November 29, 2023
The Srinagar Smart City Project was launched in the year 2017, but in popular discourses, the term was pushed only after the abrogation of the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir in 2019. The Smart City Project helps the Indian state maintain the mirage of “development” while it moves to rapidly advance its settler colonial project in the region.
Even though the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) is the local civic body governing the city of Srinagar, the government of india came up with the Srinagar Smart City Limited (SSCL) corporation to manage the Smart City project. Interestingly, while members of the SMC are democratically elected, by design, all members of the board of directors of the SSCL are either bureaucrats that act as missionaries of the occupational state (IAS and KAS officers).
Here is what we know about this project and why it needs attention:
The website for the Smart City Project (https://srinagarsmartcity.in) maintains it aims as “Urban renewal and retrofitting (of Srinagar City) with the objective to core infrastructure, give a decent quality of life to the citizens, and apply smart solutions to improve services and infrastructure.” With themes like City Beautification and Urban Art, Urban Mobility, Street and Intersection Development, Central Business District Upgradation, etc. the project aims to “modernise” Srinagar city. 100 such projects are being carried out across Srinagar city, to ‘beautify’ the area. One such project that envisages a 5-bin segregation system for Solid Waste Management for Srinagar city is complete on paper, but the 5-bins have never actually been seen on the street.
While “Urban Art” is one of the themes, this also coincides with pro-freedom graffiti painted all over the city either being permanently removed or painted over.
Image Source: The Hindu
Image Source: Hindustan Times
Similarly, under the “Urban Mobility, Street, and Intersection” theme, roads have been dug up through the entire city, making people’s commute as well as business difficult. “It has become a nightmare to travel through Lal Chowk and this has heavily affected our business”, says Hilal Ahmad (name changed), a Sumo driver who operates on the Harwan – Lal Chowk route. At the same time, the footfall of Lal Chowk, the commercial hub of the city, has been heavily impacted. A shopkeeper who sells shoes at Lal Chowk says that “In my opinion where a 100,000 people visited Lal Chowk every day before the Smart City project began, it has come down to probably 20,000 or 25,000. This means the death of our business while we pay premium rent for occupying a shop in Lal Chowk.”
The Smart City Project was put in hyper mode as india announced Kashmir as the venue for a Tourism Working Group meeting of the G20 conference earlier in the year. The G20 was the first high-profile international event to be held in Kashmir after the abrogation; it was used by the indian state to project normalcy in Kashmir.
The use of “smart” projects by modern colonial powers is not new and in fact, india’s close aide in occupation, Israel, has perfected this model in Palestine. Israel uses AI powered apps and other high-tech apparatuses to maintain a crippling surveillance on Palestinians. Interestingly, the Srinagar Smart City also comes with a “My Srinagar” app which currently only has a few hundred downloads. Since the indian state has previously been accused of snooping on and stealing data from its own citizens, it won’t be a surprise if the “My Srinagar” app is made compulsory for Srinagar residents and then used to further surveil people.
At the same time as the indian regime in Kashmir makes a lot of noise around its conservation and Green Srinagar initiatives that are part of the Smart City Project, the Amarnath Yatra, the devasting environmental consequences of which have previously been highlighted was facilitated for a record 2 months this year. These small initiatives are meant to project progressive development as happening and the indian state is investing large amounts of money in Kashmir in the guise of these “Smart” initiatives. This is in order to market Kashmir as an integral part of the country while Kashmiri journalists, students, activists, and academics are being jailed for dissent.
While the colonial indian state indulges in its vanity project to make occupation “look beautiful,” Kashmiris are having to bear the brunt of this. At the same time, they have to make sure not to narrate their suffering to anyone, or else, they may be jailed. “My friend who spoke to a journalist about how he was threatened to keep his shop open during G20 was picked up (illegally arrested by the state forces) for two nights and when he returned, he was barely alive”, says Javaid Ahmad (name changed) a shop owner in Lal Chowk.
The indian state is now moving its settler colonial project in Kashmir faster than ever. While crippling military occupation of the region continues, initiatives like the “Smart City” project are effectively employed to eyewash the entire world. This is why, now more than ever, it is important that these initiatives are seen and called out for what they truly are, Glorified Settler Colonial Projects.
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