People’s Resistance against Smart City Project

September 22, 2015

by Sachinderpal ‘Pali’

When the announcement of 100 Smart Cities Project was made in India, authorities of all the major cities tried to be in a race to join this project because this project would give them a chance to be a part of this larger corruption mania.

On 27th of August Union Urban Development Minister (UUDM) M Venkaiah Naidu declared the list of 98 cities that are going to become the first smart cities in India. The list also includes the four cities of Punjab, i.e, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Chandigarh. Actually this smart cities project is not new in the Modi, oops!! the BJP government. It was introduced by the UPA government in the name of JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban RuralMission). Largely funded by the World Bank, the project also exposes the neo-liberal agenda of imperialism. Actually in the current imperialist era, the finance capital is stuck into a global economic crisis. The economic crisis of 2007-08 has not ended. In fact, different countries are facing the pinch of it till now. To come out of this crisis, the global finance capital needs to be invested somewhere else and the developing countries are an ideal destination for such investment. Earlier, Indian government along with the governments of the other developing countries were forced to open their economies. The scale of the imperialist loot, in the current era, has been aggravated even to a wider scale. In the face of the current crisis, more and more policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG) have been introduced even in many new public sectors. Under the pressure of the LPG policies, many public sectors of the developing countries have been opened up for the private sector. Recently, many cities have been allotted to foreign countries for the ‘development’ of these cities as smart cities. For example Banaras has been given to Japan, Vadodra to China, Allahabad, Ajmer and Vishakhapatnam to USA, Nagpur and Pondicherry to France and three other cities to Germany.

The smart cities project is a crude example of the same imperialist loot. First, the availability of land and privatization of the cities’ services is the prime requisite for these kinds of projects so that the foreign capital could come easily in these cities in the form of Big Shopping Malls/Complexes and many other private services. The FDI in retail is also a part of this project. The greed for land was fulfilled by proclaiming the acquisition of public land (where a large population of the slum dwellers resides). And it is clearly linked to the story of slum demolition in many cities of India. The slum dwellers of the cities like Bhuvaneshwar, Chandigarh, Ranchi, Gwalior, Bombay, Dhanbad and Delhi have bore the brunt of the imperialist greed and loot.

In this era of neo-liberalism the finance capital is mainly not coming in the production sector rather it works through the channel of speculation, especially in share market transactions (i.e., through various types of new speculative monetary instruments like derivatives etc.). Due to these kind of characteristics, a large part of it is invested in service sector and exchange. Though the service sector is contributing the largest share in GDP, it is highly volatile in its nature because the sunk costs in this sector are very low and it does not contribute to the total employment share, as much share is contributed by the manufacturing and primary sector. Just because of its highly volatile nature, the foreign capital can easily be brought to and sent from India. The point becomes clear from the 2008 crisis when AIG type foreign corporations left India without any prior information and retrenched its employees on a larger scale. The same happened with many other service providing corporations. Secondly, service sector is the main destination for the foreign capital in India. So, this new service oriented smart cities would consume the luxury goods and start a new culture in which only rich class would live without any ‘hindrance’ from poor and unemployed youth of slums who are thought to be more prone to ‘violence’ and ‘dirty’.

The new smart cities would focus different type of projects that include automotive industries, service sector, beautification and infrastructural ‘development’ of the cities. Automotive industry would be provided by the MNC’s, which would further reduce the demand for labour in these smart cities. So there is no place for the poor people in the smart cities project. There is another fact that after the opening up of small scale sector for the foreign trade in India, the inflow of foreign goods has reduced the demand for the goods of this sector that leads to the termination of major units and reduction in demand for labour in the cities. Now the authorities of these cities are also of the opinion that the “excess” labor (living in the slums) is a burden on them from two angles (one, in terms of land and second in terms of increasing population). There is no place for the working class in the smart cities and they are bound to live on the outskirts of the city just as it happened in Rio-De-Janeiro city of Brazil.

As there is lack of agro-based Industry in India and Indian agriculture is also plagued by several problems, the people from rural India are migrating towards the cities. But the irony of the situation is that the cities are also not able to absorb the rural-migrating population because of the lack of manufacturing sector.That’s why the jobs in the unorganized sector are increasing day by day where in the people are ready to do the works on meagre wages. Majority of the migrating population includes the rural and marginalized dalits.

If we look at the case of smart city project in Chandigarh, there are many aspects to consider. The capital of Punjab and Haryana – Chandigarh – is one of the first cities in the Northern India selected for the smart cities project. First, the Chandigarh administration had underestimated the slums population of the city. According to National Building Organization (NBO), 208057 people was living in Chandigarh slums in the year 2001, and the administration had a plan to rehabilitate just one lakh population. Under the Chandigarh Housing Board’s (CHB) small flat scheme of 2006, 25728 houses were to be constructed. But CHB had built only 12864 houses and they declared in the year 2014 that they have no further funds for this scheme. All the rehabilitated houses were constructed on the outskirts of the Chandigarh city. Now the cities’ administration wants a ‘reasonable size’ of labor force, for which it is giving the fake slogans of “Housing for All”. The former Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Chandigarh had said that the city would be made slum free till March 2015, however it did not happen due to certain objective (mentioned below) conditions. The data of CHB clearly mentions that there were 18 colonies/slums in the city but they have not included two or three colonies in their biometric survey list. In the race to become a smart city, nine labour colonies have already been demolished from 2009 to 2015. 7 out of these 9 colonies were demolished in just 20 months. The colony No.5 was the largest colony, a living place for approximately 60 to 80 thousand people and it was demolished in cold month of November 2013. In this colony just 6925 units were covered under the biometric survey out of the total 15 to 20 thousand dwelling units.

The reality of fair biometric survey is also under questions. How and when was the survey conducted? Before the demolition of colony no.5, the administration had allotted houses to just 2500 families. Later on, out of the 6925 biometric surveys, nearly 4200 families were rehabilitated. After six months, five more colonies namely Pandit, Kuldeep, Mazdoor, Kajherhi and Nehru colonies were demolished. The rehabilitation ratio in these colonies was even worse than colony no.5. The timing for the demolition of these colonies is very important to discuss. The demolition happened when the parliamentary elections were held on 10th of April, 2014 in Chandigarh and the people had cast their votes to different parties but the result of the election was still awaited (it was declared later on 16th May). These colonies were demolished on 10th May, 2014.

These slums were demolished after the citizens had exercised their right to vote, but later on they re-termed as the unauthorized citizens of the ‘smart city’. This act exposed the vote bank politics of the Chandigarh administration. No political party came in their support except the Ghar Adhikar Sangharsh Morcha (GASM) organization. They have organized many protests, marches and blocked the roads in the city. Their continuous struggle and resistance helped in increasing the rehabilitation number in different colonies. But still the administration has not rejected the plan to demolish and displace the people.

The dwellers of these slums have also resisted continuously and it has made clear to the Chandigarh administration that the demolition of slums will not be an easy task. After the demolition drive on 10th May, the administration again issued a demolition notice to another nine colonies, but the large protest was organized by GASM again, but this time Chandigarh police adopted the strategy for not even letting the people to reach the protest site of sector-17. The protesting slum dwellers were lathicharged. The police adopted brutal methods to stop the people who tried to reach the protest site and in this attempt, around 100 inhabitants of the colonies were picked and arrested. Due to the resistance and pressure, the newly elected MP Kiran Kher had to intervene in this issue and she decided to put the demolition drive on hold. The BJP that opposed the demolition drive earlier carried on with the same policies that the previous regime had adopted. After the people expressed their resistance and aggression, the administration has started building approximately 5000 houses in Maloya. But they are still not constructing the complete houses as mentioned under the Chandigarh small flat scheme-2006.

However, after three months, the demolition notice was sent to the Madrasi colony of sector 26. The members of GASM along with the residents met the MP Kiron Kher, but this meeting has exposed the cruel face of Chandigarh MP (Kiron Kher) and DC (Mohammad Shayin) when they took a sharp U-turn by confusing the colony residents that they won’t demolish their colony. But ultimately the colony was demolished on 12th of September 2014. The police picked up the two leading members of GASM from the Madrasi colony on 11th of September, who were planning for another protest. And they were sent to Budail Jail on the same day, they were booked under the section 107/151 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). After the demolition they were released.

On June 25, 2015 another notice was published in the newspaper that the Dhanas’s Kachi Basti would be demolished on 30th June. Earlier, this colony was not on the list of Chandigarh administration because it was built on a semi-public, semi-private land. The notice did not even cover the legal procedures required for the step. On June 29, people of Dhanas colony gheraoed the DC office in sector-17. The protest was mainly organized by CPI (ML) (Liberation). But when DC refused the cancellation of the demolition notice, the police also started the lathicharge on the inhabitants. The police fired the rubber bullets and tear gas on the people which led to the serious injuries to many people including women and children. Nearly 40 people were arrested from that protest. They were booked under various sections 147/148/149/332/353/188 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). Next day, they were sent to Budail Jail of Chandigarh. After this violent struggle, the DC decided to put the demolition on hold and the protesters were released from the prison after a week. Before their release, GASM along with various democratic people of Chandigarh organized a protest for their release on June 30 at sector-17.

The demands of the protest were: release of all the slum inhabitants and cancellation of all the fake charges, the administration must arrange for the treatment of the injured and the demolition drive in Chandigarh should be stopped immediately, and the colonies should not be demolished until people get the houses. This is the story of just one city that will be made a ‘smart city’ by crushing its real inhabitants (i.e., slum dwellers) who have contributed immensely in building this city. The administration however, claims that they are not the citizens of this city, and that they are the ‘illegal’ inhabitants who have acquired the public land. The question before us is: Is making city beautiful and smart more necessary than valuing the working masses of the city? Human beings, on the one hand, are making wildlife sanctuaries to save the animals and on the other hand, the government is implementing the brutal projects of building smart city by crushing its own people.

[The author is convenor of Ghar Adhikar Sangharsh Morcha (GASM)]