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9

There was a interactive panel discussion in Mumbai WTC on the 29th of January 2015 organized by World Trade Centre (WTC) and All India Association of Industries (AIAI) in collaboration with the Indo-France Chamber of Commerce and Industries (IFCCI). It was to discuss ‘Smart Cities in India: Reality in the Making’.

Dignitaries on the stage included Mr. Sanjay Sethi (IAS) (Additional Metropolitan Commissioner-I, MMRDA), Ms. Laura Prasad (Secretary General, IFCCI), Dr. Laveesh Bhandari (Founder and Chief Economist, Indicus Analytics Pvt. Ltd.), Mr. Vijay Kalantri (President, AIAI and Vice Chairman, MVIRDC WTC), Mr. Shankar Aggarwal (IAS, Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development Government of India), Mr. Dilip Shekdar (Chief Architect, Naya Raipur Development Authority), Mr. Ravi Kant Malhan (Director, Head Business Development:  Smart Cities and Special Projects, Schneider Electric India), Capt. Somesh Batra (Vice Chairman, MVIRDC WTC) and  Mr. Abhishek Lodha (Managing Director, Lodha Group).

A journalist, Shruti Ravindran who had attended it, tweeted a photo of a shocking quote from a brochure 'Smart Cities in India: Reality in the Making' released during this event.

Smart cities that exclude the poor
Smart cities that exclude the poor

 

The quote in the above photo says:

...There are only two ways to keep people out of any space - prices and policing. In other words, the prices will automatically be higher in such cities - the notion that they will be low cost is flawed. Even if possible from a cost provision perspective, they cannot be low cost from a demand supply perspective.

Even with high prices, the conventional laws in India will not enable us to exclude millions of poor Indians from enjoying the privileges of such great infrastructure. Hence the police will need to physically exclude people from such cities, and they will need a different set of laws from those operating in the rest of India for them to be able to do so. Creating special enclaves is the only method of doing so. And therefore GIFT is an SEZ and so will each of these 100 smart cities have to be.

(excerpt from an article by Laveesh Bhandari, Founder and Chief Economist at Indicus Analytics Pvt Ltd)

So let me get this right. The government will be used to empty land to build smart cities in the name of developing the country. It will be called "inclusive development". And the smart cities built on this land will be for the rich - by design. And we are talking of a hundred cities, displacing god knows how many people. The police of the land will be used "on the tax payer's money" (as these hotshots like to call it) to keep the poor out of these cities using laws OTHER THAN INDIAN LAWS.

Am I the only one being reminded of Arundhati Roy's infamous quote that earned her the anger of the oh-so-innocent middle classes? Here it is, if you don't remember. And she said this in 2007.

We have a growing middle class, being reared on a diet of radical consumerism and aggressive greed. Unlike industrializing western countries which had colonies from which to plunder resources and generate slave labour to feed this process, we have to colonize ourselves, our own nether parts. We’ve begun to eat our own limbs. The greed that is being generated (and marketed as a value interchangeable with nationalism) can only be sated by grabbing land, water and resources from the vulnerable. What we’re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in Independent India. The secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country.

~ Arundhati Roy

This could be considered the impractical fantasy of rich men (albeit very rich men and sponsors of the ruling party behind this government), but the brochure also carries an introductory message from Shankar Aggarwal, IAS, Union Ministry of Urban Development, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, not to mention him being personally present there and meeting journalists on the sidelines to announce the Framework for 100 smart cities to be ready by February.

Framework for 100 smart cities to be ready by February says Aggarwal - Moneylife
Framework for 100 smart cities to be ready by February says Aggarwal - Moneylife

Here are some relevant excerpts from the brochure including the message from Shankar Aggarwal, the program schedule of the event, including names of speakers, the profile of the author Dr. Laveesh Bhandari, the article itself, and another article on GIFT, which is referenced in this article as a model. Excerpts from Smart Cities in India: Reality in the Making

Given the opaque manner in which this government operates, as well as dramatic undermining of protections of local interests and environment through ordinances, such views should be a cause of alarm for citizens, if the much heralded development is going to actually be displacement on a massive scale, disenfranchisement of local populations and their explicit exclusion from the "growth story" while the rich use the country's power to get land for their shangri-las, use the country's resources "24/7" (can this ever be promised to those who will be displaced to create these "enclaves"?) and use the country's police force to protect what will essentially be elite facilities barred to the common masses through special laws created to protect the elite.

I imagine, the elites will also only be paying for their actual residences and the cost of creating these havens for them will also have to be borne by the country.

Is this development or colonization of India by the rich? The Gujarat model is all set to exploit India as well. All we need are new signboards, "Poor citizens and dogs not allowed"

3

We as a society seem to be getting more and more repressed and judgmental, even as the government seems to be making more and more rules to fix problems. Living under rules adds to the repression, and so on. In this process, we aren't becoming a better country, we are becoming a country better at hiding what is deemed undisplayworthy.

Have these laws changed things for the better? Do we really have less prostitution, drug abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse, gendericide? No. Hard facts stare in our face. This new year's eve, Mumbai set a new record for arrests on drunken driving. This census shows that the divide between the male and female population among older people is better than that among those up to six years (in other words, since sex selective abortion was banned). A woman was murdered in broad daylight in the capital of our country on Women's day. And the enrollment to primary schools has dropped since the RTE act was passed on April Fool's day two years ago. Kidding you not. It WAS passed on 1st April 2009.

The writing is on the wall. Laws cannot change society. We need reform. But between the laws and the activists, that precious space of reform is successfully gone, and no one noticed. If you remember the stories from history lessons about how social reformers spread awareness about the caste system, helped defeat practices like Sati, one glaring difference you will notice is that these were people who stood up and raised a voice and created change among the society THEY LIVED IN.

There weren't franchises to fix the rights of people in some other place, nor were these rules imposed on what they could or couldn't do. By marrying widows, by protecting widows, by throwing open their own hearts and homes and drinking water wells to widows and low caste people, they successfully defeated massive issues. They educated their daughters and let them inspire society and spawn more thinkers and women in positions of respect. And it worked.

And no wonder it worked, it was society that changed. Not a society that complied as best they could to guidelines. Today, there are many advocating that eradication of corruption must begin from each one of us. Yet, how many have walked that talk? We have forgotten how to OWN our world. We have installed experts who advise us or force us to do the right thing. We have stopped looking at something and knowing for ourselves whether it is something that is a good thing for us.

Now we have laws coming up on internet censorship, that are vague enough that anything could be defined as "offensive" and banned. This blog could be called anti-national, for criticizing India and its laws and advocating things that would break them.

That is, because the sense of right and wrong, what will finally be accepted as the right thing, and what will finally be lynched as the wrong thing is all coming from outside, with obscure thinking processes leading to it. We have no way to understand it. We can only abide by the result. With time, we know that our judgment does not matter. What is right is something else. And we start taking that "right thing" and acting on it, without worrying about how it is right.

This is further expanded through social laws, which are basically a set of excessively moral judgments.

In the process, many of the things that come to us naturally are now illegal, so we pretend they don't exist, like we are an illegitimate child of ourselves. The part of us that lusts after a woman, the part that tried out marijuana, the part that had an affair, the part that got drunk and abused the wife, the part that thinks a woman is all about boobs, the part that can't settle for loving one person, heck, even the part that really thinks the dinner your friend's mom cooked was awful .... are the ones we are ashamed of. They exist, they are a large part of our lives, but we don't own them. We avoid being seen acting like that. We are the model citizens of a standard we are not entirely certain of.

How is it helping? We are all becoming standardized templates. And very bad ones at that, as the statistics above show. We haven't been able to get rid of the parts not fitting the template. And the stigma of being illegal, criminal shuts up all possibilities of a spontaneous change.

A man wanting to abort a female daughter cannot admit it. He will do it in hidden ways. If he had been able to say that, simply talking about it would have been enough to bring it up front where its inherent injustice could make a change of mind possible, or perhaps even the fragile vulberability of that life could create a change of heart enough that the father became her best defender. It would be possible for people in the family, friends and doctors to talk about this, creating opportunities to think differently. If all failed, and the child was aborted, well, wasn't that better than suffering hate for being female?

A drug addict is caught in a vicious cycle of addiction. Being illegal makes it doubly difficult to use spontaneous moments of regret to create opportunities for hope. Prostitution is legal, but soliciting is illegal (and of course prostitutes solicit - how else will they get business?). People still go to prostitutes, that hasn't changed. But the prostitutes suffer from abuse at the hands of powerful clients and even police and army people and have no respect that will allow them justice. Hitting a child is child abuse, and it is something we routinely turn a blind eye toward. If you hit an adult, you'll be arrested for assault. If you hit a child, chances are the child will be told to listen to you. Even if you are a creep.

Clearly, we have too many laws that do little more than hide problems so well that they can't be found to be fixed. I think it is time we as a society stopped expecting and following guidance on what to eat, what to drink, who to give birth to, whether to have an affair or not, and with how many people and what gender, whether to drink and serve drinks to friends, whether to smoke, whatever. Heck, even our life is not our own, and suicide is illegal. So get this, if you are so depressed that life sucks, failing to end it will only bring more shit on your head for even trying.

It is rumored that alcohol is going to become more expensive, because its "bad for us". Cigarettes go through this all the time. One would think with my concerns around alcoholism in a loved one, I'd be glad, but I'm not. I'm concerned. The thing is, I have yet to meet the alcoholic who quit drinking because it was expensive. When they can't afford alcohol, they shift to cheaper brands, to homemade and possibly dangerous sources, they lie, cheat, borrow, steal, abuse family members into giving up expensive things to sell. They don't stop drinking. That can only happen through awareness and support, and our support for alcoholics totally sucks. This is yet another so called "good thing" that actually has nothing to do with our well being.

We have laws attempting to fix discrimination through discrimination - take the example of reservations. Let me just say that an entity with double standards cannot be respected. Not to mention balance cannot be found by falling over. Not to mention that highlighting differences will never lead to dissolving them.

We have a brain, and by virtue of living our lives, we are in the best position to evaluate the impact of our actions and decide for ourselves. Sure, laws are important. The freedom of one must not result in harm to another and there must be some assessment on how to arbitrate issues. but other than that, I think people owning responsibility for their actions will be far more effective than people told what to do. There should be no reason for three men and two women wanting to live together as sexual partners should be illegal and we go through another whole rights fight for them. There should be no reason why a person wanting to sell sex can't as long as they can follow norms on public conduct, which also can be evaluated as acceptance improves. There should be people on the street or cops stopping that woman dragging a kicking and screaming child down the street.

It seems we keep quiet where we should speak up, and speak up on things that are someone else's business. Thus, we never get around to fixing what we can actually address.

We are a country of illegitimate citizens living superimposed on the regular citizens, pretending that all is good, and what we are is ISI marked.

We should get rid of the clutter of laws, and instead make new ones upholding people's rights and dignity and respecting their ability to manage their lives.