The Centre has failed to adopt an inclusionary and sustainable approach to development under its much publicized Smart Cities Mission which aims to create 100 `smart cities’ in the country by 2020, a study released by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), India has said.   

As the Mission completes two years this month, HLRN’s report titled `India’s Smart Cities Mission: Smart for Whom? Cities for Whom?’ presents a human rights and social justice analysis of the process and guidelines of the Mission as well as of the 60 selected Smart City proposals.

The study finds that the positive components of Smart City proposals lie largely within the ambit of formulating technological solutions, developing renewable energy sources, and building resilience of cities. The proposals, however, lack a comprehensive vision for the future that omits the needs and aspirations of cities and their inhabitants, especially the majority who live and work in cities.

The study further points out that despite raising the issue of housing for low income groups in their proposals, none of the selected cities have included operational plans on how targets will be met, neither have they incorporated housing standards to ensure the guarantee of the right to adequate housing. Instead, forced evictions and threats of eviction for ‘smart city’-related projects, already have been reported in Indore, Bhubaneswar, Delhi, and Kochi. Land acquisition for green field projects is also likely to result in loss of farmland and forests, and promote more displacement while threatening rural livelihoods and food security, the study says. 

While the Mission places an overwhelming focus on digitalization and technology-driven ‘smart solutions,’ the study says it is important to note that technological innovations alone are not sufficient to solve the structural issues that plague urban India. Moreover, the creation of consolidated electronic databases of residents’ information could give rise to serious privacy concerns, identity theft, increased surveillance, data misuse, and security breaches.

Dependence on foreign investment and the corporate sector for financing the Mission is high. The consulting firm Deloitte has estimated a requisite investment of 150 billion US dollars (120 billion from the private sector) for the realization of SCM targets. In addition to concerns about corporate control of city development processes, it is apparent that the corporate sector, including large multinational companies, is likely to be the greatest beneficiary of the Mission, the study alleges. 

Given the human rights issues and multiple challenges of the Smart Cities Mission, HLRN’s report has asked the government to incorporate a human rights and social justice approach in a; stages of Mission, while developing standards and human rights-based indicators to monitor its implementation and progress. Implementation of ‘smart city’ projects must not result in the violation of any human rights.

 The government must undertake comprehensive human rights and environmental impact assessments before any ‘smart city’ project is sanctioned. Ensure the free, prior, and informed consent of all affected persons before any project is implemented, and also revise the structure and operational principles of the Special Purpose Vehicle to ensure that it works within the framework of democracy provided by the Constitution of India, the study has said.