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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"

Mumbai has a huge and growing migrant population. And Mumbai has conspicuous ‘sons of the soil’ insisting that priority in employment MUST go to locals. They have ransacked offices, issued ultimatums (and threats), targetted migrants from specific places. I disagree with their methods and I also see them applied unevenly (show me the objections to Gujarati migrants, for example). At the same time, I think there is an important value in what they are saying. And not just for Mumbai.

As inequality grows in India, more and more people are migrating to the cities. Part of the story is what is widely believed – that cities have opportunity. The other part is also that vast tracts of India are simply being cleared for corporations and their people abandoned to landless destitution, or are simply neglected in development to the point of unsustainability. These people land up in cities not only because cities hold hope of jobs, but also because they have been destroyed in their original homes.

Consider tribals who continue to live in forests being targetted as criminals and Maoist supporters. The story of Soni Sori is the tip of the iceberg. There is systematic “pest control” happening to clear out lands in demand. It is little more than a massive drive to empty out the mineral rich homes of the adivasis. Arundhati Roy has written extensively about this. This quote from “Capitalism: A Ghost Story” is telling:

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU for the construction of an integrated steel plant in Bastar with Tata Steel, the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia, was inaugurated. The government said it was a spontaneous uprising of local people who were fed up of the “repression” by Maoist guerrillas in the forest. It turned out to be a ground-clearing operation, funded and armed by the government and subsidised by mining corporations. In the other states, similar militias were created, with other names. The prime minister announced the Maoists were the “single-largest security challenge in India”. It was a declaration of war.

P Sainath’s reports on water privatization from around 2005 onwards contain horror stories of people being charged impossible rates for irrigation water and put into situations where they have little option but to sell land or starve. A quote from “How the deal was done“:

Back in Maregaon, Chavan points out: “This village lost canal water because people were too poor to pay the old charges. The rates plus fines crossed Rs.1 lakh for us and it got impossible.” Rambhau Mahajan had to pay the equivalent of one acre of land — Rs.25,000 — in order to be able to sell four acres to survive.

To make a long story short, the water was made so expensive that no crop grown in the region could sustain such charges. The bills of water were made more expensive for people with more than two children. Multiple taxes were levied, and non-payment by a few in the village could get water blocked for all. People couldn’t even sell their land without clearing dues first. Is there any wonder that there are suicides? Is there any wonder that people sell their lands and migrate to find work?

This is not progress. This is the desperate grab for opportunity for survival being peddled as progress. AUN report on urbanization says:

As a result of these shifts, developing countries will have 80 per cent of the world’s urban population in 2030.

This may seem like a good thing, but it is worth thinking that if urbanization is such a good thing, then why would developed countries have only 20% of the urban population?

Ok, leave aside this for a minute. India has a large population, and low energy reserves. Our pursuit of goals is all about industrialization, which minimizes human effort and needs more energy and takes a heavy toll from the environment. How is this ever going to result in better employment, energy independence or even ensure people have pollution free environments to live in at all? To feed this monster, we are promoting the corporatization of everything. Large farm holdings run efficiently, etc. Nuclear plants to keep this monster going. But even then, where will the jobs come from? We are already running into this problem. Rural people can migrate to urban areas when life becomes impossible, but what happens to the locals of urban areas when life becomes impossible for them as their meagre opportunities are up for grabs by more and more people?

Leave this aside too. There are allegations that migrant populations add to crime. I have no statistics for this. I haven’t searched. I will, and insert later if I find. So, I am not claiming this for fact. At the same time, migrant populations adding to crime does make sense, because they have no social anchors or any need to maintain their standing in society. Think of it as you going on your first hidden date. You may barely speak with each other in your own locality, but will act like husband and wife in a different place where no one knows you. Obviously you are not committing a crime, but if you were inclined to crime, would you find it easy among people who know you, or people who don’t? It makes a lot of sense that behavior is more reckless among strangers where stakes for disapproval or alienation are low.

This is not to say that all migrants are evil, or that migration should be banned completely or even that migrants should be discriminated against. At the same time, the cost of the rampant migration from the promise of “equal opportunity” overburdens cities and also increases stress for opportunities among populations as well as abandons vast tracts of the country to people who would like them abandoned. Development being defined as movement toward cities makes it increasingly easier to neglect villages.  In the long run, it is going to create pigeon colonies out of people, with vast, lush regions handed over to corporations, because no one else can survive the manufactured hardships.

Leave that aside too. Every place has a potential to work and earn. When people proudly proclaim India is one country and anyone can settle and earn anywhere, why is it that an urban person cannot buy agricultural land and stay in a village, if a person from a village can come and stay in the city? Because the design is to cluster people in less and less space and less and less resources. Factories have no problems buying rural land. It is normal citizens who do. The people making expectations that cities should accommodate everyone who takes a whim to be there choose to see only the rights of migrants in this situation. The desperation of the country to survive and cities being the only visible alternative has led to the blatant confiscation of the right of the people to their land in cities. The fantasy is that cities belong to no one, and everyone is equal. You wouldn’t approve of urban people going and outnumbering tribals in their land, and competing for the food naturally available in the wild, would you? Of course, cities have greater resources to accommodate more people, but it is a mistake to think that those resources are infinite and should not be guarded. Or that people who originally belong to the cities have no special right to their land over migrants. Or that they shouldn’t try and enforce boundaries when things become unsustainable.

There needs to be greater focus on development. On uniform development of India – even though cities remain hubs of civilization. There needs to be effort to sustain populations where they live instead of forcing them to cities. It is  not about opportunity. It is about survival for most migrants. If they could live on land they own and make a living, would they choose to wash your dirty dishes and live in hovels and servitude? The other problem is that when “posh” people claim equal rights for all Indians in cities, they are thinking of working professionals living in flats. Because of course, it is the norm to be blind to the poor. Our sense of majority is limited to those with voice, but the number of migrants with respectable jobs and sustainable work are very, very few. The vast majority inhabit slums and have no clue what they are doing with their lives beyond surviving and at most, saving for a rainy day. My maid is a second generation migrant who still lives in rented rooms and stores clothes in bundles. They have property in their village, but they would have to sell it and become homeless anyway, or starve, because there are no opportunities. Does she like working as a domestic servant? No. She has no choice. This isn’t a migration of opportunity.

We cannot kick out these migrants. They need to survive. Whatever fuck up we have become as a country, we have become together. At the same time, the right of locals to secure resources for themselves in their land should be respected. While burning buses is wrong, there shouldn’t be a need to burn buses over this. There needs to be serious attention paid to rural development and urgently, so that people are able to sustain themselves in their beloved lands with dignity. There still will be migrants chasing rainbows and India is a country for all, but we need to do something to manage the desperate bulk of them before things go into anarchy and we end up in a fight for survival in the supposed lands of opportunity as well.

Such thoughts are finding fertile ground in many places as people find the current systems unsustainable. One such site with alternative economic and development solutions is “Slow Money” – an attempt to begin fixing the economy from the ground up. Many thoughts worth thinking, but when it comes to the holistic development of India, one that is stuck in my imagination is:

What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?