PUNE: The Union government's plan to build 100 smart cities across the country will lead to conversion of thousands of acres of farmland into commercial and residential establishments, said experts.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government plans such cities across the country with GIS (Geographic Information Systems)-based town planning. Plans are to use the latest technology and infrastructure, integrated waste management and advanced transport system for the proposed cities. According to the government's plan, these sustainable cities with modern facilities will enable the Centre to catch up with the expected transition that forecasts about 59 crore people living in urban areas in the next two decades.
"The government needs to explain its smart city concept. So far, it is obvious that more urbanisation and expansion of cities will eat into the agricultural land around the city's fringes which is quite evident in Pune city. The fringes are rapidly losing their green cover. Also, the government is yet to answer who will benefit from such cities," said Ulka Mahajan, activist and convener of Anti-globalization Action Committee (AAC).
The Centre has defended its plan saying that studies have projected that nearly 70% of the new employment will be generated in cities by 2025-30. The BJP's manifesto has claimed it 'will look at urbanisation as an opportunity rather than a threat'. According to the 2011 census, 32 per cent (377 million) of the country's population live in urban areas as against 28 per cent in 2001 and 17 per cent in 1991. But activists said the government's explanation is not sufficient. "What will be the place of farmers and poor in these cities and what is the government going to do with them?" asked Mahajan.
"The government plans to create infrastructure in new cities, but is there no assurance that farmers who will lose their lands will get their share in the urbanised surroundings. Also, the government needs to declare how much agricultural land the country needs under cultivation and on how much land does it want to create cities and industrial corridors," said Mahajan.
Activist Suniti Su Ra alleged that the government is promoting interests of the corporate world. "The government has made its priorities very clear and it wants to speed up the land acquisition process. We have to redefine idea of India and to whom this nation belongs," she said.
The Environment Status Report (ESR) of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for 2013-14 has confirmed what environmentalists and experts have said all along — expanding the city limits would strain Pune's infrastructure and in turn lead to serious environmental degradation.