Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai

Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai is the author of Corporate Chanakya, Chanakya’s 7 secrets of leadership, and Chanakya in You. He is also a leadership coach, teacher and trainer.

Smart City Insights from Over 2400 Years Ago

Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai

Kautilya's Arthashastra

Background of “Kautilya’s Arthashastra”

Kautilya (also known as Chanakya and Vishnugupta) has made a massive contribution to humanity through his famous work named “Kautilya’s Arthashastra” written in 350 BC, i.e. nearly 2400 years ago. He is well known as a strategist, and expert in political science, Law and order, crime detection, town planning as well as good governance.
This book’s principles and strategies were studied, applied and practiced by rulers like Chandragupta Maurya, Emperor Ashoka, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj amongst others for centuries.
The following paper throws light on a few areas of Town Planning, public facilities, maintenance of Law and order and as it is applicable in today’s world.

 Foundations of “Arthashastra”

The central theme of Kautilya’s  Arthashastra is:
“Prajasukhe Sukham Raja, Prajacha  Hite Hitam..”
“In the happiness of the subjects lies the benefit of the king and in what is beneficial to the subjects is his own benefit” – (1.19.34)
Kautilya believed that good governance comes from understanding the benefit of the citizens. Even kings are adviced to take into consideration this aspect before they get into any decision making process. In the well being of its citizens and in their happiness lies the benefit and the happiness of the ruler, advises Kautilya.
Smart Cities in India
The government has recently picked 20 cities, including five state capitals, to launch the infrastructure makeover plan: Smart Cities Mission.
 A total investment of INR 50,802 crore has been proposed in these selected cities and towns during the five-year period ending in 2019. From the central government, the selected cities will each be given INR 200 crore in the first year and INR 100 crore every subsequent year.
 Smart cities are projected to be equipped with quality infrastructure to provide a better lifestyle to the residents of these cities. Assured water and power supply, sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, robust IT connectivity, e-governance and citizen participation along with safety of its citizens are some of the likely attributes these cities will have.
 The wisdom from “Kautilya’s Arthashastra” can surely play a role while we chalk out the blueprints of these smart cities.
I’ve listed a few areas which may be beneficial to NGOs, social workers, public servants and decision makers.
1. New Settlements
Kautilya visualises the expansion of the state into new settlements and makes provisions to help them settle in new places and also financially help them with facilities for easy payments.
“He (the king/ruler) should favour them with grains, cattle and money. These they should pay back afterwards at their convenience” — (2.1.13-14)
Application in today’s scenario
Today, every town is getting overcrowded due to rapid population growth. The government should make policies and strategies either to encourage reverse migration to villages, or look out for new land where the population can stay rather than getting concentrated in one place. In order to encourage them, they should be provided with the basic raw materials needed to start new industries which should be given at low interest rates, tax benefits and easy repayment schemes.
2. Provision of Water
Water is life. All living creatures depend on water. Hence, settlement of people is directly connected with the availability of water. Kautilya recommends,
“Storage reservoirs were to be built using natural springs or water brought from elsewhere” — (2.1.20)
Application in today’s scenario
Wastage of water should be prevented at all costs. Schemes like rain water harvesting and building of public water reservoirs should be implemented. Especially in the rainy season, plans should be made at the local level to store water for the whole year. The public should be made aware of the need for limiting water wastage.
3. Building Roads
Roads are the lifeline of any nation. They connect the country to the remotest corner and also, maintaining its beauty is of prime importance to Kautilya.
“The king was also to help people volunteering to build reservoirs by  giving them land, building roads, or by giving them grants timber and other  implements” — (2..1.21)
The king was also supposed to directly help the people to get better connectivity by providing them with required raw materials used for this particular purpose.
Application in today’s scenario
The government should place emphasis on building and maintaining good roads. We see that this public property is being misused by hawkers in a big way. Local authorities have to take strict action against such persons. The public support also has to be taken for this purpose.
4. Voluntary Services was Appreciated
Kautilya specifically states that people shall obey the orders of anyone who brings about an activity in which there lies everyone benefit. Good local leaders who voluntarily bring out new projects and initiatives have to be encouraged. And public should obey the words of such leaders who work for the benefit of all.
“They shall obey the orders of one who proposes what is beneficial to all” — (3.10.39)
Application in today’s scenario
We find that the local leaders, especially the youth, are very conscious of their commitment to preservation of public places and utilities. Youngsters should be encouraged to take active interest in such work. Instead of discouraging them, they should be encouraged by giving training and necessary powers to take corrective actions at the local level. More and more volunteers should be called forward to take such initiatives under the guidance of able local leaders.
5. Consumer Protection
Consumer protection is another area which receives elaborate treatment from Kautilya. Black marketing, adulteration and manipulation in selling goods is highly discouraged. Preventive action need to be taken.
“The king should prevent thieves and thieves such as traders, artisans, actors, mendicants, jugglers and other from oppressing the country” — (4.1.65)
“Fine is prescribed for cheating the consumer” — (4.1.28)
Application in today’s scenario
Direct thieves (who conduct robbery) and indirect thieves like traders (who sell goods above the prescribed MRP), artisans (who over charge the customers), mendicants (who cheat the public in name of superstition); jugglers (gamblers) should be discouraged. Usually these kinds of people have a direct or indirect connection with enemies of the nation. This will finally lead to the loss for the country. Hence, strict action should be taken against them.
6. Crisis Management
Crisis management is another area in which we find Kautilya was a mastermind especially during natural calamities.
“Distribution of food at concessional rate to public, seeking the help of friendly kings, shifting the people to neighbourhood, migration and additional cultivation of coping with the emergency” — (4.3.17-20)
Application in today’s scenario
Whenever any natural calamity (like floods, earthquakes, etc) occurs, everyone has to get into action immediately. Support from neighbouring places should be asked. If necessary, shifting of the public should also be done in order to get quicker relief work.
7. Civic Amenities and Common Facilities
A lot of emphasis has been laid on providing and protecting public amenities in “Kautilya’s Arthashastra”.
“Shades, courtyards, latrines, fire places, places for pounding grain and open spaces were to be used as common properties” — (3.8.28)
Application in today’s scenario
The common public needs to be provided with public amenities and facilities like shades, natural surroundings, latrines, warm places and open areas like playgrounds and gardens in order to have better health and hygienic conditions for the welfare of all.
8. Attending to Public Problems
Kautilya explicitly states that a king should be accessible to his petitioners and should not make them wait at the door for redressal of their genuine grievances.
“He (leader) should allow unrestricted entrance to those wishing to see him in connection with their affairs” — (1.19.26)
Application in today’s scenario
Government servants and public administrators need to have an open door policy. Many key decisions get delayed either due to wrong or lack of information. This can be solved by letting people come and express their problems directly to the concerned authorities. Moreover, it helps people  feel  safer and more comfortable while dealing with government officials.
9. Conducting Regular Inspection
No rule can be fully beneficial if regular inspections are not conducted and reports are not monitored. Therefore Kautilya suggests that,
“He (leader) should constantly hold an inspection of their works, men being inconstant in their minds” — (2.9.2-3)
Application in today’s scenario
It is quite natural for a person to slip into complacency if the boss does not take regular inspection. Over a period of time, the work is taken for granted. Hence, strict daily and hourly productivity records have to be maintained. A good MIS (Management information system) has to be produced. Only then can we have an efficient system.
10. Art of Punishment
Another name of “Kautilya’s Arthashastra” is Dandaniti, meaning the book on the Art of Punishment.
“If the rod is not used at all, the stronger swallows the weak in the absence of the wielder of the Rod” — (1.4.13-14)
“The king severe with rod (punishment) becomes a terror. A king with a mild rod is despised. The king just with the rod is honoured” — (1.4.8-10)
Application in today’s scenario
If strict action is not taken, the law of the jungle will prevail in any place. However the leader should not become a terror with his punishment. At the same time, he should not be too soft. The punishment should be just and balanced. Such a punishment and punisher is always respected. Only if punishment is carried out will there be seriousness in the work. If not, corruption will set into the whole system slowly.


“Kautilya’s Arthashastra” is one book that is applicable even in today’s world. The principles in the book are eternal. Our country can once again use this text as a roadmap to rebuild a model town, which is the dream of every citizen, by providing them the basic necessity of life. This should be supported by an effective law and order machinery. It will help each individual to feel safe, secure and also contribute to the nation building process.
1.   Kautilya’s Arthashastra by R.P. Kangle , Published by Motilal Banarasidas
2. Common public facilities envisaged in Arthashastra: C Rajendran (Paper presented at the seminar organised in Pune, by Sahitya Akademi in Collaboration with Centre of Advanced study in Sanskrit University of Pune 29-31st Jan 1996)
3. Corporate Chanakya by Radhakrishnan Pillai, Published by Jaico



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