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Imphal smart city proposal leaves more questions than answers

by IT Web Admin
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Civil society organisations and concerned individuals in Imphal examined a consultation document for the “Imphal Smart City Proposal” and raised serious concerns regarding the vision and thrust of the plans afoot. The consultation document reviews strengths and weaknesses of Imphal and also identified opportunities and threats (SWOT) in the context of its conversion into a smart city. It identifies a limited core city area for a special Area Development Plan along with a so-called “pan city mobility proposal”.
Imphal was identified in 2015 to be developed as a “smart city” under the national SMART CITIES MISSON scheme introduced by the government of India. The State government has already engaged an external consultancy firm, Arki Techno Consultants Pvt. Ltd., which is associated with IRS Systems South Asia Pvt. Ltd., in a furtive manner that is neither participatory nor consultative The private consultants are to prepare a “Smart City Proposal” for Imphal, and a proposal document under development has been encapsulated into a short presentation for the purpose of wider consultations and feedback from various identified stakeholders. Civil society including NGOs constitutes a major stakeholder in this scheme of development.
At the very outset, the Smart Cities Mission Statement and Guidelines are flawed because the core “infrastructure elements” is a menu that muddies structural infrastructural development with aspirational social and organic goals such as governance, citizens’ participation, sustainable environment, and safety and security of citizens.
The concept of an “area based development” strategy may seem to be rational at a cursory examination; but this is also deeply embedded with a truncated view of what Imphal City is today and what a future ‘smart’ Imphal could look like.
The area based development aims at developing this area as,
1. A well-connected and accessible area with defined hierarchy of streets and public spaces.
2. A model of environment friendly development that can be replicated in other parts of the city.
3. A model for achieving sustainable balance between built and natural environment since there is a river, a heritage precinct and parcels of urban built form.
4. A tourist destination with supported infrastructure to enhance social and economic well-being.
How are we implementing this grand vision? How does this plan see Imphal as a city as a complete tourist destination? The overall proposal idea is most inadequate. The core area of the area based development plan has been arbitrarily identified without wide consultations with every local stakeholder. This core area also neither envisions nor includes the two major rivers, the Imphal and Nambul Rivers, and their important tributaries that flow through Imphal city within its environmental frame. Alien notions like that of the construction of a new “Mall Road” in the centre of Imphal; along with three flyovers, six foot bridges, subways, multi-tier car parking buildings are automobile centric infrastructures in an already structurally congested area that seems to constitute the backbone of this plan.
We fail to understand how building more flyovers can be seen as an environment friendly plan when uncontrolled vehicular traffic congestion and pollution makes Imphal one the most dirty cities of India today. Flyovers are heavily biased towards cars and other such like vehicles. This model of urban planning is outmoded and unsustainable because it discourages and displaces people from using other forms of transport such as bicycles and just plain walking on one’s legs! As is known from all previous experiences globally, flyovers and such techno centric approaches attract more problems than solutions and they must be abandoned in the city plan.
The concept of a “Pedestrianized Mall Road” with high-end shops must be a figment of imagination of some consultants and bureaucracy that has no understanding of how residential and commercial areas are mixed. Instead, footpaths, cycle paths, public transport and space for private vehicles should be mixed giving priority to non-motorised transport (NMT). It is proposed here that Imphal should be envisioned as a city of cycles which is suitable to the economy it has and environment friendly.
A smart city must also have aesthetic considerations and features. Ill-conceived concrete flyovers do not add any aesthetic character to a small city like Imphal. The total disregard of the nurturing and invigorating of the rivers and other waterways of Imphal, smacks of a deep ignorance and bias in urban planning and water drainage, flood and storm water management.
Many foot over-bridges and subway for pedestrians are being proposed without any considering for accessibility to elders, women vendors and the differently abled. How will elderly women vendors of the sprawling Nupi Keithel use a subway for their everyday trips? They are being proposed only to free the movement of automobiles with little or no consideration of the majority of the people who are the actual users.
Overall, the city proposal lacks historical, political and socio-economic understanding of how Imphal has evolved, or is evolving, and thus lacks a vision that can help transform it into a modern city which is livable, clean and safe.  We urge the government to not rush this current initiative. Proposed plans should be transparently invited in a competition so that the best one may be chosen openly by the people of Manipur.  The people have the right to more time for further thinking, research and wider consultations to build a future together.
Jointly written by the following organisation and individuals
1. Indigenous Perspectives (IP)
2. Centre for Organisation            Research            &           Education (CORE)
3. All Loktak Lake Areas                      Fishermen’s Union Manipur         (ALLAFUM)
4. Manipur Cycle Club (MCC)
5. Nambul Network (NN)
6. Innovative Youth Society (IYS)
7. Rivers and Environment           Protection Society (REPS)
9. H.O.O.D.
10. Wildlife and Heritage           Protection            Society            (WAHPS)
11. Yeng Minna Si
12. Nambul Turel Hing-hansee
13. Reachout
14. Human Rights Alert (HRA)
15.Jotish Nongthombam,         Agriculture Scientist
16. Bobo Khuraijam, Journalist
17. Sobhapati Samom, Journalist
18. Akhu Chingabam, Musician
19. Sonia Nepram, Film Maker
20. Doren Oinam, Film Maker
21. Dr. Malem Ningthouja
22. Devkishor Soraisam, Solar          Energy Entrepreneur
23. Prof. G. Amarjit Sharma, JNU
24. Prof. Bimol Akoijam, JNU
25. Jinine Laishram
26. Women & Youth for Peace              and          Development

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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