Reforms make it a fit case to become a smart city
The Smart City initiative of the NDA government seems to be all set to take off, now that Puducherry has become the first city to file in its nomination. The erstwhile French colony got 75 out of a total 100 points in the assessment by the High Powered Steering Committee. States can nominate cities based on four criteria: existing service levels (25 points), institutional systems and capacities (15), self financing (30) and track-record (30). Puducherry managed to get a high score simply because it seems to have put systems in place over the years and this could be an example for others to follow. At a time when most state governments look to lower water and power tariffs, Puducherry meets 80% of the operation and maintenance cost of water supply through user charges. It also meets 23% of its capital expenditure from internal resources. If that was not enough, it has managed to increase internal revenue generation by 14% over the period FY13 to FY15. During FY15, it had 63% of budgeted receipts from tax revenues, fees, user charges, rents and other internal resources. That’s not an easy thing to do in a country where chief ministers take pride in lowering tariffs which leads to bankrupt state government entities, and people are reluctant to pay user charges.
The Puducherry experience shows that the city already has the capabilities in place to create, fund, and run a smart city. Essentially, the union territory comprising five urban local bodies—Puducherry, Oulgaret, Kariakal, Mahe and Yanam, spread inside the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala—has its act in place. So, while Puducherry becomes smart, the benefits will be widespread. Under the central government’s 100 Smart Cities programme, 20 states and union territories, including Puducherry, can nominate only one city. Uttar Pradesh can nominate 13 while Tamil Nadu (12) and Maharashtra (10), are the other major gainers. Now, Puducherry will have to submit its Smart City Proposal which will include city level evaluation and proposal level evaluation. With one city formally being nominated, the competition among the states to name their contenders will grow. The outcome, though, will depend on the amount of work that has already been done by the cities nominated on the ground. It is time for cities across the country to stand up and be counted as smart, now that Puducherry has set the ball rolling.