With a new government in Delhi, India’s urban agenda is now focused on the creation of “Smart Cities” in industrial corridors. Such an initiative is driven by the demand of foreign investors to find sanitized spaces in developing countries in which they can operate easily – unhampered by politics.
The very idea of Smart Cities seems to be based on the assumption that there are technocratic solutions for the routine problems that citizen face. Technology is heralded as the “apolitical” means by which governance can be fixed and saved from the operation of “politics”. Problems of inefficiency that are seen to dominate the old bureaucratic-political order are hence given a “smart” solution by employing “Big Data”. However such a vision does not take into consideration the fallibility of technology or the fact that the technology-centric governance that Smart Cities promote can further exclude the people at the margins of power.
What is driving the Smart City agenda is the need for foreign capital to enter into new territories in the developing world by avoiding some of the regulatory hurdles it otherwise faces. To ease the entry of large foreign investments into such projects, the government provides for a single-window clearance system. Also, many of the proposed Smart Cities are either designated as Special Economic Zones (SEZs) or will house SEZs in them. SEZs are geographical enclaves which have many exemptions from the regular tax laws, customs and excise duties and labour laws.
Hence the promotion of initiatives like Smart Cities can be seen as an effort to allow international corporations to invest and operate in sanitized spaces, bypassing the multiple complexities that otherwise characterize urban India.