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Guwahati as Smart City: Visions and challenges

By RK PADMAPATI
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There has been a constant thrust of the ever increasing population on the cities and this is a common trend all over the world. If this trend continues, by the year 2030 the urban population of the world would be 60 per cent of its total population. In India, 25 to 30 people migrate to the cities every minute in quest of a better livelihood. With respect to the economic growth, mega cities are expected to contribute 80 per cent of it. The rate of urban growth in India is 80 per cent, and, at this rate, 843 million people will be living in the cities by around 2050. As a result, tremendous pressure will be experienced in the cities in respect of electricity, generation and distribution, transportation network, water supply, roads and communication, buildings and adequate open space. Hence, there is an urgent need to manage the above areas of concern more effectively and in a more sustainable way, so that the cities can attain economic prosperity and social well-being.

The manner of achieving these targets must be SMART �Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and relevant, and Time-bound. The Indian cities now comprise 31 per cent of the population and contribute 63 per cent to the GDP. It is expected to grow to cover 40 per cent of the total population and contribute 75 per cent to the GDP in the near future. Keeping the above facts in mind, the Prime Minister of India initiated the Smart City concept in 2014 as part of the Digital India mission, rightly stating that if cities in the past were built on river banks, now they are built along the highways; and, in the future, they would be built based on the availability of optical fibre network and next-generation infrastructure.

Twenty cities were selected in the first phase of the Smart City project, Guwahati being one of them. The total number will be increased to 100 in another two phases, adding 40 in each phase of the mission. The Bureau of Indian Standards initially tried to prepare a standard for a smart city, but could not arrive at an agreement during its discussions with the Ministry of Urban Development. The question that arose was the usual one � whether to put the cart before the horse or the horse before the cart, and it has remained undecided till now, and hence, there is no standard set as yet for a smart city. According to the Ministry, there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. It means different things to different people. Even in India, there is no one-rule norm for defining a smart city.

The aspirations of people may differ on different issues, on different grounds. The most commonly accepted aspirations are: (i) Adequate water supply, (ii) assured electric supply, (iii) good sanitary system, including solid disposal of waste, (iv) efficient urban mobility and public transport system, (v) Affordable housing plan, more particularly for the poor, (vi) robust IT connectivity, (vii) good governance and e-governance, (viii) safety and security for women, children and elderly, (ix) sustainable environment management, (x) good healthcare and educational facilities.

As of now, Guwahati is a congested and very badly maintained metropolis characterised by unplanned expansion, narrow roads and dingy lanes, dismal housing, frequently interrupted power supply, inadequate supply of potable water, poor public transport system, frequent traffic jams, and artificial floods, to mention a few. To overcome these problems by use of modern techniques, improvement of the quality of life of its citizens and creation of a people-friendly environment will be of utmost importance before all of us, and more particularly, the planners.

The transport system in the city is perhaps one of the worst in the country, mainly due to the rapid increase in the number of vehicles every year. The total number of vehicles plying on the roads on any day of the year is close to 10 lakh. According to the available statistics, the distribution of these vehicles as is under: ASTC-run buses (232), privately owned vehicles (800), privately owned mini buses (1,153), trekkers (1,116) which are being gradually replaced by share-taxis, and autorickshaws (4,462). The number of two-wheelers plying on the roads has gone up manifold, and these have become major hazards on the roads leading to frequent accidents and many accident-related deaths every month. Besides, there is a proposal to add another 400 ASTC buses. The present narrow roads naturally cannot take that many vehicles. As a result, there are frequent traffic snarls and slow movement of vehicles during busy hours. At times, it takes one hour or more for a vehicle to travel between Panbazar and Khanapara. The buses are overcrowded during peak hours � from 8 am to 11 am in the morning and from 5 pm to 7 pm in the evening. Therefore, switching over to an efficient, comfortable public transport system is a must. With the traffic signal system not being synchronised and efficient, the idling time at the traffic junctions is more than necessary, which not only increases fuel consumption but also adds to pollution. Battery-operated public transport with charging facility along the roads is an option that should be seriously considered to minimise vehicular pollution in the city.

Over and above, around 10,000 vehicles enter or touch the city from the neighbouring states. As per another statistics of the year 2014, there are 2,44,332 light motor vehicles, 37,600 two-wheelers, 64,305 trucks, 7,113 buses, and 15,611 autorickshaws in the city. A research paper by Ranjan Chakravorty, a Guwahati-born US-based scientist, reveals that heavy vehicles using diesel are responsible for releasing black carbon and other harmful pollutants into the air, which is the highest in the world, much more than the cities of Moscow, New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Kanpur, etc. The air pollution index of Guwahati is as high as 118 as reported by State Pollution Control Board in January 2016, against the norm of 50, and it is similar for other months as well. It is because of poor metal surfacing of the roads, bad construction site management, earth-cutting and also some other factors. Prevention of recurring artificial floods is a major challenge. Revitalising the natural drainage system of Guwahati through the rivulets like the Bahini, the Bharalu, the Mora Bharalu, etc, must be on the priority list. Water-bodies like Solabeel, Deepor Beel and Silsaku Beel must be cleaned and preserved.

The depletion of forest cover of Guwahati due to the city�s expansion is another major concern. According to a report prepared by the IIT Guwahati, the forest cover of Guwahati in 1911 was 4,866 square metre per citizen, but it shrunk to 25.90 sq metre in 2011 and 16.90 sq metre in 2015. Assam is also a power-deficient State and depends on outsourcing. Solar power mission is a distant dream. Power supply is very unreliable. Snapping of distribution lines causing death of human beings is common in Guwahati. Conversion of overhead lines to underground cable system is a must. As of now, internet connectivity is only 11.96 per cent of the households. The IT sector and easy access to internet services must expand in Guwahati.

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Guwahati as Smart City: Visions and challenges

There has been a constant thrust of the ever increasing population on the cities and this is a common trend all over the world. If this trend continues, by the year 2030 the urban population of the world would be 60 per cent of its total population. In India, 25 to 30 people migrate to the cities every minute in quest of a better livelihood. With respect to the economic growth, mega cities are expected to contribute 80 per cent of it. The rate of urban growth in India is 80 per cent, and, at this rate, 843 million people will be living in the cities by around 2050. As a result, tremendous pressure will be experienced in the cities in respect of electricity, generation and distribution, transportation network, water supply, roads and communication, buildings and adequate open space. Hence, there is an urgent need to manage the above areas of concern more effectively and in a more sustainable way, so that the cities can attain economic prosperity and social well-being.

The manner of achieving these targets must be SMART �Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and relevant, and Time-bound. The Indian cities now comprise 31 per cent of the population and contribute 63 per cent to the GDP. It is expected to grow to cover 40 per cent of the total population and contribute 75 per cent to the GDP in the near future. Keeping the above facts in mind, the Prime Minister of India initiated the Smart City concept in 2014 as part of the Digital India mission, rightly stating that if cities in the past were built on river banks, now they are built along the highways; and, in the future, they would be built based on the availability of optical fibre network and next-generation infrastructure.

Twenty cities were selected in the first phase of the Smart City project, Guwahati being one of them. The total number will be increased to 100 in another two phases, adding 40 in each phase of the mission. The Bureau of Indian Standards initially tried to prepare a standard for a smart city, but could not arrive at an agreement during its discussions with the Ministry of Urban Development. The question that arose was the usual one � whether to put the cart before the horse or the horse before the cart, and it has remained undecided till now, and hence, there is no standard set as yet for a smart city. According to the Ministry, there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. It means different things to different people. Even in India, there is no one-rule norm for defining a smart city.

The aspirations of people may differ on different issues, on different grounds. The most commonly accepted aspirations are: (i) Adequate water supply, (ii) assured electric supply, (iii) good sanitary system, including solid disposal of waste, (iv) efficient urban mobility and public transport system, (v) Affordable housing plan, more particularly for the poor, (vi) robust IT connectivity, (vii) good governance and e-governance, (viii) safety and security for women, children and elderly, (ix) sustainable environment management, (x) good healthcare and educational facilities.

As of now, Guwahati is a congested and very badly maintained metropolis characterised by unplanned expansion, narrow roads and dingy lanes, dismal housing, frequently interrupted power supply, inadequate supply of potable water, poor public transport system, frequent traffic jams, and artificial floods, to mention a few. To overcome these problems by use of modern techniques, improvement of the quality of life of its citizens and creation of a people-friendly environment will be of utmost importance before all of us, and more particularly, the planners.

The transport system in the city is perhaps one of the worst in the country, mainly due to the rapid increase in the number of vehicles every year. The total number of vehicles plying on the roads on any day of the year is close to 10 lakh. According to the available statistics, the distribution of these vehicles as is under: ASTC-run buses (232), privately owned vehicles (800), privately owned mini buses (1,153), trekkers (1,116) which are being gradually replaced by share-taxis, and autorickshaws (4,462). The number of two-wheelers plying on the roads has gone up manifold, and these have become major hazards on the roads leading to frequent accidents and many accident-related deaths every month. Besides, there is a proposal to add another 400 ASTC buses. The present narrow roads naturally cannot take that many vehicles. As a result, there are frequent traffic snarls and slow movement of vehicles during busy hours. At times, it takes one hour or more for a vehicle to travel between Panbazar and Khanapara. The buses are overcrowded during peak hours � from 8 am to 11 am in the morning and from 5 pm to 7 pm in the evening. Therefore, switching over to an efficient, comfortable public transport system is a must. With the traffic signal system not being synchronised and efficient, the idling time at the traffic junctions is more than necessary, which not only increases fuel consumption but also adds to pollution. Battery-operated public transport with charging facility along the roads is an option that should be seriously considered to minimise vehicular pollution in the city.

Over and above, around 10,000 vehicles enter or touch the city from the neighbouring states. As per another statistics of the year 2014, there are 2,44,332 light motor vehicles, 37,600 two-wheelers, 64,305 trucks, 7,113 buses, and 15,611 autorickshaws in the city. A research paper by Ranjan Chakravorty, a Guwahati-born US-based scientist, reveals that heavy vehicles using diesel are responsible for releasing black carbon and other harmful pollutants into the air, which is the highest in the world, much more than the cities of Moscow, New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Kanpur, etc. The air pollution index of Guwahati is as high as 118 as reported by State Pollution Control Board in January 2016, against the norm of 50, and it is similar for other months as well. It is because of poor metal surfacing of the roads, bad construction site management, earth-cutting and also some other factors. Prevention of recurring artificial floods is a major challenge. Revitalising the natural drainage system of Guwahati through the rivulets like the Bahini, the Bharalu, the Mora Bharalu, etc, must be on the priority list. Water-bodies like Solabeel, Deepor Beel and Silsaku Beel must be cleaned and preserved.

The depletion of forest cover of Guwahati due to the city�s expansion is another major concern. According to a report prepared by the IIT Guwahati, the forest cover of Guwahati in 1911 was 4,866 square metre per citizen, but it shrunk to 25.90 sq metre in 2011 and 16.90 sq metre in 2015. Assam is also a power-deficient State and depends on outsourcing. Solar power mission is a distant dream. Power supply is very unreliable. Snapping of distribution lines causing death of human beings is common in Guwahati. Conversion of overhead lines to underground cable system is a must. As of now, internet connectivity is only 11.96 per cent of the households. The IT sector and easy access to internet services must expand in Guwahati.