Digitalization Key to Jammu’s status as Smart City

Young Bites. Dated: 1/11/2019 10:56:52 AM

Ajay Khajuria

An estimated 54% of the human race lives in urban areas across the Globe today, and this population continues to grow. In India, though the 31 percent population living in urban areas according to the 2011 census is lower than the world average, it is estimated to grow rapidly to 40 percent by the year 2030. This continued increase in urban population is proportionally increasing the demand for urban services like reliable energy, efficient mobility, drinking water, clean environment, etc., and challenging current urban infrastructures worldwide. It is in this backdrop that the concept of ‘Smart City’ has emerged, wherein latest innovations in technology are deployed to provide holistic urban e-governance, service delivery, and participative citizen platforms for meeting the current and future challenges of efficient and effective urban management.
In the wake of positive outcomes of adopting the smart city concept in cities across the world, the ‘Smart City Mission’ launched by the Government of India in 2015 envisions utilizing digital and information technologies, besides best practices in urban planning, to improve the quality of life of urban dwellers by addressing their most pressing needs and driving economic growth. One hundred cities in the country including Jammu have been selected for being developed into Smart Cities under the mission. Its inclusion amongst the selected cities has not come too soon for Jammu as it has been facing exceptional challenges, in recent decades. Besides increasing population and migrations from the rural areas, emergence of Jammu as an educational and commercial hub in the region has contributed to an accelerated growth in the number of inhabitants. A sudden jump in its population has also been brought about due to migration from Kashmir in the wake of disturbances there. Additionally, a substantial number out of around 10 million pilgrims and tourists visting the Holy shrine of Vaishno Devi Ji or various other destinations in the State, annually, stay in or pass through Jammu, thus contributing a sizable floating population to the city. These factors have brought existing urban infrastructure and services in the city under severe strain.
While it may be imperative, therefore, that innovative and sound urban planning principles go into Area Based Development for a smart Jammu, it alone may not resolve problems comprehensively unless coupled with technological solutions to meet the challenges being faced by the city managers and citizens. The entire gamut of urban infrastructures and services like the urban mobility systems, waste disposal systems, energy systems, drinking water, buildings, green areas, telecommunications, healthcare, education, culture, etc. need to be reviewed and, besides revisiting the master plan, the Jammu Smart City Plan needs to provide pan-city solutions focused on improving livability for its citizens, facilitating economic growth, and also enhancing the experience of the technology cognizant pilgrims/tourists visiting pilgrimage centers, heritage sites, shopping centers, or just temporarily staying in the city while in transit.
For instance, one of the most pressing problems of the city like the almost daily derailments of the mobility systems needs to be provided with robust and sustainable solutions according to the present and future needs of pedestrians, private car owners, and users of public transport or hired vehicles like taxis or auto rickshaws etc. While some succor to the harassed pedestrians in terms of better convenience and safety on the roads may be possible by retrofitting of the existing infrastructure in terms of providing footpaths, foot over-bridges, subways, etc., answers to the chaotic traffic congestion cannot, apparently, be found without technology based innovative solutions. Digitalization can enable a better understanding of the overall urban transport systems of the city with the help of data gathering devices such as video cameras, speed cameras and sensors as well as wired and wireless communication devices and also help in optimizing the systems and giving a boost to new mobility services. Smart traffic lights, which can adapt to changing traffic patterns at different times of the day, can help curb wastage of time and fuel. Dynamic route planners can allow route adaption in advance, or while driving, during rush hour to avoid traffic jams and further save time. Car owners can also be enabled to conveniently shift towards availing options like ‘car sharing’, ‘car pooling’, ‘e-hailing’, or improved, sustainable and smart public transport services, resulting in less number of private cars on the road thus reducing congestion and carbon dioxide emissions, besides saving time and money. Smart parking, smart fuel stations and smart EV charging stations can further facilitate savings in time and energy. Further, to facilitate the new systems a relook at the existing regulations would also be required.
For ensuring long term sustainability of the plan (CDP) it is also essential that the beneficiaries and the Government envision its components jointly and a citizen-centric approach is adopted wherein the inhabitants are not only notified about the solutions proposed, but their involvement and participation in the process of their implementation is also facilitated. The key is to know what the needs of people of Jammu are, and what solutions they are looking for by educating them about the smart solutions, and inviting them to engage with new technology efficiently and contribute to moving Jammu towards innovation and efficiency. A cue can be taken from the City of Glasgow, Scotland, where the smart phone App ‘MyGlasgow’ enables citizens to convey their suggestions and feedback to the administrators of the city on how they want their city to develop, and, through information at one touch point for two-way communication with the municipal administration, get feedback on the action taken in respect of issues reported by them.
The proposed Jammu Smart City project is recognized as prestigious which, besides enthusiasm, has raised expectations about improvement in the quality of life amongst its inhabitants. Fears can also be harbored, however, that it might go the way of other much hyped projects quite recent in public memory, like construction of the Jammu City Lake and the Jammu Sewerage Treatment Plant, which failed to reach the completion stage, despite inordinate delays, time over-runs and huge investments. The success of the smart city project, therefore, lies in ensuring transparency and speedy implementation based upon proper conceptualization, planning and execution of the Area Development Plan and Pan City Solutions, which truthfully reflect the ‘Smart City Vision’ arrived at with joint participation of its citizens.
Jammu’s rating as a Smart City, however, will ultimately depend on the level of innovative thinking infused into making the City more efficient and progressive. In a sense, this puts Jammu in competition with the other ninety-nine selected Indian Cities, irrespective of their size, location or existing level of development. Technological advancements having virtually shrunk the world, it is achievable to benefit from innovations and solutions adopted by other success stories, like the case of Bhubaneswar – recently listed among world’s top 20 smart cities – and improve upon their performance to take up the challenge of putting Jammu amongst the top bracket in ranking of smart cities. Time is ripe for the authorities responsible for implementing the project, and the citizens, to rise to the occasion and take the challenge.
(The author is a
retired KAS officer)


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