In 2015, the Indian government established the Smart Cities Mission which proposed the development of 100 smart cities to address the challenges of urbanization through smart solutions. More recently, during the global pandemic, India recorded the second highest number of COVID cases in the world. COVID has pushed Indian cities to reshape their smart city efforts and leverage smart solutions and facilities to fight the pandemic. For example, 47 cities across the country have converted their command and control centers (built as part of the mission) into COVID war rooms to lead the city-level emergency response.
Noted (Das, 2020; Deloitte, 2020) that Indian smart cities have seized the pandemic as an opportunity to innovate, learn, collaborate and find ways to enable evidence-based urban governance in response to the crisis. Critics, on the other hand, worry that “COVtech” – as public sector-led virus surveillance, management and containment technologies – could breach data privacy protocols and could be used as tools for surveillance (Kitchin, 2020) with devastating effects. economic and social impacts on marginalized groups (Datta et al., 2020).
In this project, I argue that India‘s ‘smart’ response to the global pandemic is multiscale and has different modes of existence; and further empirical studies are needed to grasp its complex socio-spatial implications. A critical survey of how smart city development in India has been reshaped to combat COVID will shed light on the opportunities and challenges inherent in smart urban planning in response to the crisis.
The project aims to generate new insights into the complex socio-spatial implications of smart city development; and how they have been further consolidated, accelerated and elevated in response to COVID, and to boost pandemic-affected economies.
Drawing on lessons from in-depth comparative case studies, the project adopts a ‘right to the city’ approach (Harvey, 2008) to examine the impact of smart urbanism on different sectors of society and responses to main urban challenges of the countries of the South. including basic infrastructure gaps, inequality and inequality, and informality. The project builds on previous research on the right to the city in countries of the South (Samara et al., 2013) and seeks to situate and conceptualize “the right to the smart city in countries of the South” by focusing on the inequitable implications of smart city development in India.
The learnings, while informed by knowledge produced in the context of the Global South, have the potential to transform the discourse of smart urbanism globally with a particular focus on equity and its particular meaning in time. of crisis.