Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Lock-Down Lessons for the Smart City!


"There are millions of options to chose when its future, what you chose today will decide yours"... Dr.Strange from movie Infinity Wars, Marvel Studio.

These are not my words as even the fifty days of lockdown won’t make me that philosophical but then, that’s why Stan Lee was greatest philosopher among us in recent times & his hundreds of characters speak it via Marvel movies, problem is we just clap & forget it! And when its subject is of future of the Smart City, possibly I couldn’t have chosen anything better than his above words! Well, we are at the end of the tunnel named lock down season 3 (hopefully) though there isn’t bright light awaiting us at the end of the tunnel for sure. And as expected lock down season four has been announced by our Hon PM & I am not frightening or exaggerating but lock down over doesn’t mean  exit of the virus is a fact which by now few wise minds among us must have understood & that’s why wisdom is such rare thing, it’s always with a few. But like there are just few tigers in the forest so most tourists went to forests to have a glimpse of the tiger even once; wisdom being rarer than a tiger yet never chased or even acknowledged is the main problem of our society!

Anyways don’t want to get too philosophical as people like Marvel movies for action more & not philosophy is also a fact, so let’s speak about future of the Smart City i.e. “Aapale Pune” post this lock down. That way every ruler (political or bureaucratic) loves to speak about the future of this city (any city actually), how it will be pollution free & green & clean & Smart anyway we are (don’t ask how?) by the end of next year or their tenure whichever is earlier but as that future has been self chosen, it always ends up something different is what we all have witnessed over the decades. Every year budget of this city is made with thousands of crores of rupees for the development works & next year again same works have been repeated in the agenda. Indeed with due respect to everyone associated with the city’s future (mainly PMC) we are much better than many other cities in the State or even Country but then in the class you don’t excel by comparing with dumbest of the boy, do you? If you want to excel in whatever you are doing then there are two ways, one is compare (i.e. study) with the student better than you & another is self analysis with third eye (or mind), so as to know where & what you lack in! And what better opportunity there could have been than this virus outbreak to test ourselves for worst of the scenario on many fronts, indeed we have failed on most of them but that was bound to happen!

Many won’t like it (especially my friends in the system i.e. govt) & many will be happy (so called social as well political figures) but I am not saying this to make someone happy of unhappy but stating the facts I have been observing. First & foremost no one knew, who is the boss of the city to control the spread of epidemic because every govt dept was running their own agenda with noble intentions (of-course) but outcome was confusion, this has to be corrected in future! Indeed just imagine total population of Maharashtra is nearly 11.50 cr while area of the State is 300,000sq km. Out of this 11.50 cr nearly 1.10 cr lives in Pune region (pmc,pcmc, pmrda fringe of both) with area of approx 1500 sq km, imagine the population density here! These are guess about population, as from here only, the failures starts, we don’t know exact figures of how many people exactly lives in Pune region i.e. pmc, pcmc & pmrda area on fringe of these two municipal corporations along with cantonment population! Then there is issue of floating population which includes labour class in various trades & white collared ones i.e. IT type sector! So we don’t know how many people fled from Pune during outbreak time. At the same time when we don’t know exact population & its nature how we are going to decide future of this population. Some standard questions are asked often which I bluntly answer that even gods can’t be knowing it & they are, how many flats are unsold in Pune (read as homes), how many workers you think will be on sites, how many of them are from out station, how many buildings (read as flats) are under construction in Pune & the list is on. As these are important questions when you are fighting a worldwide epidemic type disaster & this data will help you on many fronts is something we need to understand. There has to be an apex body of PMC/PCMC & PMRDA as on record these may be different entity but just as in forests a tiger don’t know core zone or buffer or village & he roams in all three areas same way a citizen of Pune region doesn’t understand such differentiation & it has caused many issues during lock down which was a big headache for the govt also to monitor!

Then coming to the infrastructure, just a small example; the biggest public hospital i.e. medical facility of city is Sassoon hospital with say staff of some one thousand people. Each of them if need a mask to wear which has to be changed every eight hours so two masks a person makes 2000 masks a day. One N95 mask costs  Rs 180 then 2000 x 180 makes nearly Rs, 3.60 lakh per day just for mask & they don’t had budget, so what the staff should do? This has been shared by one of Sassoon employee to me, I am no medical expert but even police dept was not having that kind of supply support of essential things like sanitizers, gloves, is a fact. Then comes most important factor & that is quarantine facilities for the patients especially poor people as well shelter facilities for homeless people in such times! It was only our luck that the outbreak was right in school vacations so we have saved as many govt (pmc) schools were used as shelters but for how many days & what about sanitation of these spaces as some day the kids are going to use it again, are we no risking their lives. Indeed this is virus & will die eventually but what about some radiation outbreak & patients of that type which will leave radio activeness back even they are gone from the place? Well, this may sound weird & too much hyped but then have any of us ever witnessed the kind of outbreak & lock down of entire country for fifty days ever yet entire country experienced it & still going through & I think that’s enough price to pay to learn our lesson!

So, high time for basic changes need to be done in City Development Plan (DP) as well budget provisions. Things like converting at least fifty percent of the existing amenity spaces in temporary shelter buildings has to be done now instead using it for things like Samaj Mandir  or Sr Citizen Centers type useless  activities ( sorry but that’s fact). As well lease them to private genuine parties (that’s important) to use it on basis of rent as well making them available on notice of 24 hours for accommodation of shelter as & when needed i.e. in case of disaster or emergency. Also every school public or private must have an attached toilet block to each room as then it can be used for additional shelter in case needed extra space. As well budget provisions for fighting disasters must be done in two ways i.e. for making infrastructure as well creating contingency fund or reserve which can be used in such times so every time govt (pmc) does not have to beg to other agencies which are already bleeding due to impact of such disasters yet keep on doing their best possible help! Most importantly ward wise there has to be full-fledged disaster management center with basic facilities like essential equipment stock for major disasters & accommodation facilities as well quarantine facilities for the people working on rescue or awareness mission. As or else families of constables & nurses & ward boys are at threat of getting contaminated which has happened this time.

Coming to spread of epidemic in Pune as well in major big cities & one thing everybody has witnessed, it’s only because of density of population & in illegal settlements i.e. slums mostly! I am not blaming slum dwellers as nobody lives in hail with will but I am definitely blaming or charging the system named Govt which allowed these slums to come in existence & grow! At least now the govt will wake up (I wonder about it seriously) & start doing actually something about slums instead just forming a puppet named Zopadpatti Punarvikas Mahamandal i.e. Slum Redevelopment Scheme  something something. And please don’t allow any new illegal building as well stop playing Tom & Jerry with illegal buildings issue. For those who don’t understand the reference, these two are characters of Disney where Tom the Cat is always chasing Jerry the mouse but never catches it & even if catches yet somehow Jerry gets free & the chase is always on for nearly now sixty years. Same way the govt (whatever party it may) keeps playing the chasing game with illegal homes in entire State & keeps regularizing the existing illegal buildings & keeps announcing new laws for not formation of new illegal buildings which like Jerry keep coming in existence! As not even Super Man can stop spread of any virus in these slum settlements & imagine what will happen if some bomb or radioactive thing goes off here or even a major fire or earth quake, anything. And yet we haven’t reached the peak of the epidemic because local body (pmc) & police along with Collector are fighting hard to keep these people in their homes but has anybody seen what we call their home? And what will happen if every this slum resident ran out of slum & start occupying (read as mixing) every available open space just out of fear, have we thought of that? The people in slums share one room between average five to six persons & everything right from bed to toilet to kitchen is common, so how are you going to maintain a social distance here? And what about their hygiene as these areas doesn’t have drainage lines itself leave apart proper toilet blocks! One of my friend  (no name please) from govt & who is part of a squad responsible to make one slum settlement residents aware about social distance & use of masks & sanitizer, he was in tears looking at the situation people were living in & who is responsible for this situation? Well, off-course the builders, some gentleman has said as, builders make homes so costly that people have to live in these slums! Agreed, but do think, what makes a builder to sale a home so costly & who still buys that costly home, can anybody answer it please? Hon PM Sir, high time for us to demolish the slums & every single illegal building, please read carefully, I am saying demolish the slums not the people or slum dwellers & rebuild it in such a way that never anybody has to worry about spread of virus or any disaster here; please take this subject on your agenda as no PM ever has touched this nationwide cancer & you can do it. The police  which are so perfectly (read as a times ruthlessly) abiding the curfew, why can’t they use the same law (read as power) to curtail as well demolish a slum or illegal structure, that time how come govt thinks of these poor people &   their emotions out break type things! Today govt is telling slum residents  to remain in homes for their safety then why can’t in a dedicated time span we make them leave the slum & make a brand new good building & why can’t our we make a dedicated fund available for this noble cause? And till then at least start a full-fledged awareness campaign as well give the existing slums basic hygiene facilities so they will be protected from epidemic. Yet full marks to every that person who is part of the system for giving hundred percent to fight this war but...

Today it’s just one virus & look what havoc it has created making 130 plus crore country at stand still. Speaking about future, what will hit us next, we may not be able to predict but will we be lucky to survive again, that depend only on what future we chose to have today, is all I can tell to the rulers (and citizens) of this Smart City!

Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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