Envision new smart capital for K'taka

Several Bengalureans are surprised that their fav-ourite city has not figured in the list of 100 Smart Cities to be developed in India. How can the garden city, the IT capital of the country and a global technology hotspot, be left out of the reckoning?

No, it’s not because the Narendra Modi government is biased against the ruling party in Karnataka which is disrupting parliament proceedings. It is because our own Siddaramiah government did not include Bengaluru in the list of six cities recommended from the State.

Under the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Urban Development, the process of selection called ‘City Challenge’ begins by shortlisting the potential smart cities on the basis of some prescribed scoring criteria, such as:
a) Existing service levels such as online grievance redressal system, publishing of e-newsletters and projectwise budget expenditure information for the last two years; b) Institutional systems and capacities which include levying compensatory penalty for delay in service delivery, collection of taxes, fees and other internally generated revenue; c) Self-financing in payment of salaries, share of tax revenue in the budget and auditing of accounts and d) Past track-record and reforms that include percentage of internal generation for capital works, project completion and reforms achieved under the JNNURM programme.

The first stage of competition takes place within the state and the selected cities participate in stage two of the Challenge where the Smart City Plan prepared by each will be evaluated and the winners announced.

The sad fact is that Bengaluru did not make the grade in the first stage of selection itself within the State. We might take solace in the fact that it is rated as the cleanest capital in the country (never mind the garbage and litter on its streets and drains), but that is based on a limited number of criteria.

In overall city management, we seem to be falling woefully  short. It is time we think ahead and look at the possible solutions to the problems we are facing. The key issues that are eluding clear answers are: growing population which has crossed 10 million and is expected to reach 15 million by 2030; expanding urban sprawl including unplanned settlements and unauthorised constructions; and providing the necessary infrastructure and services to meet the increasing demand.

We can consider two options. One is to follow the traditional approach of incremental improvements and invest in projects for better roads, greater water and power supply and the like. The other is to adopt a different, innovative approach.

My own proposal is: Why not think of a new capital for Karnataka which will also be a Smart City? I am not suggesting that we should shift the capital to another city like Davanagere or Bellary, but to build an entirely new greenfield city.

Building a new capital would have the following advantages. First, all government activities will be shifted out of the metropolis which means all ministers and legislators will migrate to the new city. This would reduce the number of motor vehicles on the roads and ease traffic congestion in Bengaluru (also no traffic holdups on account of red light cars!).

Second, there could be some relief on the housing front. People would not mind government officials renting out their houses and moving to new houses in the new capital. Third, a lot of office space would become available for other public uses such as museums, art galleries, educational and research institutions.

Imagine Vidhana Soudha being converted into a modern city museum and Vikasa Soudha into a science museum on par with international centres. The Legislators Home can be used as a tourist home to accommodate tourists who cannot afford expensive hotels.

The location of the new capital should be carefully chosen. An ideal location could be somewhere beyond the existing international airport but within a distance of 100 km from Bengaluru – a place where water will not pose a serious problem and dry land is available.

The new capital should be developed on the principles of a smart city. It should be compact and self-contained, designed for not more than a population of one million.
It must be eco-friendly based on walk-to-work principle, with minimum use of automobiles and sufficient space for walkways and bicycles. Energy, water and waste need to be smartly managed by promoting solar energy, water conservation and zero-waste concept.

The city must include good educational and health facilities, open and green spaces for recreation and cultural centres. In sum, the new capital must be developed to provide an environment that encourages the people to live there without making frequent trips to the metropolitan city.

At the same time, it is necessary to have a new vision for Bengaluru. Karnataka can afford to have two capitals, an administrative capital and a commercial capital.
The big question is,where will the money come from to build a smart capital and to reengineer the growth of Bengaluru? It will require far more resources than what one might expect under the Smart Cities Mission. But then, the will of the people and the will of the government can make this dream come true. Andhra Pradesh has already prepared its plan for a smart capital at Amaravati. Why should Karnataka lag behind? The subject needs to be debated. 

(The writer, former Chief Secretary of Karnataka, is Chairman, Smart Cities India Foundation)

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