Technology is a great enabler. It allows people to do things that were unimaginable just a decade back and affords freedom to think out of the box solutions to problems that were considered unsolvable earlier. Advancements in technology has also allowed policymakers to exploit them in country, city and town planning so as to improve lives of vast majority of people.
India has been a laggard to realize the potential of new tools of technology in governance. However, this late entry also means that we have a lot of successful examples to emulate and many unsuccessful ones to avoid in terms of models of planning and governance. The central and the various state governments have now embarked on an ambitious drive to simplify, streamline and augment governance and public service delivery by using information and communication technology (ICT).
Besides these, a number of allied technologies such as GPS, satellite navigation, high speed advanced scanning, internet of things, cloud computing and fiber optics have developed to the level where citizens can have latest information on demand, on their handheld devices, from computers to tabs and smartphones. Not only that, they open the scope for citizens’ participation in policy making process. This has been successfully done in various parts of the world and is soon going to be a reality in India as well. The government of Uttar Pradesh is an example which has taken numerous steps in improving the public service delivery by exploiting technology. Resultantly, the entire government machinery stands at a stage which could revolutionize way people interact with the government and avail government services across spectrum, from land records to government orders. Many other states are at different stages to apply high end technologies in governance.
Technology has also made improving the urban landscape in a radical manner. As has been shown by various cities around the world, it is not just possible to apply technology to solve pressing problems of urban life such as transportation and energy, but also enhance the quality of life tremendously by efficient economic planning, population management and accurate forecasting of utility requirements decades in advance. Cities like London are planning for transportation needs for three decades now. Singapore is taking steps to transform a smart city to a smart country where a complete set of information is available to all citizens at all time. Such planning is unimaginable without highly sophisticated computing and forecasting analytical tools.
The good thing about technology is that it does not differentiates and is available to all, rich and poor alike, across the globe. In that, it is a great leveler. So, if New York can allow free Wi-Fi internet through unused phone booths, so can the city of Patna which has made free Wi-Fi on a popular city road.
However, the entire exercise of converting a city into a smart city should follow after the basic necessities of citizens are fulfilled. Most of our cities are clogged, overburdened, garbage filled, crime infested landscapes spewing venomous pollutants. In this situation, perhaps the first step has to be providing citizens safety, easy commute on road and affordable housing rather than offering free Wi-Fi internet and money transfer on phone. While these no doubt improve ease of life, these needs come after the more basic requirements of life are fulfilled. On balance, a judicious blend of pragmatism and futuristic dream is needed to make urban India livable again.