Recently, the Indian cabinet green-lit a £10 billion scheme that will be divided equally between building 100 smart cities and rejuvenating another 500 cities and towns over the next five years. The emergence of hi-tech prototype cities raises concerns that India’s new urban enclaves will override local laws and use surveillance to keep out the poor. In a country where more than 300 million people live without electricity and twice as many don’t have access to toilets, such projects as Gift City’s towers sound like hypertrophic castles in the sky. But they are an essential part of the Indian government’s urban vision, one that it wants to see replicated a hundred times across the country. In their present form, smart cities are essentially rechristened Special Economic Zones (SEZs); neo-liberal business-friendly zones are exempt from taxes, duties, and stringent labor laws.
Yet, no one is quite sure of what these cities might look like or who they’re for. Because smart cities would have clean water, assured power supply, efficient public transport, and would not be polluted or congested. They will have the smart (intelligent) physical, social, institutional, and economic infrastructure, guaranteeing their residents employment opportunities and a very high quality of life, comparable with any developed European city. This repeated emphasis on high-end infrastructure and superlative quality of life hints at a discomfiting answer to the second question: who the intended inhabitants of smart cities are likely to be. As such smart cities will be “more fortresses than places of heterogeneous humanity because they are meant only for specific classes of people”. One class to be served, the other to be surveilled and contained. Ведь так как when investing so much without thinking about services and low-cost housing and governance, then it will lead to creating enclaves that keep out the poor.
Is India’s 100 smart cities project a recipe for social apartheid?