1] Envisioning the post-pandemic smart city (GS 3 Infrastructure)

Context –

  • The government embarked on an urban development journey with the notion that a select group of cities across the country might be ‘transformed’ and made smart after a competition among the states.
  • But Covid 19 pandemic has put forth new dimensions  to consider while designing such cities.

General concept of smart cities –           

  • Sensors everywhere, smart houses, high levels of connection, vast and ubiquitous data collection by multiple organisations, and a continuous flow of helpful information to citizens are all part of vision of smart city.
  • It can assist governments in allocating resources wisely and making timely decisions to improve efficiency and living standards.
  • Infrastructure deficiencies, insufficient water supply, waste management, sewage and transportation arrangements, high levels of pollution, and, as a result of climate change, frequent extremes of floods and drought plague India’s cities.
  • The Smart Cities Mission, which was created in response to these concerns, is a mix of improved civic services and high-profile initiatives in selected cities, with the investments significantly influenced by the Centre.

Focus on Health –

  • COVID-19 disrupted the lives of cities, locking people indoors for lengthy periods of time, interrupting economic processes, and paralysing vibrant urban life before a thorough critique of the costly programme could emerge.
  • When the Smart City Awards 2020 were announced recently, one component of the project, the Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs), was given a health focus by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
  • COVID-19 used these centres as “war rooms,” and when combined with “other smart infrastructure established under the mission, communities were able to battle the epidemic through information dissemination, improved communication, predictive analysis, and supporting effective management.”

Convergence of infrastructure

  • Over the years, Smart Cities Mission projects converged with other infrastructure programmes such as AMRUT, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, the PMAY (Urban), the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, for housing.
  • According to the most recent official tally, 5,924 Mission projects worth Rs. 1,78,500 crore have been bid, reflecting the magnitude of the investments.
  • According to some projections, 90 percent of urban development will take place in developing countries by the middle of the century.
  • Jan Gehl, a Danish urban planning expert who opposes smart cities and “silly gimmicks,” speaks of a city’s universal values as a gathering place for people, inviting them to spend time, walk, bike, and explore through public, semi-public, or private gardens.
  • A good city also prioritises pedestrianisation over motorization. Despite their attempts to incorporate some of these components, India’s smart city plans are unable to achieve a structural shift in which people’s movement takes precedence over vehicle movement.
  • In fact, expanding the green logic would entail a moratorium on all wetlands and commons diversion for any other purpose, the creation of new urban gardens and water bodies, and a climate change audit for every piece of infrastructure planned.
  • Less damaging flooding, more water to gather, and lower peak temperatures would all result from a green and blue metropolis, all at a reasonable cost.

Designing Common spaces –

  • Cities that allocate adequate road space for bicycles, which symbolise safe commuting and can complement enhanced public transportation when commuters return in large numbers to bus and urban rail, could be elegant, healthy, and sensible after the epidemic.
  • Pedestrianisation, biking, and peaceful chances for street selling produced by designating additional commons would be truly democratic, addressing the complaint that smart city planning ignores the informality that characterises India’s urban environments.
  • None of this negates the importance of essential modernisation, such as the deployment of multiple sensors to monitor air, noise, and water pollution, the provision of electronic citizen services, whether online or in a government office, intelligent public transportation, and the expansion of renewable energy.
  • Even in the largest cities, recovering useful materials from waste remains a missed opportunity.
  • However, it would necessitate a move away from flyovers, underpasses, and low-cost parking lots that serve significantly fewer people.
  • Citizens can only benefit from real-time control rooms if they have a decent public dashboard of information.
  • This includes access to health alerts, immunizations, hospital beds, and topical counselling in COVID-19 times, with data on pollution, rainfall, congestion, and other factors thrown in for good measure.
  • Smart city planning must be democratised so that all members of society, not just those with access to the internet, have a say in the process.
  • However, the pressure to frame initiatives typically leaves many people out, including elected officials.

Conclusion –

  • The pandemic has provided a unique chance to rethink the smart city paradigm and direct the fate of hundreds of smaller municipalities that aren’t yet on the map.
  • They should be assisted in framing their goals around people and nature, learning from their failures, and avoiding costly technical solutions.

2] Relief and recompense (GS 3 Disaster management)

Context –

  • The Supreme Court has ordered the Union government to fulfil its legal obligation to compensate the families of individuals who died as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The decree follows a series of directives aimed at enrolling the country’s enormous unorganised workforce and army of inter-State labourers on a national database and ensuring that no one goes hungry.

What’s the issue –

  • Initially, the Centre adopted the un
  • sustainable position that it lacked the financial means to pay every COVID-19 fatality. It eventually stated that it was not a lack of finances that prevented it from receiving reimbursement, but rather a decision to prioritise spending in response to the pandemic.
  • It is true that, unlike more common calamities like hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, a pandemic that has struck every country is not a one-time event, but rather a continuous and long-term phenomena.
  • However, the Court correctly determined that this was not a sufficient justification for the government to avoid its need to include ex gratia assistance in its instructions for “minimum levels of relief” to people affected by the tragedy.

Significance of the court’s order –

  • The Court has addressed the need for thorough registration of all interstate and unorganised workers in the country in an earlier order.
  • Unfortunately, a pandemic and the ensuing humanitarian, social, and economic disaster for millions of employees were required to kick-start the process. The Centre has been given till July 31 to create a site for its National Database for Unorganized Workers (NDUW) initiative, which will be used to register unorganised workers throughout the country.
  • However, the Union government, which had been ordered to make such a common module available to the States as early as August 2018, said that construction on the site had been hampered by the pandemic’s aftermath.
  • The Union Labour Ministry has been chastised by the Court for its “apathy and indolent attitude,” and the Court has ordered that the registration procedure begin by July 31.

Conclusion –

  • The verdicts raise the potential that interstate and unorganised workers will finally be able to benefit from welfare legislation intended specifically for them.
  • These initiatives represent a revival and assertiveness on the part of a court that had previously been perceived as hesitant.


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