The public of Jammu is not happy. I think this statement is slowly becoming redundant given the repetitive disappointment for people of Jammu and the current state of affairs. In the last couple of days and weeks, the public has been found protesting vehemently against the yellow lines drawn all over the city in the public places. These spaces demarcated using the yellow lines are being called the parking lots for which the public is being charged for parking their vehicle there.
Considering the given administration setup, these lines have been drawn under the supervision of Jammu Smart City Limited. These Yellow lines of revenue as I would like to call them have opened a pandora’s box of disconnectivity, inadequacy and inefficiency of the system to deliver a solution to the problem that our supposed Smart City grapples with. The availability of adequate parking space across the city.
Let me call this out more clearly. Let’s start from the old city from Panjtirthi, Mubarak Mandi complex, coming towards the Residency Road, moving on towards the Canal road and Talab Tillo – the spaces are cramped. The vehicles are out there in the wild leaving no space for people to walk where they could enjoy the heritage of the city on which crores are being spent if we go by the twitter handle of Jammu Smart City. As we move to the other side of the Famous Four Bridges (which are now lit up during the evenings), Rail Head Complex on one side, Aquaf Market, Gandhi Nagar (which I think authorities restrict to Apsara road only), Gole Market, the new bling place that is Chhani Himmat to Phuwara Chowk in Greater Kailash – I end up spending more time to find a place to park the car than spending time to do actual work I have gone there for.
The Solution? Let’s draw yellow lines. To further narrow these places by limiting the public roads and demarcating them with fresh yellow paint that will get washed away by the next monsoon or even before. Thereby causing more public inconvenience.
It goes on to show a huge disconnect between the problem the city faces and the solutions that come by from the helm of affairs. This disconnect is for real. I say so because of repetitive incidents of solutions being distant from the on-ground reality. A few examples being, erecting unmanageable speed-breakers all across the city turning our smooth rides into bumpy ones, not taking into account pregnant women, old-age or ill. Shouldn’t a smart city of the 21st century be inclusive rather than whimsical?And see today, within 6 months, those ill-planned speed breakers are being destroyed all across. Such a huge wastage of money and the budget.
Other incidents being delayed refurbishment of the heritage sites across Jammu province, rampant deforestation of the Trikuta hills on the way from Jammu-Udhampur-Patnitop, unchecked dumping of the construction waste, rubble from blasting of mountains and roads into the river Chenab on NH1A thereby risking the Chenab bed and increased instances of flooding in the future, semi-automated money collection at the toll booths, endless delay in kickstarting the Tawi project, and no attempt to re-ignite the Jammu-Haat!
A Smart City is where people, flora and fauna (which is the software) and city infrastructure (the hardware) are intertwined with each other. Alas! The Smart City project in Jammu is a distant cry from making that happen!
There is a considerable gap between what the public on-ground wants for them to be able to truly call Jammu a Smart City and what is actually happening. A select few projects such as Bicycle tracks, redoing Apsara road (without taking into account the drainage system connecting that road), installing traffic lights (that go on-off on their whims and fancies), cementing of the roads in posh areas of the city (without even thinking if those areas really needed that huge investment), installation of I Love Jammu boards at irrelevant spots do not really qualify to be called as Key Highlights or achievements for Jammu to be touted as a Smart City. Though I would also not shy from admitting that there are three things that have really gotten better with time namely garbage collection from localities, digitisation of the public documents, and installation of the murals along the prominent walls in the city narrating the story of Jammu city.
However, these Yellow lines of Revenue have yet again shown a shallow decision making to start collecting money from the public for the corporation to be EBITDA positive while it being a very temporary solution to a big persistent issue. I will break this further into two parts. Firstly, let’s ask the basic question of why there is so much chaos on the roads! Secondly, figure out a solution that could help address the basic question.
The public in the Tier II and Tier III cities like ours love to move freely with less regulations and at zero to low cost on tertiary spends such as parking fees. This implies that the public generally parks their vehicle wherever they see an available space thereby causing commotion. It goes to the earlier point I mentioned of non-availability of allotted parking arenas or multi-level parking which otherwise would have been a big boon. The public transport also adds to the menace of cramped roads because of them stopping randomly to pick and drop the riders. Despite the fact there are designated stops for the matadors to haltover. An erratic traffic light system has added to this pain. More and more shops are coming up in residential areas as well as in existing commercial areas, which need parking space for customers as well as vehicles of shop owners. All of these problems when put together result in a huge mess on the roads.
Pivoting to the solution side of the things. I strongly feel that educating the public on the need of systematic parking for making Jammu a Smart City is a must. It makes the public a part of the movement and the change at large. A strict vigilante on how the public parks their vehicles with lenient or no repercussions with the help of traffic police could go a long way to make the public instil in them a behavioural change of parking their vehicles in an orderly fashion. Construction of multi-level parking in Gandhi Nagar, Talab Tilo, Residency Road and other crowded places would set up examples for the rest of the city. These multi-level parking arenas should be digitised with car-tokens, entertainment halls, QSRs, and digital display of nearby city locations. This in itself could be a great attraction for the public (and then a legitimate source of revenue).
The incumbent matador stops, bus-stands across the city could be a great place to put up I Love jammu signboards, digitised advertisement zones which is mostly chargeable for local or non-local businesses to promote their business (for example in Kolkata these spaces are managed by Times group OOH division), and display of temperature, weather conditions, AQI, etc. params. This should motivate people to head out to these public stops and thereby prevent matadors to halt over randomly in the middle of the city. This would also alleviate the whole mess of signboards, sticking paper on the wall across the city. Plus it could be a great source of revenue for the Smart City. Regulating the approval of new businesses coming up in already cramped spaces or residential areas could be a tough but a good move. Also letting shopkeepers know the need to keep space for their customers to park their vehicles, make a provision for the same or raise requests with the concerned authorities before opening the business. This would demand a huge trust in the authorities and seamless execution of the system.
The challenge is we need to accept that Smart City is 70% mindset change and 30% infrastructure development. It needs a thorough understanding of the existing gaps, opportunities available in the given city and making the public very much a part of the movement that is Smart City. Since mindset change is a tougher challenge to solve, we are busy focusing on the 30% and that is clearly not helping the cause. There is a visible gap in authorities’ understanding of the Jammu city, their projects and proposals and how they are being executed. The Jammu Smart City project reminds me more of Showbiz than a utilitarian project which it is supposed to be.
Building a Smart City is like building a product, the consumer of which is your public. If we do not understand the consumer, we are most likely to fail with the end product as well.