The prime minister wants India to have 100 smart cities, shining beacons of progress scattered around the country, integrating the digital with the real, making the lives of citizens greener and cleaner. It is a challenge that will test the PM’s famed skills in executing big projects. Never mind smart cities for the moment, there are hundreds of rotting cities, hopeless sort of places where the breakdown of services and infrastructure, and in-your-face corruption threaten the “idea of India”, a favourite expression of people who see our nationhood in eternal danger from something or the other.

Agra, a city of over 15 lakh people and the Taj Mahal, is the perfect example of urban decay all too common in the country. Because it houses an iconic monument, and because the Supreme Court has been trying—without much success—to proxy administer it for the past two decades, Agra’s experience with reform make a compelling story. Hundreds of crores have been spent with little to show for writes Arpit Parashar in the cover story “The curse of the Taj”.

The rape of a tribal woman allegedly on the orders of a village council in West Bengal’s Birbhum district in January this year, and the swift trial and conviction of 13 people for it by September, is one example of the system being efficient. There’s more to the story, though. There are differences in the accounts of the victim and villagers about the events, the medical examination did not conclude rape, the sessions court didn’t wait for forensic reports, and members of the ruling Trinamool Congress were involved with the case right from the beginning. Thirteen people from a small village have been sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment, and while sexual assault needs exemplary punishment, nobody should be deprived of their liberty without the utmost of judicial rigour. Do read Sohini Chattopadhyay’s story “It happened one night”.

With the new government at the Centre, the writing of a new history is being attempted. Y. Sudershan Rao, a former professor from Telangana who is now head of the Indian Council of Historical Research, speaks in an interview with Akshai Jain (“On fact-free truths about Golden Ages”) of his plans. He takes oral history to be paramount, considers Puranas historical text, and believes history should inspire the present and therefore a little exaggeration is a good thing. It’s in the same league as the prime minister’s claims about ancient Indians’ mastery of stem cell technology and plastic surgery.

Saurav Kumar, Editor
saurav@fountainink.in

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