How to make smart cities in India and get them up and running

Published: September 8, 2017 5:07 PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 'Digital India' vision has set an ambitious plan to build 100 smart cities across the country by 2030.

smart cities, smart cities mission, Narendra Modi’s Digital India vision, efficient energy & green building, smart parking, 100 smart cities by 2030The present infrastructure and the government policies are insufficient and inefficient to sustain the Smart City Program of the Central government.

By Amit Modi

The conceptualization of a Smart City differs from state to state and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the residents of the city. The basic structure of smart cities is to include assured water and electricity supply, sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, robust IT connectivity, e-governance and citizen participation, safety and security of citizens, efficient energy & green building, smart parking, and intelligent traffic management system.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ vision has set an ambitious plan to build 100 smart cities across the country. The Government of India allocated Rs 70.6 billion ($1.2 billion) for Smart Cities in Budget 2014–15.

As a theory, the Smart Cities program comes across as a great idea and sounds like a digital utopia, a place where data eliminates first-world hassles, dangers and injustices. But there are some problems with smart cities.

The present infrastructure and the government policies are insufficient and inefficient to sustain the Smart City Program of the Central government. Land, as a resource, hasn’t been exploited fully. The framework of policies has been on paper and yet has to show results. There is no set blueprint or framework of development. The government policies are inefficiently implemented and the public sector lacks the resources that the private sector possesses. The government hasn’t yet asked for the private sector to step into the smart cities project to help. The best way around this lack of infrastructure is public private partnership which will make this project possible by 2030, as envisioned by the PM.

Approximately Rs 100 crore has been allocated by the central government for the Smart City Program. Given the sheet scale of the development plan, the public resources would largely be insufficient and the government is working on envisaging new financing routes to boost the program. According to experts, Smart City plans require an investment of Rs 1300 crore to Rs 6000 crore in rebooting infrastructure from ground up – improving basic urban infrastructure, water and sanitation, improving public amenities and roads. These funds would be rolled out depending on the need for infrastructure and other requisites for a Smart city.

India’s economy is expanding rapidly and about 843 million people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. During the same period, the country’s labour force is expected to grow by 270 million workers, with urban jobs accounting for 70% of that growth. To accommodate this massive urbanization, India needs to find smarter ways to manage complexities, reduce expenses, increase efficiency and improve the quality of life.

The influx of the migrating population will only increase every coming year. The government needs to provide basic housing to all before they can turn to any further development. According to Census 2011, 31 per cent of India’s total population lives in urban areas — a marginal increase of a little over three percentage points from the previous Census of 2001. In absolute numbers, however, India added about nine million people to the urban areas, bringing the number of urban residents in India to a total of 377 million. The growth in total urban population is higher than the absolute rural population growth. It is in this context that a close scrutiny of the Smart Cities Mission, as this government’s articulation of what it thinks of India’s urbanization, is warranted.

Critical issues of capacity and skill building for local bodies need to be addressed in parallel. Matters related to intellectual property rights, open standards and technology transfer should be enshrined at the highest level of government since it is difficult for individual urban local bodies to negotiate with private parties. The current SCM guidelines do not cover these aspects.

Many cities around the globe are joining the Smart City bandwagon and the Prime Minister has announced the building of 100 smart cities by 2030. With the initial focus being on energy efficiency, public safety, and sustainability, the cities will soon graduate to build solutions around health, education, and system integration spanning all sectors. The ideal city of the future will combine wireless connectivity with the traditional concepts of community and shared space. IT solutions are essential to manage everything from sanitation and water to transportation, communications, infrastructure, waste management, and a sustainable environment.

States will play a key supportive role in the development of Smart Cities by providing smart leadership and vision in this level and ability to act decisively. Private players will have to participate in required sectors for effective implementation of project. Citizen participation in deploying smart solutions, implementing reforms, doing more with less and oversight during implementing and designing post-project structures will help in sustainable development. Thus, the mission requires active participation of government bodies, private players and citizens for holistic movement.

(The author is Director, ABA Corp and Vice President, CREDAI Western UP)

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