New Delhi, 9 June 2017
A study released in New Delhi on 9 June 2017, by
Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), India, brings to light several human
rights issues related to India’s much publicized Smart Cities Mission (SCM),
which aims to create 100 ‘smart cities’ in the country by
the year 2020.
As the Mission completes two years this month, HLRN’s
report titled ‘India’s Smart Cities Mission: Smart for Whom? Cities for
Whom?’ presents a human rights and social justice analysis of the process
and guidelines of the Mission as well as of the 60 selected Smart City
Proposals. The report also provides recommendations to the government and other
involved agencies, with the aim of fulfilling the realization of human rights
of all residents and promoting inclusive, integrated, and sustainable national
The study finds that the positive components of Smart
City Proposals lie largely within the ambit of formulating technological
solutions, developing renewable energy sources, and building resilience of
cities. The proposals, however, lack a comprehensive vision for the future that
omits the needs and aspirations of cities and their inhabitants, especially the
majority who live and work in cities.
HLRN’s report highlights major human rights concerns
and challenges related to the Smart Cities Mission. These include the
1. Failure to
adopt an inclusionary and sustainable approach to development: The
entire notion of developing as ‘smart cities’ only 100 of India’s over 4,000
cities and towns appears to be discriminatory. The Mission promotes greater
urbanization without addressing its structural causes such as the agrarian
crisis, rural distress, failed land reform, and forced migration.Though
the aim of promoting the development of small towns is noteworthy, the Mission
does not seem to be the appropriate vehicle for achieving this
objective.As 56 of the 60 shortlisted ‘smart cities’ are also included in
the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), and since
the allegedly richest municipality in the country—New Delhi Municipal
Council—is also one of the ‘smart cities,’ the criteria for selection as well
as the utility and benefits of the Mission are not clear. Also,the
competition format results in the best proposals being selected, not
necessarily the cities requiring greatest attention.
of a human rights approach: The Mission and the Smart City Proposals
fail to adopt a human rights approach, including with regard to gender equality
and non-discrimination. There is a disturbing silence on the specific needs and
rights of women, children, and marginalized groups such as Scheduled Castes,
Scheduled Tribes, minorities, migrants, domestic workers, and persons with
disabilities. The lack of human rights standards and indicators to monitor
implementation also raise questions about whether the Mission will be able
to improve living conditions of all city residents, especially low income
groups and other disadvantaged communities.
of democracy: The composition of the Special Purpose Vehicle—the entity
created under the Indian Companies Act to implement the Mission—and its
potential to bypass elected governments and urban local bodies as well as its
apparent lack of accountability, brings to light serious issues about the
nature of governance being promoted.
4. Denial of the
rights to participation and information: Participation of residents,
especially of low income groups, in Smart City Proposals has been limited.
Furthermore, adequate information related to different dimensions of the
Mission, including the criteria for selection, has not been provided.
5. Forced evictions and displacement: Despite
raising the issue of housing for low income groups in their proposals, none of
the selected cities have included operational plans on how targets will be met,
neither have they incorporated housing standards to ensure the guarantee of the
right to adequate housing. Instead, forced evictions and threats of eviction
for ‘smart city’-related projects, already have been reported in Indore,
Bhubaneswar, Delhi, and Kochi. Land acquisition for greenfield projects is also
likely to result in loss of farmland and forests, and promote more displacement
while threatening rural livelihoods and food security.
reliance on technology and violation of the right to privacy: While
the Mission places an overwhelming focus on digitalization and technology-driven
‘smart solutions,’ it is important to note that technological innovations alone
are not sufficient to solve the structural issues that plague urban India.
Moreover, the creation of consolidated electronic databases of residents’
information could give rise to serious privacy concerns, identity theft,
increased surveillance, data misuse, and security breaches.
7. High dependence on foreign and private sector investment: Dependence on foreign investment and the corporate sector for financing the
Mission is high. The consulting firm Deloitte has estimated a requisite
investment of 150 billion US dollars (120 billion from the private sector) for
the realization of SCM targets. In addition to concerns about corporate control
of city development processes, it is apparent that the corporate sector,
including large multinational companies, is likely to be the greatest
beneficiary of the Mission.
Given the human rights issues and multiple challenges
of the Smart Cities Mission, HLRN’s report proposes the following
recommendations to the government and involved agencies:
1. Incorporate a human
rights and social justice approach in all stages of the Mission, while
developing standards and human rights-based indicators to monitor its
implementation and progress. Implementation of ‘smart city’ projects must not
result in the violation of any human rights.
comprehensive human rights and environmental impact assessments before
any ‘smart city’ project is sanctioned. Ensure the free, prior, and
informed consent of all affected persons before any project is implemented.
3. Guarantee adequate people’s
participation, including of women, minorities, and marginalized groups, at
every stage of the Mission’s development and implementation.
4. Revise the structure and
operational principles of the Special Purpose Vehicle to
ensure that it works within the framework of democracy provided by the
Constitution of India.
5. Promote integrated rural and
urban development, invest adequately in rural areas, and address issues of
the acute agrarian crisis, land-grabbing, landlessness, internal displacement,
and distress migration – through adequate budgetary and policy interventions,
including through the Rurban Mission.
6. Ensure comprehensive
convergence of the Smart Cities Mission with other schemes, especially
AMRUT, Housing for All–2022/Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission,
and Heritage City Augmentation and Development Yojana (HRIDAY – which also
includes four of the selected ‘smart cities’). Develop an overarching human
rights and environmental framework to monitor all schemes.Link
implementation of all schemes, including of the Smart Cities Mission, with the
Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement, and ensure
compliance with India’s international and national legal commitments.
7. Regulate the role and
functioning of the corporate sector, prevent privatization of basic
services, and make sure that all private and foreign investment projects comply
with human rights and environmental laws and standards.
8. Ensure that technological and
infrastructure development plans promote inclusive development, and are
based on local requirements, comprehensive need assessments, clear guidelines,
and human rights principles.
9. Implement recommendations of
the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing,
particularly those about India’s Smart Cities Mission, and the recommendations
from India’s third Universal Periodic Review related to socio-economic and
sustainable development, housing, water, sanitation, poverty eradication, and
According to Shivani Chaudhry, Executive Director, Housing and Land
Rights Network, "Our analysis of the Smart Cities Mission highlights the
glaring absence of a human rights approach and the lack of emphasis on
inclusion, social justice, and equitable development. The undemocratic powers
conferred on the Special Purpose Vehicle and the momentous role assigned to the
corporate sector reveal the rise of two alarming trends: the corporatization
of Indian cities and the privatization of urban governance.
The premise of the ‘smart city’—as a relevant model for India—needs a
fundamental re-evaluation, especially when profits seem to prevail over people
and technology over human rights. This is all the more urgent given the
increasing levels of exclusion, impoverishment, unemployment, hunger, homelessness,
forced evictions, and displacement of the urban poor in our cities.”
Given the many concerns and challenges related to the
Smart Cities Mission, HLRN hopes that all involved agencies—state and
non-state—will consider implementing the recommendations presented in its
study. HLRN believes that it is important for the Indian government, at both
the central and state levels, to adopt a strong human rights approach in all
policies and schemes, including the Smart Cities Mission. The state should also
take measures to guarantee the protection and realization of the ‘right to the
city,’ which includes the right to equitable access to the city, to equitable
participation in its development, and to an equal share of its benefits, for
all residents. No city can be considered ‘smart’ if it ignores the interests of
poor, marginalized, and vulnerable groups and communities.
The report -India’s Smart Cities Mission:
Smart for Whom? Cities for Whom?- is available at:
This press release is also available online at: http://hlrn.org.in/documents/Press_Release_Smart_Cities_Report_9_June_2017.pdf