The Infatuation Towards 'Smart' Concept

- Harsha Man Maharjan | 2021-12-01

The use of the term ‘smart’ is increasing day by day, which clearly shows the infatuation of policymakers, administrators and politicians with the word. We already had smart driving licenses, smart cities, smart toilets, smart buses and many more. On 20 June 2021, the government announced a smart lockdown. This drew debates about the term itself on social media. Some were happy that the government had started to relax the lockdown while others were not happy with the use of the word ‘smart’. A user wrote that the government was using smart lockdown as it could not materialise smart cities. Why do many people have negative feelings regarding the use of the word? To get some idea about it, let us look into three short cases: smart driving license, smart city and smart lockdown.

The idea of converting a paper license into a ‘smart driving license’ materialised in November 2015 through a pilot project of the Department of Transport Management. At that time, it was said that it would help in controlling irregularities in the transportation sector. The department made public its plan to replace traditional driving licenses within three to five years. It was estimated that 1.5 million cards were in use.

However, people could not get these licenses easily as the concerned authorities could not distribute them smoothly. In January 2020, some 700,000 people who passed the driving tests were waiting for their smart licenses. Such backlogs and mismanagement have become synonymous with these licenses. In 2021, the waiting period was extended to one and a half years to get such a license. So those who apply for these licenses will have to use paper licenses first for about a year.

Smart city case
The case of smart cities is more interesting. Though the idea was broached in 2015 and the government planned to make master plans of 10 cities, including the Kathmandu Valley, Lumbini, Nijgadh, Gorkha, Waling, and Dadeldhura by 2016, it was the local election which popularised this idea. During the election in May and June 2017, smart cities became a new agenda for political parties. By 2019, the government was planning to build 17 smart cities including four in the Kathmandu Valley. However, the justification of the selection of smart cities is lacking. It seems these cities were chosen out of whims. It is interesting that the government delisted Bharatpur, Tikapur, Palungtar, and Nijgadh, and instead added Gaurigunj, Maulapur and Gundu-Balkot. This decision seems to be politically motivated. Gaurigunj is in the home-district of Prime Minister KP Sharma, whereas Maulapur is the home-district of political leader Prabhu Sah, and Gundu-Balkot is the constituency of another leader Mahesh Basnet.

Other issues have also surfaced that have created negative impressions about smart cities among people. Citizens in Bhaktapur requested the government to cancel its decision to make smart cities in the Kathmandu Valley to save agricultural land and to maintain greenery and cultural heritage. There are other concerns that land brokers, contractors and technologists would benefit more from these smart cities. People have shown concern that it would have been better if the government had provided basic infrastructure in existing cities first.
Even the people who were to administer smart lockdown were not sure about the meaning of smart. According to, two days before the lockdown, even the Chief District Officers of Kathmandu and Lalitpur did not know what was the smartness about lockdown. They just highlighted that private vehicles would be allowed to operate with an odd-even number system and businesses/services would be available on designated days. In fact, smart lockdown was mooted by experts around August 2020. Biotechnologist Sameer Mani Dixit and Dr. Padam Bahadur Chand brought out the idea of smart lockdown.

Experts’ views
In an interview, Dixit suggested going for smart lockdown by doing lockdown in pocket areas on a need basis. In another interview, Chand argued that there was no need to do blanket lockdown and suggested opting for smart lockdown. Both of them agree that some local bodies had already exercised this kind of lockdown by imposing shields in particular places to contain the spread of virus. As informed by experts, the idea of smart lockdown became popular after Pakistan imposed such lockdown. By May 2020, Pakistan started to intermittent lockdown first as "10 days of lockdown and four days of work per fortnight". Later on 13 June 2020, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that smart lockdown would be imposed in certain hotspots.

It is not that we have not used such a lockdown before. So, why to term the present lockdown as a smart one? Perhaps the government wants to show that it is moving smartly. In some countries, it has been called partial lockdown. Whether we call it smart or partial lockdown, the main concern should be containing the transmission of virus, increasing testing and administering vaccines to the population. There should be a robust mechanism of collecting data related to COVID-19 infections.

(Maharjan is a senior researcher at an academic NGO Martin Chautari and writes on issues related to media and technology.

published date: 03 Jul, 2021


About the Author

Harsha Man Maharjan

Global Postdoctoral Scholar, Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South, Northwestern University in Qatar