The first phase of the Smart Cities programme is finally in place with 98 of the 100 cities identified. The selection is based on various criteria including implementation of municipal governance, up-to-date spending on JNNURM projects and having accounts that are current. The decision to focus on smaller cities—64 cities have less than a million people—is also a smart one, since smaller cities are usually more open to reforms. Bangalore and Kolkata are among the big cities that have missed the bus. Across the world, while Barcelona and Chicago are mentioned as success stories, it is smaller cities like Ipswich in Australia and Surrey in Canada’s British Columbia that are emerging globally as leaders in being truly smart.
The hard work for the identified cities has just begun. The good part is that cities need to compete with each other to get the funding, as opposed to a grant. First, they need to come up with a proposal that covers two aspects—area-based development and smart city solutions. The 20 cities which submit the best proposals will get R100 crore from the Centre this year. The other 80 will need to improve the identified deficiencies while participating the next year. Of that, 40 cities will be selected in the second year. As things stand, 20 cities should get R100 crore each by December-end. In the next fiscal, these 20 plus another 40 cities would get R100 crore each.
Under area-based development, cities need to develop a small area and transform it. Apart from regular features like better roads, water supply and sanitation, focus will be on intangibles like pedestrianisation, creating hawking zones, improved signages and access for non-motorised transport. The idea is that once it works for a small portion of the city, it can be easily replicated. The smart city solution will, however, need to cover the entire city. This is the technical bit including digitising infrastructure, intelligent traffic management, disaster preparedness, monitoring waste collection and possibly even a mobile app. What the government believes is as cities get their act in place, a whole range of innovative solutions could emerge. That could be in terms of how to leverage funding, getting faster infrastructure development using contemporary techniques.