Searching for the ‘Smart City’ in Nashik

By Shilpa Dahake, Research Assistant

During my enquiry into the Smart City Project in Nashik, I was often greeted back with a question – “Why don’t you tell us, WHAT IS THE SMART CITY PROJECT?” Such responses made me realize that there is a drought of information in the public domain about the Smart City Projects in Nashik. The ‘unknown-ness’ and ‘opaqueness’ of the Smart City Projects has induced a sense of fear and insecurity among residents.

It has been four years since the Smart City Project (SCP) was introduced in India – in 98 cities across the country. Nashik was selected in the second phase of Smart City Challenge in 2016. Even after 3 years of Nashik’s inclusion in the Smart City Mission (SCM) the information about the projects, their implementation, and specifics are absent from the public discourse. Through official sources, I gathered there are 54 proposed projects out of which 21 are completed and 11 are in the execution phase. Despite this, neither the locals nor the local media reporters are aware about details of the projects.

Excavating ‘Smart’ at Local Level

Some of the completed Smart City Projects (SCP) in Nashik include Renovation of two public auditoriums -Kalidas Kala Mandir and Mahatma Phule Kaladalan, Renovation of Nehru Garden, and Public Bike Sharing services However, many locals believe that majority of these projects were proposed before the conceptualization of the SCP in Nashik. One of the respondents aptly suggested, “There is nothing smart in the renovation projects as none of them have been made efficient with technology or properly communicated to the citizens. They are purely beautification projects which should not be the priority.”

Figure 1: Kaladas Kala Mandir after renovation (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 1: Kaladas Kala Mandir after renovation (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 2: Nehru Udyan after renovation (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 2: Nehru Udyan after renovation (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 3: Fountain installed on the Holkar Bridge (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 3: Fountain installed on the Holkar Bridge (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 4: Public Bike Sharing Stand (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 4: Public Bike Sharing Stand (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Under Smart City Mission, a parallel governing body of Nashik Municipal Smart City Development Corporation Limited (NMSCDCL) has been set up to implement the projects.. The Municipal Corporators, the Mayor, and the opposition party leaders have been made directors of the NMSCDCL committees.  However, many of our respondents raised doubts about the real extent of power vested in their hands.  It emerged in several interviews that the creation of this parallel structure has disrupted the established power dynamics between  local political leaders, bureaucrats, and private developers in Nashik. . Many projects are not getting bids due to this power struggle, as this “increases the uncertainty of project implementation,” in the opinion of an activist. The activist further added that “even if the vendors bid, they quote a higher amount. This incorporates multiple unofficial shares which the vendor has to pay various political and other influential agents in order to implement the project.” The extra shared can be termed as the “risk of working in a small city”.

The Case of ‘Smart’ Road

Figure 5: Smart Road Project Site (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 5: Smart Road Project Site (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)


Digging up and destroying one of the best maintained roads of the city in the name of Smart Road is not a sign of smartness
— one of the shopkeepers along the site of the Smart Road Project.

The question which is continuously arising in the communities living, working, and commuting through the Smart Road is - What is a Smart Road? The official narrative of the project suggests,

“The Smart Road will boast several amenities like cycle track, wide footpath, CCTV surveillance, automated traffic signal system, sitting arrangement for pedestrians and wi-fi facility on the street. Once the road is complete, there will be no room for digging and thus underground pipeline and drainage system will be put in place before the construction of the road. Underground pipelines will be used to lay power cables and the street will also be free from overhead cables.”

The Smart Road project commenced in the summer of 2018, and the estimated time for completion of the project was six months including the monsoon months and the estimated cost of project was 16 crores. At present, even after giving three extensions the smart road is far from completion.

In Nashik, bureaucrats assume that the public is not interested in keeping track of the projects. . But from  the Smart Road Project, it is evident that the locals are the ones who are suffering the most.. The role of the residents  was limited to the proposal making stage of Nashik Smart City and the projects are claimed to be designed as per people’s demands. However, the public narrative contrasts these claims of the officials. According to many, the surveys were done during the proposal making stage but none of their demands received priority in the proposal. Also, the consultation meetings happened in “5-star hotels with a very limited group of people.” .

Figure 6: People navigating their ways through the ongoing Smart Road Project (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 6: People navigating their ways through the ongoing Smart Road Project (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Furthermore, there is no visible information in the cityscape of Nashik about smart city projects – no billboards, no kiosks or signage. Instead, there are co-optations of the smart city rhetoric within local entrepreneurial visuals.

Figure 7: Banner put up by a Shopkeeper along the Smart Road which says "We are literally on the Smart Road" (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

Figure 7: Banner put up by a Shopkeeper along the Smart Road which says "We are literally on the Smart Road" (Photo by Shilpa Dahake)

This banner is a response to the “chaotic, mismanagement, and haphazard planning of the Smart Road Project” as informed by shopkeeper who has put up this banner. It says “We are literally on Smart Road”, suggesting the loss incurred due to Smart Road project. Due to recurring delay in the works of the Smart Road project all the community stakeholders along the ‘proposed’ smart road either are facing loss in their businesses, or hurdles in daily routine, or traffic problems.

Figure 8: Troubled with the delay in work of the Smart Road one of the shopkeepers has put this offer. The flyer says "Khadda Offer: 10% off on purchase of selected trophies till the pits created at Ashok Stambh for Smart Road are filled" (Source: https://www.lokmat.com/nashik/shoppers-special-offer-will-be-available-nashik-smart-road-pit/)

Figure 8: Troubled with the delay in work of the Smart Road one of the shopkeepers has put this offer. The flyer says "Khadda Offer: 10% off on purchase of selected trophies till the pits created at Ashok Stambh for Smart Road are filled" (Source: https://www.lokmat.com/nashik/shoppers-special-offer-will-be-available-nashik-smart-road-pit/)

Smartness Enroute

Due to upcoming State Assembly elections in Maharashtra the SCP have gained pace in Nashik and the major projects are expected to be on-ground by September. This push has highlighted projects like Smart Parking, Project Goda, Smart City Operations Center and CCTV Project.

The Smart Parking project is ICT based parking management on 28 on-street and 5 off-street public parking spaces. This is a PPP project which is implemented by Trigyn Technologies and they have developed Nashik Smart Parking App to check the live availability of parking spots.

Figure 9: Smart Parking - Visual Message Display

Figure 9: Smart Parking - Visual Message Display

The Project Goda which is a riverfront development project proposed along the religious stretch of the river Godavari in Nashik. This project has been facing hiccups since the first Request for Proposal was floated in the beginning of 2018. Since then the tender document has been revised twice owing to the ongoing PILs in the High Court for the conservation of the river and the tender bids were cancelled due to over estimations. At present, the project has been broken down into five components with five different tender documents.

Figure 10: Site of proposed Project Goda site

Figure 10: Site of proposed Project Goda site

The Smart City Operations Center and CCTV project is a convergence project with a the primary aim of streamlining the operations of Nashik Municipal Corporation and enforcing security and surveillance.

Nashik, A Distorted Smart City

The political, local, and official narrative of the SCPs reproduces an urban imagery of Nashik which is appearing to be ‘cracked and refracted’[i]. People of Nashik have been hearing about the Smart City Projects since 2016, but what exactly it is and how will it look is still a blurry picture. The distortion is emerging due to inconsistency and lack of accountability in working of Smart City Projects and communication gap between state-citizens regarding the concept/impact/benefits of the SCP.. For Nashik, it is still a case of wait and watch to fully understand and see the materialization of ‘Smart’ within the Smart City Project.

Bibliography

Appadurai, A. (2000). Spectral housing and urban cleansing: notes on millennial Mumbai. Public culture, 12(3), 627-651.