While e-governance initiatives usually account for only 10-15% of the total investment, they are an essential part of the overall city architecture
The Smart City Mission recently launched by the ministry of urban development is quite detailed and comprehensive. It clearly lays down the criteria both for initial shortlisting of cities by the State government as well as the basis for selection of the final 100 cities by an Apex Committee at the national level. The various models for city level development, namely, retrofitting, redevelopment and green field development have also been explained as has been the financing model and relative contributions from the respective governments and the private sector.
The Mission also explicitly acknowledges the need for meeting gaps in basic infrastructure like water and sewerage pipelines, sanitation facilities etc. by leveraging other government programmes like Amrut, Swachh Bharat etc. so that the city is truly smart. The only aspect which has not been spelt out in detail is e-governance and information & communication technology (ICT) enabled solutions, without which no smart city implementation can be complete.
While a number of e-governance/ICT solutions like water quality monitoring, leakage identification, public information and grievance redress find mention in the scheme document, the modalities for implementation have not been spelt out.
Does this mean then that the e-governance/ICT component is already operational in most Indian cities and only needs incremental changes? The answer is a clear no. The earlier e-municipality project, which was a part of the National e-Governance Plan, envisaged implementation of 11 modules including birth and death registration, property and water tax billing, accrual based accounting, grievance redress and others. The latest publicly available appraisal scorecard under the erstwhile Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) dated January, 2014, shows that many of the larger cities in various states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka etc. have implemented most of these modules.
However, a closer look on the ground suggests that in most cities, these modules have been developed by different vendors as stand-alone systems and do not form part of one integrated system with single point data entry. Each city has gone by its own functional requirements as far as individual modules are concerned and consequently, the business processes for delivering services vary widely.
Coming from the smart city context, significant ground also needs to be covered as far as the functionalities of individual e-governance applications are concerned. For example, while the water distribution module in e-municipality only covers water-related billing, any smart city architecture would begin with network level sensors like flow meters for monitoring water flow at critical transmission and distribution points as well as meters at the household or property level operating on the back of a geographic information system (GIS) based map of individual localities. This network level information can then be used for generating bills and also correlated with data inputs from other sources like customer complaints, maintenance schedules etc. through an integrating ICT application to automate actions like regulation of valves in the network, communicating with repair and maintenance teams etc.
All smart cities around the world have used e-governance as an effective tool to serve citizens efficiently, re-engineer internal business processes, increase transparency, accountability & citizen participation and use resources in an environment friendly manner. While e-governance initiatives usually account for only 10%-15% of the total investment, they are an essential part of the overall city architecture and require specialised knowledge and expertise both during development/implementation and for subsequent maintenance activities. To minimise investments in hardware and application infrastructure, a number of countries have opted for centrally hosted or cloud based platforms for e-governance/ICT solutions.
One of the most prominent examples is the EU Platform for Intelligent Cities (EPIC) initiative which was first operationalised in 2010. As part of this initiative, a number of cross cutting applications like relocation planning, 3D urban planning, energy consumption monitoring have been hosted on a cloud-based infrastructure, with each participating city government leveraging this suite to provide services to its own citizens based on an agreed per transaction / user cost. Closer home in Asia, the ClouT project, a joint initiative between EU and Japan, seeks to provide cloud-based application services for traffic management, city-level resource management etc. to multiple city governments.
With most urban local bodies in India facing significant financial and human resource constraints, adopting a centrally hosted cloud based solution at the level of the Central or State government may be one of the few ways to ensure that the e-governance/ICT component of the smart city architecture does not stand in the way of timely implementation of smart cities on the ground. The existing schemes for city development possibly need further detailing on this front.
The writer is a senior director with Deloitte in India