Each time there is a mention of Smart Cities in India, I get concerned about the safety of women because there is a surfeit of news stemming from the vulnerability of women in our cities. These incidents paint the picture of cities unsafe for women and children on foot, in own vehicles or while using public transport.
From unsafe to unhealthy cities, India attracts attention. A recent UN study noted that the highest concentration of PM (particulate matter) 2.5 is in Indian cities. These tiny airborne particulates can increase the risk of heart disease and respiratory ailments. The PM 2.5 levels in the national capital New Delhi are so high that breathing the air for only a few hours can have an irreversible health impact. These upsetting reports bring out the need for safer and more habitable cities before India builds 100 Smart Cities.
India clearly needs to morph its Smart Cities plan into one that lays equal emphasis on making our cities most habitable and safe. While Smart Cities are necessary, the liveability aspect needs to get top priority. The recent, albeit temporarily halted, move by the National Green Tribunal to ban all over 10-year-old diesel vehicles from plying on Delhi roads is commendable. That perhaps is the only way to show to the rest of the country what needs to be done to make the country more habitable. One only hopes that its implementation does not lead to dilution.
The next important element is an efficient transport system ensures that every part of the city is well connected. By deploying smart travel cards, it affords safe and convenient travel for women, those with children and elderly people by various modes, at any time of the day.
For safe, habitable and smart cities, India’s public transport system needs to be scaled up to create options where most citizens prefer public transport to their private vehicles. The dependence on personal vehicles for work has to reduce. Movement on India’s inadequate road infrastructure will become even tougher and unsustainable as it adds nearly two million vehicles a month.