JNU special centre holds symposium on ‘Disaster Resilient Smart Cities’

The Special Centre for Disaster Research at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in collaboration with the Smart Cities Mission of the union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. organised a three-day symposium on ‘Disaster Resilient Smart Cities’ from 4th -6th December 2019 at ISID New Delhi to deliberate  the gaps in current Smart City Policy of Government of India, which was launched in 2015 to fulfill Prime Minister’s vision of developing 100 smart cities across the country, making them citizen friendly and sustainable.

The symposium deliberated upon the persisting gaps in the current policy as it continues to ignore the crucial components of disaster resilience, citizen participation and policy for non-human species. The sole focus on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) makes the policy non-inclusive and ultimately increase the inequality in urban areas, making them unsustainable.

The International Symposium involved participation of experts from Public Sector Undertakings, UNESCO Netexplo Smart City Accelerator Group- Paris, National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), industry and academia experts from across the globe. Prof Amita Singh, Founder Chairperson, Special Centre for Disaster Research highlighted that the continued ambiguity around the definition of Smart City needs to be addressed through collaborative governance. Releasing the ‘Disaster Resilient Smart City’ declaration, Prof Singh and Mr Marcus Goddard, President, Netexplo, highlighted that the sustainability of present urbanisation process needs citizen participation at the core. The Disaster Management Act 2005 and Smart City Policy continues to ignore the vital leadership of Urban Local Bodies, which are the first line responders from the government machinery in case of any disaster. Lack of power of implementation with these decentralised bodies and continuing ambiguity around penalising power with the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) and the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) to regulate unauthorised encroachments and buildings in violation of building bye- laws, remains unaddressed, even in the current policy framework of smart cities. The sole focus on ICT in the policy makes it technology centric. Prof Jaishri Jethwaney, ISID recommended that the policy should institutionalise committed call centres, with representatives from Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), Urban Local Bodies and civil society to make it citizen centric and participative. The sole focus on humans, ignoring the non-human species such as livestock, street dogs etc. , not only increases the vulnerability of humans post disaster (due to widespread epidemics), but the loss of lives of these non-human species remains un-accounted in post disaster loss assessment. “The stakeholders beyond the vote bank also needs to be taken into account for a holistic disaster management policy” Prof Amita Singh said.

Involving declaration over wide aspects ranging from Institutions, Leadership and coordination, and Resilience of Built Environment, the symposium proposed that the Smart City policy budget also needs to take into account disaster budgeting, along with focus on marginalised communities such as women, differently abled, senior citizens etc. Ecosystem approach needs to be integrated into the present development process by allotting a proportion of health budget for ecosystem conservation. The exclusive session on risks of CBRN disasters, under the leadership of Senior Scientists from DRDO, Dr Himanshu Ojha and Dr Raman Chawla, emphasised that awareness generation on CBRN disasters and impact of radiation from mobile towers in urban areas, needs to be developed through involvement of youth (NCC, NSS) and civil society.

Dr Jagdish Bhai Patel , the Mayor of Surat, was felicitated with the Smart City Award by Dr Pramod Kumar, Registrar, JNU and Mr Marcus Goddard, President, Netexplo International University Network- Paris, for his exemplary work in Surat, especially post 2006 floods. Mapping of flood prone areas and strengthening inter agency government coordination has pioneered as an example towards fulfilment of goal of building preventive measures of Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction.