Swathed in the arid hills, Ajmer is a city that holds an interesting past and lives in a beautiful present. The city, founded by Raja Ajay Pal Chauhan in the 7th Century, has served as home to a number of dynasties. These dynasties eventually left behind artifacts of their culture and traditions. Amalgamating different philosophies and rituals, the city has a startling fusion of Hinduism and Islam. Its attractions are the pilgrimage centres, quaint lakes, forts, museums, and world-renowned Khwaja Dargah Sharif. But life in this ancient city of 550,000 people in northern India is anything but amazing. Running water is available for a very limited period of time. Only 130 of 125,000 homes in the city are connected to the sewage system. Dirty water flows in open drains in cramped neighbourhoods. Stepwells and lakes have become garbage dumps. Illegal buildings and slums dot the city.

A pretty time back, Ajmer was designated to be transformed into a  21st-century “smart city”, an urban-planning term for the gleaming metropolises of the future that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to create by 2022. These modern marvels would be connected by grids in which water, electricity, waste removal, traffic, hospitals, and schools are seamlessly integrated with information technology to run them more efficiently. But the big question is, are the residents of Ajmer and the Ajmer itself ready for this great vision? It’s been two and a half years since the initiative but the progress is still in grave doubts. When we search for answers, we find big question marks and lack of accountability on part of Ministers and project planners assigned for the work. But it’s not their fault completely, while we are trying to bring 21st-century technology, we also need to sort out some 19th-century challenges in Ajmer. Basic services like sanitation, health, roads, and electricity have not kept up with the pace of growth in these old cities. Ajmer’s residents on the counterpart have already posted a billboard in the heart of town, proudly declaring themselves a smart city. 

So is Smart City something Ajmer doesn’t ‘deserve’? It will be better to say it is something Ajmer don’t need at the moment of time. Many critics have dismissed Modi’s smart-cities plan as a 21st-century urban utopia, as a distant Neverland. They say the idea is more suitable for richer nations whose citizens can afford to take basic urban services such as drinking water, toilets or electricity for granted. And some people worry, because Ajmer being such a delicate yet so dominant in its culture, history, and heritage, that it scares the old men, the so-called ‘Preservers Of The Past’ that this spineless western urbanization will damage their artistic beauty. And on the other end, the young generation, full of energy and ambitions want to have the best of the facilities a city can provide. In the cramped and sinuous lanes leading to Ajmer’s Sufi shrine, there is plenty of chatter and jokes about Ajmer’s new designation. The debate goes on. 

Anshuman Singh Bais

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajmer

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