I was pleased when my city figured in the 100 shortlisted during the stage-1 of recently launched Smart City Mission. I was baffled though when I realized that this 'smart upgrade' is primarily about attempting to implement the following 'features'
Adequate water supply,
Assured electricity supply
Sanitation, including solid waste management
Efficient urban mobility and public transport
Affordable housing, especially for the poor
Robust IT connectivity and digitalization
Good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation
Safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly
Health and education
Wait, aren’t the above 'core infrastructural elements' as labelled in this self acclaimed 'bold, new initiative' in reality the default amenities any tax-paying citizen would/ should expect?, let alone one living in a city but even by those in a town or village?
As I reflected deeper on this apparent irony, I realized how in the past 44 years of my existence I haven’t yet once walked around my house without getting depressed about the apathetic layout, bad roads, lack of usable footpaths, absent green lungs, unreliable garbage & sewage management systems and the general lack of finesse around where I live. My childhood optimism that things would greatly improve when I grow up was shattered when I found out in a recent visit that my native town is a far worser dump than it was a good 30 years ago!
It's clearly not a lack of ideas nor a paucity of requisite engineering capability to develop infrastructure at par with world standards, a fact clearly demonstrated by the amazingly executed projects such as Bandra-Worli Sea link; the Pir Panjal tunnel dug through the Himalayas; the multitudes of express highways such as the fully elevated one between Mumbai, Pune; the top-rated airports & terminals operational in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai et al. As a highway commuter in India, you wouldn't want to reach the destination too soon, the infrastructure within the destination invariably is always a let down - This dichotomy is perplexing.
This dichotomy isn't limited just to civic v/s high-way infrastructure. All the governments over the past seven decades have created & nurtured a class system of human habitats across the Indian republic - consider the following;
Between urban; semi-urban and rural centers the quality of civic infrastructure is tellingly different from being inadequately maintained in urban centers to shoddily executed in semi-urban to non-existent in the rural habitats
Within a city there are pockets that are highly developed while some are semi-developed and some are completely ignored for example the sheer difference in the layout and upkeep of Lodhi Estate v/s Shahdara in N. Delhi; Banjara Hills v/s Nallakunta in Hyderabad; Bandra Bandstand v/s Dadar in Mumbai et al. The difference in the amenities in the elite v/s middle-class localities is shamefully blatant - It's as though one has to pay a price for not being economically strong enough to acquire property in a posher locality. This discrimination doesn't make any sense considering the property tax collected so aggressively by the civic administration is calculated and charged using the same unit rates across all localities, elite or otherwise.
I am not sad anymore, I am now furious with this senseless state of affairs. I think I am as entitled to good civic infrastructure as the denizen of any other developed country is. As a citizen of India I believed it’s my right to be provided enabling civic infrastructure.... Or is it?
Propelled by this desire to better understand my entitlements as an Indian citizen I looked up for supporting information only to realize that;
…….quite innocuously only in context of a district &/or a metropolitan planning committee preparing a ‘draft development plan’ and submitting to the GOI. (Ref: Part IXA.—The Municipalities.—Arts. 243ZB—243ZD.)
Neither the fundamental rights nor the directive principles touched upon this aspect in any specific detail.
I do understand the times were very different when our sacred constitution was drafted, adopted and enacted. I fully comprehend the fact that all aspects covered under fundamental rights and directive principles were of paramount importance for a nation that just liberated itself from alien rule & as a diverse people that were yet to get the full import of governing themselves and in understanding what it actually takes to behaving as a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.
Sixty nine long years hence though the rights as perceived by an average globally-aware Indian citizen are far more evolved though not very frequently voiced. A mere ‘right to life’ won’t suffice no more, there has to be necessarily a ‘right to a right quality of life’.
Even if as a symbolic gesture towards triggering an attitudinal change that we so badly need to make, I as a citizen of India request the prime minister of India & ‘the state’ (as defined in constitution of India) to initiate an amendment to the constitution that;
Expands the list of Fundamental Rights by including of “Right to quality civic infrastructure”
Expands the bandwidth of Directive Principles to reflect the above inclusion as a necessary duty of the state
Expands the scope of Fundamental Duties to make maintenance & upkeep of civic infrastructure as much a duty of the citizen as it is of the state
Let's give the rational & ambitious gen-Y of our country a more compelling reason to be proud of their country than continuing to burden them with an expectation of unquestioned nationalistic pride.