Prime Minister Modi recently launched one of his pet programmes, namely setting up 100 “smart cities,” along with plans for upgrading 500 towns and cities (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation or AMRUT), and a pledge to provide housing for all by 2022, requiring around 20 million units by the 75th anniversary of Indian independence. A hundred “smart cities” was a signature pledge of his election campaign, an important part of his grand vision of development, and marking a departure from what were clearly considered the tired old slogans addressing poverty removal, instead projecting dreams of a prosperous, urban India. As the government’s Concept Note released in November 2014 puts it, “smart cities” are meant respond to increasing urban migration and to cater to the emerging “neo middle class… [and its] aspiration of better living standards.”

Taken together, these programmes with an outlay of around Rs.2 lakh crores ($33 billion) including contributions of the States, with eventual expenditure many times that amount if private sector investments are factored in, constitute perhaps the largest development initiative announced by the Modi government and attests to their importance for this government and its leadership. The massive investment in and push for urbanization as “an engine of economic growth” testifies to this government’s belief that future economic growth will come through urban development, especially of a certain kind as we shall see.

The new urbanization policy is therefore of great significance in that it not only embodies and conveys an urbanization-led development pathway but also a vision of what these new urban drivers of modernization and economic growth would be like. The “smart cities” programme sets out to delineate a specific model that other cities would aspire to, while requisite infrastructure would be laid in the 500 AMRUT cities to enable them to become smart cities sometime in the future. But what exactly is this vision of urbanization-led growth, and would the so-called smart cities help to actualize this vision? What kind of development can one foresee and who would benefit from it?

This article has appeared in the Newsclick.

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