Hypertrophic castles?

Read in The Economist of 23 May 2015:

Last week’s Special Report of the London based business weekly The Economist was on India. How is the new president Modi doing? The man from Gujarat who won the elections in this 1,3 billion people’s republic in 2014 promised to turn his vast country into a modern society. "Ten years is all that is needed." So how will his ‘Indian Century’ look like? Among the first things Modi did was abolishing Delhi’s Planning Commission. It produced "rigid national schemes in fields such as education, rural jobs and urban renewal which required the states that implemented them to put up significant funds." The Economist agrees on that: "The states felt disempowered." Instead there is now a thinktank, Niti Aayog, that will do. The Aayog has been mandated to serve as a policy think-tank for the central as well as state governments and has Prime Minister as its Chairperson. The process has been dubbed ‘competitive federalism’. State governments have now 42% of central tax receipts.

The other new thing in the domain of planning is Mr. Modi starts building new cities. The Economist: "Apart from a few pampered places such as New Delhi, (Indian) politicians were mostly indifferent to cities." Half of the population of India is now living in cities, but politicians still think villages and small towns are better living environments for people. So Mr. Modi said he wants to build 100 smart cities. The first, GIFT City, is now rising on 358 hectares of semi-desert near Ahmedabad. "By 2024 there should be 110 towers, a metro, 25.000 appartments, hospitals, hotels and an artificial lake." States are bidding for central funds (this year 945 million dollar). Andhra Pradesh claims it will build the biggest smart city in Hyderabad. Vijayawada will house no less than 22 million people. The Economist thinks the prospects would be better if municipal corporations were stronger and if existing cities would profit. They do not. All this ‘100 smart cities’ ambition might be only political. In The Guardian (7 May 2015) it was even suggested that we are dealing with ‘hypertrophic castles in the sky’, neoliberal Special Economic Zones that might turn into ‘social apartheid cities’. Indian government, the newspaper wrote, would do better to foster democracy and rule of law. Why not combine both?





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