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No Smart City for the Poor: Odisha Will Evict Thousands from Slums

Smart cities will benefit only a few and exclude the poor from the resources they so badly need, activists say.

Published
India
3 min read
An Indian slum dweller attempts to stop a woman from trying to prevent an eviction drive by government authorities. (Photo: Reuters)

Once known as the Temple City for its ancient Hindu temples, Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, aims to reposition itself as a hub for technology and healthcare with funding from a government programme to modernise cities.

It is one of 100 Smart Cities that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to create by 2022 that will have internet connectivity, uninterrupted power and water supply, efficient public transport and living standards comparable to Europe.

But India's drive to overhaul its cities to accommodate a growing population of migrants will force tens of thousands of people from their slums as city planners spruce up central business districts and build metro train lines, activists say.

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7.5 Billion Makeover For Only 4 Percent of the Population

Flames envelop an unauthorised slum that was razed to the ground by
authorities as part of an eviction drive. (Photo: Reuters)
Flames envelop an unauthorised slum that was razed to the ground by authorities as part of an eviction drive. (Photo: Reuters)

"We have no choice. If we stay, the government will forcefully evict us," said Ananda Chandra Parida, who has lived in Bhubaneswar's Kargil slum since 2007. The slum is home to 2,000 families.

“The houses they are building for us are small, and many of us cannot afford them,” said Parida, 40, who lives in a two-room brick house with his wife and two children.

Government officials say that India's cities — 13 of which are among the 20 most polluted cities in the world — desperately need the $7.5 billion makeover.

About a third of the country's 1.25 billion population lives in cities, with the numbers growing every year as tens of thousands of migrants leave their villages to seek better prospects in urban areas. Many migrants end up in overcrowded slums which lack basic facilities.

About 65 million people live in India's slums, according to 2011 census data, which activists say is a low estimate.

Activists say the Smart Cities Mission is neglecting the needs of millions of people like them.

(The plan) will only benefit a few and exclude the most vulnerable from the resources they so badly need.
Rajendra Ravi, National Alliance of People’s Movements

Most cities that have submitted development proposals in order to be picked as a Smart City, plan on spending more than 70 percent of funds on developing an area for the benefit of only about 4 percent of the city's population, said Bhanu Joshi, a researcher at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi.

It’s a very exclusionary plan that doesn’t take into account everyone who makes up an urban space. Simply monetising the land and building fancy enclaves does not make a city inclusive or sustainable or smart.
Bhanu Joshi, Researcher at Centre for Policy Research

A City That Doesn’t Look Poor or Dirty

Campaigners say about 50,000 slum dwellers will be evicted in Bhubaneswar, many of whom will also lose their livelihoods. (Photo: iStock)
Campaigners say about 50,000 slum dwellers will be evicted in Bhubaneswar, many of whom will also lose their livelihoods. (Photo: iStock)

Government officials, who have unveiled 60 Smart Cities so far, say the project will boost investment and create millions of jobs.

But in Bhubaneswar, campaigners say about 50,000 slum dwellers will be evicted, many of whom will also lose their livelihoods.

There have also been demolitions and evictions in slums in the cities of Indore and Bhopal in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, which were named as Smart Cities.

City officials in Bhubaneswar defended the plan.

Our plan is very inclusive. We are planning 6,000 units of affordable housing which would be allotted to them near their locality at a highly subsidised rate.
Krishan Kumar, Vice Chairman of Bhubaneswar Development Authority

Even when slum dwellers are offered accommodation, officials are applying an eligibility criteria based on the number of years spent there, thus excluding many, NAPM's Ravi said.

“They just want us to go far away. They don’t want huts in the city area,” said Ramesh Kumar, a cobbler who had lived in Charan Khad and now rents a tiny room in town.“You want to make a smart city and you think we look poor and are dirty; where should we go?” he said.

(This article has been edited for length and published in an arrangment with Thomson Reuters Foundation that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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