedural guidelines at the planning stage with civil society, the latter has been kept out of sight in the monitoring structures at the implementing stage. This indicates the sense of public accountability of the Govt. Lastly, it is not to say no to Smart city but it is to appeal for realistic down to earth assessments of the socio-political conflict context and historical backgrounds of the Imphal capital and restore it to a vibrant city status, in a historically, politically and environmentally correct manners. Let our children in future not see an externally dependent artificial smart city standing on the dead beds of the Nambol and Imphal Rivers which gave us a vibrant environment friendly economy and polity of hills and valley, once upon a time. Let the city grow organically in harmony with its natural environment and hill-valley ecosystems based on its internal strengths while overcoming its internal weaknesses and external threats with the combined strategies of capturing opportunities the external national government and international global world has to offer in moving towards the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030.

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