Bhubaneswar is the rising star of India. It was no surprise to find Bhubaneswar Smart City initiative adjudged as the best plan in India, scoring 78.83% with Pune and Jaipur following.  This is the Temple City and is also the Knowledge City (a hub of hi-tech industries, knowledge companies and knowledge institutions). The silent, coy, reticent city, Bhubaneswar is probably the only city in India to have an IIT, an IIM level Business School in XIMB, a national science institute (NISER), Institute of Mathematics and Applications, NIFT and AIIMS. Besides being the archive of life changing history and mythology, Bhubaneswar is the upcoming hub of health facilities in India. There is an eclectic mix of divinity and modernity in the city. A microcosm of India, Bhubaneswar is naturally beautiful, provides space to a wide variety of vocations, is the hub of unparalleled, glorious history, and is an emerging hotbed of South Asia commerce, specifically in mines, minerals and tourism. That is the diversity of Bhubaneswar, once the capital of the mighty Kalinga Empire. One of the fastest growing cities of India, Bhubaneswar is expected to spearhead the economic, demographic and technological transformation of India and drive India to prominence in the BRICS board. Divinity has no limits.
Almost one-third India, 59 crore Indians, will be living in cities by 2030 as the country’s population increases from 120 crore to 147 crore and half of India is estimated to be living in cities by 2050.Odisha is not far behind though the rate of urbanisation is comparatively slower than many other States. Population growth in Orissa is around half a crore (51 lakhs) in every 10 years or about 1.4% population growth every year. The state population is 4.37 Crore in 2014. In the next 15 years, it is expected that over 17 percent of the population would be in cities (or city bound), out of which Bhubaneswar is estimated to attract over 80 percent of this migration. So India needs Smart Cities where the city would be an urban space that is livable and ecology-friendly, technologically-integrated and meticulously-planned with the use of information technology. Bhubaneswar is the much coveted destination, where   the rush to the city is more evident than ever before and it has been duly accorded the smart city status (in the first lot of 98 cities) by the government. The Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) is focusing primarily on core sectors to convert the Capital City into smart city. These are governance, urban planning, utilities, shelter, transport, electricity and heritage, culture and environment. All the sectors and delivery under the sectors would be majorly supported by Information and communication technologies (ICTs) which have already become the proven miracle cure for many citizen services. If implemented prudently they would promote growth, increase efficiency and tremendously improve the quality and accessibility of government services. The development and implementation of ICT for e-Government would be the single most key driver of transformation in Bhubaneswar. The idea is to use ICT to allow e-Government to deliver more efficient government and enhance knowledge sharing, capacity building and sustainable development. Quite often the focus remains on making these services available, rather than providing transparency or good governance. This provides scope for development in areas such as user centricity, speed and service delivery.

A recently conducted seminal study, by FIDR, the think tank, a Knowledge partner of Smart City, Bhubaneswar initiative, on Digital Divide in Bhubaneswar is not only a first of its kind but is enlightening. The purpose of this Survey was to gather data about Bhubaneswar residents’ access to and experiences with the Internet and devices - computers, mobile devices. The results have thrown light on the priorities for the City’s digital inclusion initiatives, and help us, the inhabitants of Bhubaneswar, engage businesses, neighborhood and community groups, public sector partners, and funders to more effectively address community technology and economic development needs. A situational assessment have been done to fact- find  the factors, the contributing dynamics and the prevalent digital eco-system to help gauze the digital divide in Bhubaneswar city limits.
An attempt is made to outline different aspects of involvement with new media technologies – looking at three most common elements of digital divide discourse: information, communication and participation. This study has delved into the issues of the digital divide, but not from the traditional angle of “who has, and who has not”. It has taken the digital divide discourse and its main elements and compares them with empirical data from the point of Internet users. The idea of the study is to explore the limitations of the digital divide discourse through analysis of empirical material.
Given here are a few findings:
•   65% of people in Bhubaneswar have access to device (considering mobile phone as a device) in the city.
•   Internet penetration level is still slightly more than half/ at 58.3%. But still..
•   As a preferred device for connectivity among the users, Computers continue to be the first choice, - while among users 53% access internet through computers, 25% feel comfortable using internet on their smartphones.
•   The Smartphone users can be classified as light users (a term used in this study to denote pseudo users), as the main usage through Smartphone is restricted to mostly social media tools and platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook only.
•   The level of computer literacy in the city of Bhubaneswar is high, as more than 68% of the respondents have claimed to have at least one member in house knowing computers.
•   Because of the penetration of the gadgets, the internet connectivity available to households in the city has increased to the level of 58.3%, over the last 3-4 years and at the same time the level of dependence on internet cafes for connectivity has come down and is currently at negligible levels.
•   The rapidly increasing connectivity in general public is a major discontent among the internet café owners. The internet cafés are growingly dependent on stationery, and allied services like printing, download and other such support.
•   76% of the people interacted contacted, want the city to have free Wi-Fi connection.
•   It has been observed that usage of available connectivity for banking, knowledge or e-governance activity has been relatively low. Which stands at less than 18%?
•   Around 2.5% of the population reported to have a member in the household with physical disability which is a major indicator to policy formulation regarding connectivity and infrastructure building.
•   84% of the respondents strongly believe internet connectivity has made their life easier and they are quite excited about the city becoming a smart city.
•   Almost all the respondents are excited about the same and eager to participate in any campaign for the smart city. It is important to note here that though they have heard about Smart City, read about the same in newspapers and watched discussions on TV, they are not aware of the specific contours of Smart City and what entails the initiative.
•   Most of them shared their wish to know more about Smart City and requested the survey team to convey this message to BMC to help sensitize the citizens of Bhubaneswar about the specificities of Smart City and its meaning to the common citizens of the city.
The general assumption often is that as soon as people get the access to new ICTs (information & communication technologies) and some basic orientation (which is often from peers and sheer self-practice) to use those technologies, it results with happy people who are motivated to use Internet in order to enhance their own lives. This is true in Bhubaneswar but there are issues of digital divide beyond access. The digital divide includes various other dimensions. We can see the differences in accessing the tools (for instance networked computers) and accessing the content. The other dimension is skills: for using the tools and for using and understanding the content that is accessed via those tools. When we reviewed the digital divide considering these dimensions, we see that providing access to computer and elementary skills to use them, does not guarantee involved and participating citizen gaining full advantage from the media.
The infrastructure does not appear to be an inhibiting factor in bridging the Digital Divide in Bhubaneswar. The common perception is that there is the basic infrastructure present and more importantly the will of the government to move ahead making Bhubaneswar a Smart City. However there is a need for a dedicated “broadband stimulus program” to narrow the digital divide through i) broadband adoption campaigns and ii) building computing centers in low-income areas. There is a lack of sufficient broadband infrastructure in some low-income areas (like Salia sahi, parts of Sahid nagar, parts of Barang, Nandankanan, Raghunathpur, Pokahriput, Balabhadrapur, Sunderpada, Ghatikia) and in the broadband adoption efforts.
Very few educational institutions are properly using the advantage of connectivity and the students are benefitting. Being a city which is an educational hub this situation needs to be addressed. Hence under Smart City program, the “digital dissonance” needs to be widely and effectively sensitized about.
We are in a positive mood, energetic drive and an overdrive in transformation. Let’s take all the citizens along and maintain the tempo.
Nothing can bar Bhubaneswar from being the masthead of the Smart movement in India. The Divinity of growth is unstoppable.
Charudutta Panigrahi

Writer & Public Policy expert.

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