After announcing 100 smart cities five years back, BJP announced its planning to open 100 additional airports by 2024, as part of a plan to revive economic growth in Asia’s third-largest economy, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The proposal, which includes starting 1,000 new routes connecting smaller towns and villages, was discussed at a meeting last week to review the infrastructure needed by 2025. With economic activity at a six-year low and prospects of further slowdown looming, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to double down on infrastructure projects in a bid to revive growth and achieve a target of making India a USD 5 trillion economy by 2025.
India, with a population of one billion plus, is the seventh-largest economy in the world. The rapid pace of growth witnessed by the country is an indicator of the rising aspirations of its citizens. Economic growth directly linked to labor market efficiency has the potential to spring at a much faster rate of citizens in metropolitan areas are provided with better lifestyles. This is also the need of the hour, considering the country has witnessed matchless levels of migration from rural to urban India for education and professional reasons. One way to achieve this is through a focus on ease of living, build smart cities that are well equipped with public facilities, have adequate infrastructure to support the needs of contemporary Indian families, and last but not the least, are affordable. According to figures on the Union urban development ministry’s website, 49.5% of projects are yet to be initiated but without proper guidelines. Of the 60 cities selected so far, projects have started on the ground in the first batch of 20 chosen by the ministry last January. Work is yet to take off in 40 cities that were selected last September.
While 60 have been chosen so far, the ministry plans to select the remaining 40 by June. BJP-ruled states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra – are ahead in the race. Indore, Bhopal, and Jabalpur have started implementing 20 of the 159 projects that were approved for these three cities and completed 12. Surat and Ahmedabad have started work on eight of the 49 projects and completed two while Udaipur and Jaipur have completed three of the 91 projects that were selected.
Since the time the Narendra Modi-led government assumed office, it has highlighted the urgency of providing Indians with a better lifestyle, starting from basic sanitation to affordable housing to building a digital India. We need to acknowledge that our metro cities are bursting at the seams, and capacity building is the only way forward. Semi-urban areas need to be groomed and graduated to cities, so that education, jobs, public utilities such as electricity, public transport, and sanitation, healthcare is no more a ‘privilege’ of the few, but a matter of fact for every Indian citizen. This is contrary to the Left-leaning ecosystem that has glorified poverty and sees no problem when a significant chunk of the Nation does not have access to basic facilities like electricity or potable water.
Meanwhile, for a smart city to succeed the government needs to create more jobs. The smart city concept came from growing urbanization. That means an increasing population as a result of better-paid jobs. If you do not create jobs and you have more urbanization, it will be chaos. That is what is happening to the concept of smart cities in India. Everyone thinks that painting the walls, keeping the city in a fancy look is what makes the city look smart but building better roads, having better connectivity, better parking, etc means a Smart city.
Well! Smart cities, yet to establish their existence, now India’s plans to expedite airport development still trails that of China’s, which has set a goal of having 450 commercial airports by 2035, almost double the number at the end of 2018.
The Indian government has committed investments of 1 trillion rupees to build airports in the next 5 years. Just three years back, only 75 of India’s 450 runways were functional, as airlines avoided flying to smaller, World War-era airstrips in smaller towns. But Modi’s subsidy program, which partly funds airline losses while capping fares on remote routes, has helped add as many as 38 airports to the nation’s aviation map at the start of this year, while contracts were given to airlines to start flights to a further 63 airports with no or limited connectivity.
In a bid to privatize state-owned airports and allegedly to benefit a well-known corporate house, the Central government has planned to privatize six more airports. All six airports that have been listed for the second round of the privatization – Bhubaneswar, Varanasi, Indore, Trichy, Amritsar, and Raipur – will, in all probability, be awarded to the Adani group. The government has brushed aside the suggestions given by the ministry of finance to allegedly benefit Adani. The Ministry of Finance had recommended that any company or corporate house will not be awarded more than two airports, but NH has learned that the Modi government is planning to lift the cap that will pave the way for Adani to win all the six airports after the “bidding”. If the Adani group gets all the six airports in this round, it will become the largest group managing and developing airports in India. BJP government is accused of selling off everything from roads to airports to natural resources and profit-making public-sector companies including railways and Bharat Petroleum. All worker’s unions have protested privatizations of airports including RSS-affiliated Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), but the Modi government did not pay any heed to their protest. It shows that the government’s priority is to benefit their corporate friends, not for the common man.
Meanwhile, the Smart city plan is slowly walking into its death. Which external investor would want to invest in cities with dismal infrastructure (potholed and congested Roads, inept public transport, poor Internet connectivity)? State Governments only launch those projects, which give them political mileage and help in image building for the next State elections.