Op-Ed: A City Becomes ‘Smart’ When People Act ‘Smart’!

The stars of the business world, who descended on Bhubaneswar for the second edition of the Make in Odisha conclave, must have been quite impressed with what they saw in the Smart City: freshly coated roads, smartly dressed traffic personnel, the swanky hotels, the glitzy shopping arcades and, last but not the least, the hi-tech extravaganza at the Janata Maidan, the venue for the star-studded event. Chances are some, if not all, of them have formed an opinion about the wonderful work that the ‘Maker of Modern Odisha’ has done to change the face of this benighted state from what they saw during their short stay in the city.

Forgive me for being a spoilsport. But how I wish they had taken the trouble of visiting the area I live in and seen for themselves some vignettes of the Smart City: hundreds of people – men, women and children, defecating by the side of the road! Or any other residential area in the city where heaps of rotting, stinking garbage, leaking pipes, overflowing drains and walls being used as public urinals are more the norm than exception.

But then, the VVIPs saw what Naveen Patnaik wanted them to see: the bright, shining side of the Smart City rather than its ugly underbelly. And there was no way Naveen, the perception manager par excellence, would have allowed the Beautiful People to see things ugly.

There are two getaways to the city from my place. If the nauseating smell of human shit pervades the air on one side, the other side presents a stark contrast: spacious, neatly metalled, tree-lined roads with wide footpaths for pedestrians on either side. Early in the morning, you will find scores of people, both men and women, jogging or taking their morning walk on these tracks. For the rest of the day, however, these sidewalks turn into makeshift roads for bikers – and occasionally for cars too – who whiz past as if driving on the main road. The reason: no one wants to take the trouble of travelling an extra kilometer till the ‘cut’ to drive on the road!

Further down the same route, the road becomes narrow, clumsy and congested with a kilometer and half long divider making driving, especially cars, a nightmare. What makes things all the more difficult for commuters is a stretch of about half a kilometer beginning at the ITER square and ending at the traffic signal near the Prameya office where you will find more people driving on the wrong side than on the right at any time of the day or night. The reason is the same as the one cited above: the absence of an intersection.

You can always blame the civic authorities for their lack of foresight. But what about the people themselves? They would not bat an eyelid before spending upwards of Rs 60-70, 000 for the latest bike in the market and would zoom all over the city without bothering too much about petrol prices nearing the Rs. 80/litre mark. But when it comes to spending a rupee or two more to travel an extra kilometer till the ‘cut’ to ensure they stay on the right side of the road rather than drive on the wrong side or on the sidewalks, they develop cold feet.

The same ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude marks public behavoiur in other activities in the Smart City too: parking vehicles bang on the middle of the road; manoeuvering to the extreme left at traffic signals and then whizzing past other waiting, dumbstruck commuters to the extreme right just as the light turns green (sometimes even before it does so!); littering of public places; heaping garbage outside the neighbour’s doors; spitting and urinating on walls; converting public urinals into toilets; smoking openly in public without a care in the world (despite the ban supposedly in force!); using polythene bags, again despite the ban. The list is endless.

You cannot blame the government or the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) for any of this. It is entirely a reflection of the complete lack of what is called ‘civic sense’ among the people and there is little that civic authorities can do about it.

A city becomes ‘smart’ not because of the civic amenities available, but when the people themselves think and act ‘smart’!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)