While COVID-19 has claimed more than 1,500 lives in the country so far, it has also exposed so many shortcomings in our system. Yes, ours is a resource deficient state but that should not be an excuse always for the sorry state of affairs of our infrastructure in the cities and all over. After all, we are aiming to become $5 trillion economy soon (of course, that goal may be delayed due to the virus outbreak). COVID-19 has caught us unaware not only by exposing our unpreparedness in terms of medicines and vaccines but also by pointing at our insufficient, old and outdated infrastructure.
Not only our expenditure on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest but also the maintenance of existing facilities is pathetic to say the least. However, its difficult say who should be blamed – whether the irresponsibility of the citizens towards their duties or the attitude of indifference of the government towards the needs of the people or both that has led to this kind of situation. The ground reality has not changed much and has remained almost the same over the years.
Public infrastructure includes not only structures such as transport links, drainage, energy provision centres etc., but also educational institutions, government offices and recreational spaces such as parks and beaches though most of the government emphasis lay overwhelmingly on transport infrastructure while neglecting the rest.
In fact, COVID-19 has not only exposed the infrastructure deficiencies in our cities but also it has brought to the fore the lacunae in the existing facilities. Looking at the number of patients affected by COVID-19 in important cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, and the response of the local bodies of those cities we can safely say that these cities were ill-prepared to face contingencies like Coronavirus pandemic. This clearly shows that our cities lack planning and the so called plans of these cities are prepared by those who lack vision. These are not cities just concrete jungles which encounter water shortage in summer, floods in Monsoon and air pollution in winter.
The healthcare infrastructure in cities is either old and outdated or unaffordable by the majority of the people in the country. COVID-19 has also shown that we are not only infrastructure deficient country but also our infrastructure is rigid and this is particularly so regarding our built environment. Thus, when we don’t have enough hospitals and beds to accommodate all the virus affected people, we cannot temporarily convert our schools and colleges to makeshift hospitals because they are not built that way. Our built environment is not flexible enough because we never imagined a situation like this will arise. Whether we will learn a lesson from this crisis and build more modular structures in future? – only time can tell. Our building code definitely needs a change to prepare our built environment to face any eventualities like COVID-19 in future.
It also shows that our smart cities are not smart ones nor have they shown any signs of becoming one in near future. All they have been able to do is to use a dashboard highlighting every case and every death for Covid-19. Time has come to follow up hype with action. Even this dashboardism can become handy if we use it to inform the public about daily information useful to the general public. Care needs to be taken to ensure that we are not selective in disbursing the information.
Crisis has also given us a hard and a costly lesson and it all depends upon how smart and agile we are to adopt to new environment. If we don’t, next time we may have to pay still higher price in terms human lives and economic cost.