Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the concept and announced the establishment of 100 smart cities some three years ago. The PM sought the assistance of overseas based PIOs in investment, ideas, and skills to help achieve the smart city goals in transforming India. And the diaspora, which wholeheartedly supports Modi-ji’s policy for India, has endorsed the smart city mission and is committed to be a part of it. The diaspora has been investing in and visiting various states in India boosting tourism as well as speeding up development. Unfortunately, Jabalpur has not been among tourist destinations of the diaspora. But it has a lot of potential for tourism as well as for lucrative investment. The smart city team of Jabalpur, set up by the Madya Pradesh government, is committed to transforming their city as well as doing the needful to attract investment from the Indian diaspora in the goal to make it a modern city. The PM is also encouraging the diaspora to invest in the smart city projects promising to eliminate bureaucratic red tape. Jabalpur Smart City Team promises a grand welcome to and facilitation of investors.
As explained by Jabalpur Team, the concept behind a smart city is to transform an area with commerce, tourism, education, improved infrastructure and delivery of services, greenery, sanitation, and other measures. Jabalpur, in central Madya Pradesh (MP) is among the listed 100 smart cities. Dr. Vishnu Bisram and Prof. Ram Shankar were invited for an interaction with the Jabalpur Smart City Management team to offer ideas on and critique the plan to transform the city. We thank Team Jabalpur (Commissioner Shri Ved Prakash, Chairman Shri Mahesh Chandra, CEO Shri Gajendra Singh Nagesh, Director Shri Jagdeep Kumar Kapoor, and others) for their warm hospitality and for listening to our ideas and constructive critiques. We pledge to work with the team.
Since many indentured laborers came from Jabalpur and neighbouring Gond districts of MP, and because of Dr. Bisram's interest in wanting to offer a helping hand to develop the areas from where the indentured (Girmityas) migrated, and being a development economist, he and Prof Ram Shankar gladly met with the Smart City team in Jabalpur who welcomed me with open arms. Significant work to transform Jabalpur into a smart city has already begun and the project is on the right path; the team seems serious in their work and is to be applauded for the pace of their achievements. Prof Ram Shankar has been doing research on the diaspora especially on girmityas (indentured workers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries) from the greater Jabalpur area. Jabalpur is about the cleanest and greenest city Dr. Bisram said he has visited in India. He noted that people are also very warm, and he said he was accorded gracious hospitality everywhere he went.
According to the last (2011) census, Jabalpur is the third-largest city of Madhya. Jabalpur is 2nd largest metropolis of Central India after Raipur which is followed by Bhopal, Bilaspur, and Indore. Jabalpur has historically been an important city. During the early nineteenth century, Jabalpur was annexed by British India and called Jubbulpore (name on immigration ship documents of the girmityas to the Caribbean or Fiji) and incorporated as a cantonment town. It is a very important city in terms of the defense of India with critical ammunitions made and or stored in the area.
In traveling around, Dr. Bisram, Director of the New York based Center for Diaspora Studies, said he was impressed what he saw with the work to transform Jabalpur into a modern smart city. As conceived and outlined by Modi-ji and his advisor, the purpose of the Smart Cities Mission is “to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to Smart outcomes”. The objective is “to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions”.
The Jabalpur team ought to be complimented for focusing on sustainable and inclusive development. The team is following the smart city mission under which “area based development is supposed to ‘transform an area (retrofit and redevelop), including slums within in or near the city, into better planned ones, thereby improving livability of the whole City. New areas (greenfield) will be developed around cities in order to accommodate the expanding population in urban areas. Application of Smart Solutions will enable cities to use technology, information and data to improve infrastructure and services. Comprehensive development in this way will improve quality of life, create employment and enhance incomes for all, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, leading to inclusive Cities”.
As posited by the central government, “the Smart Cities Mission is a bold, new initiative. It is meant to set examples that can be replicated both within and outside the Smart City, catalyzing the creation of similar Smart Cities in various regions and parts of the country”.
And the Jabalpur Team is guided by it and not sidetracked. According to Jabalpur Smart City team, on its brochure, their goal is “to develop the entire urban eco-system, which is represented by four pillars of comprehensive development -- institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure. This is a long term goal with comprehensive infrastructure incrementally added on layers of ‘smartness’.”
“The core infrastructure elements of a smart city would include: adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, sanitation, including solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing, especially for the poor, robust IT connectivity and digitalization, good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation, sustainable environment (restricting adverse effect on the environment), safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly, and health and education”. This is not, however, an exhaustive list, and cities are free to add more applications.
The Jabalpur smart city team says it is committed to “transforming Jabalpur into a vibrant regional economic and cultural hub through inclusive urban regeneration, to act as a magnet for investment and new opportunities for the youths” to make it into a modern city. It is willing to provide training to NGOs, people, and businesses in entrepreneurship including: business networking, accounting, financial management, banking, capitalist ventures, loan start up, business training, legal matters, smart payment, and other services related to business, marketing analysis, resource mobilization, tourism, etc. The team is encouraging investment in Jabalpur which is offering varied schemes to encourage investment. This city offers enormous opportunities for profitability in a number of areas not the least being in dairy and tourism – religious sites, dams, falls, holy river (Narmada), and ancestral home of many early immigrants – government can encourage overseas PIOs from Jabalpur, Gwalior and Gond to trace roots or at a minimum to visit the land of their fore-parents. There are also opportunities for educational and health care investment in schools, universities, and modern hospitals.
The Jabalpur smart city team is open to ideas; it encourages interaction and engagement to achieve its mission and goals. One can google www.jscljabalpur.org for more info.
*Vishnu Bisram is a political analyst and economist in New York specializing on the Indian diaspora; Ram Shankar is Prof and Chair of Political Science at Jabalpur Univ