Pune: Making a strong pitch to consider urbanisation as an opportunity to mitigate poverty and not as a problem, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said cities have to be strengthened through comprehensive and inter-connected approach combined with increased public participation.
Addressing a gathering here after the launch of projects under government's flagship Smart City mission in 20 cities across the country, he said, "There was a time in our country when urbanisation was considered a big problem. But, I feel differently. We should not consider urbanisation as a problem, but consider it as an opportunity."
"People in the economic field consider cities as a growth centre.... If anything has the potential to mitigate poverty it is our cities. That is why people from poor places migrate to cities, as they find opportunities there. "It is now our responsibility to provide strength to cities so that it can mitigate the maximum poverty, in the shortest time, and adds new avenues for development. It is possible as it is not a difficult task," he said.
As the prime minister launched 14 smart city projects in Pune, and initiated 69 other works in other smart cities in the country, he made a plea for working in a comprehensive, inter-connected and vision-oriented manner and not in piece-meal.
"There cannot be a transformation as long as we take things in bits and pieces. We need to adopt a comprehensive, inter-connected and vision-oriented approach," he said.
Modi added that every city has a distinct identity and the country's people "who are the smartest" should decide on how to develop urban spaces. Stressing that the spirit of participative governance is vital, he said people of the cities have to decide about the development of their urban spaces as these decisions cannot be taken by people sitting in Delhi. He stressed on increased public participation in deciding the course of development of smart cities and called for intense competition among cities to develop them as modern centres of growth.
"If we consider it as a problem, our approach to address it would be the same, but if we consider it an an opportunity we would start thinking differently," he said.
Modi also took a veiled dig at the previous Congress governments, alleging that while they took the country on the reverse path, his government was finding new avenues to move forward. Modi said smart cities should not be seen as a fancy concept since the mission is meant for ensuring availability of basic services to people though infrastructure including houses for urban poor in a comprehensive manner.
He referred to extensive use of digital technology in the smart city plans for improving the quality of governance and public services. Expressing satisfaction over citizen participation in preparation of smart city plans, he said, over 2.5 million people have given serious suggestions to the government, which need to be taken seriously.
"Earlier competition was being run on who was left behind and who are poor. Ways were being found to move backwards. This is a government which is running a competition for finding ways to move forward," Modi said.
The prime minister said it was not as if no work was done earlier or governments did not spend budgets, but wondered how some countries surpassed India in a short period despite attaining independence after it. "I keep asking this question to myself and wonder. I discuss this with people and analyse old experiences.... if anyone is the smartest it is the citizen of the country. "If the strength of 125 crore citizens is put to good use and their skills harnessed, they can do wonders. Then one does not require governments, the world will move faster on its own," he said.
Modi said that is the reason why this smart city concept was evolved through public participation and stressed that if people are empowered and involved in participatory development the country would develop faster. He urged people to rise to the challenge for improving urban areas and said the era of competition among cities and towns has come to stay.
In his 35-minute address at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, the prime minister while referring to the "changing" attitudes said gone are the days when the central government was looked as a giver of funds, as it was now being looked at as a source of ideas. Elaborating, he said that in all the recent surveys, Swachh Bharat Mission was ranked as the most popular of government's initiatives since the idea of sanitation appealed to people.
Modi launched the flagship Smart City Mission into implementation mode with the launch of 14 projects of Pune's Smart City Plan, a year after he set off the programme by releasing its guidelines. He said urban spaces have to focus on solid and liquid waste management.
The prime minister also launched "Make Your City Smart" contest inviting people to come out with designs for street, junctions and open spaces and a "Smart Net Portal" which is a net based platform for sharing of ideas and sourcing of solutions for smart city development. Minister of Urban Development M. Venkaiah Naidu said that the smart city projects launched on Saturday were the first shoots of urban renaissance taking place in the country as a result of paradigm shift in the approaches to urban development ushered in by the government. He said what is happening in Pune on Saturday was "historic". "It is a turning point in the country's history. We have heard about cultural renaissance, but under Prime Minister Narendra Modi an urban renaissance is taking place," he said.
Naidu said the the journey towards much desired urban transformation has begun in a 'Team India' spirit with the collective effort of people, urban local bodies and state governments. "This marks the beginning of the much-needed urban transformation," he said, lauding Modi's efforts whom he described as a "reformer, performer and transformer".
Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan briefed Modi via videoconferencing on the cities in the respective states selected for development under the project. Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Unions Ministers Venkaiah Naidu, Babul Supriyo and Prakash Javadekar, Maharashtra Minister Girish Bapat were present on the occasion. Fadnavis said smart cities initiative has taken care of the poor and stands for inclusive governance that will transform cities.