In 2015, one of the major topics of discussion was smart cities. When the year started, the opening session during the various conferences held was always titled “What is a smart city?”, which has now given way to a discussion on implementation of a smart city. People have moved away from the scepticism that unless basic challenges of waste, water, traffic are not resolved, we should not think about a smart city. The same challenges can be resolved in the realm of a smart city by leveraging technology as an important enabler.
During the year, the urban development ministry held consultations with thought-leaders, private sector, academia, NGOs and others, and released the Smart City Mission guidelines. As of December 15, when the first phase of the competition came to a close, 88 cities had submitted their proposals and we should know the results by January 26.
There are five essential components to the success of this mission: visionary leadership; global open standards; public private partnership; smart regulation (concerted efforts to identify regulations which do not lend themselves to a smart city and proactively address them—like stamping of boarding passes and hand baggage tags at airport security); and establishing new ecosystems to deliver these projects.
While we have witnessed visionary leadership at the top, percolating that vision down to the last urban local body continues to be an area of concern.
In the first stage of the competition, the process of citizen consultation was employed very well by most local governments. This is a healthy sign for participative governance. The mission will be a true success when it becomes more of a demand-driven, citizen-led phenomenon. And now is the time for the chosen cities to start thinking about the implementation process. It is also important for the government to identify possible bottlenecks and remove them.
The first phase of the smart cities competition has identified certain gaps. While the government has done a good job of creating a shortlisted pool of consultants, there needs to be a proper mechanism for pricing these proposals. Quality and cost-based selection criteria could be a potential solution to this as we move towards the next phase—setting up of the SPV and implementation.
Indian cities must learn from their counterparts in the West who are already deriving the results of being smart. While solutions from the West will not work lock, stock, and barrel in India, it is important to study their journey towards becoming smart. We should adopt and adapt relevant solutions from the West to suit our criteria.
* Building an integrated masterplan or a blueprint on how we conceive our smart city to be in the next 15-20 years;
* Leveraging ICT as a key enabler to delivering the smart city vision;
w Building an implementation plan with prioritised services based on citizen feedback and the monetisation potential of those services, thereby reducing overall funding requirements;
* Focusing on the most pressing problems of the city and looking for solutions specific to the city through consultation—what works for Pune might not work for Vizag. In the process, not forgetting the culture of the city;
* Planning an integrated network across all verticals in the city and avoiding the silo-based approach that most cities today use. This will allow for a more efficient means of service delivery to the citizens;
* Building an innovation ecosystem. Once all departments are connected to a single network, using Open Data to provide access to relevant data to the public and also invite start-ups to create apps to solve pertinent issues. In fact, a lot of innovation in smart cities could come from start-ups.
While discussions are largely about the Smart Cities Mission, we should not ignore the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, which has the potential to deliver basic benefits to villages and whose impact could be more far-reaching than Smart Cities.
As the world watches us, we must keep in mind that this exercise is not only about having a 100 smart cities like Barcelona or Dubai in India, it is more about offering services that will improve the quality of life of our citizens. A smart city is not a destination, but a journey of several smart steps which will help change the way we live, work, learn and play.
The author is managing director, Cisco Consulting Services. He has worked on the planning for four smart cities on the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor and also on the Smart Cities Mission