Smart Cities Dream in India

The 21st Century is facing major challenges for humanity. Due to population growth the resources are under constant threats and always falling short of needs and demands.

Hence now cities have to address various issues such as ICT, Urban planning, climate change, environmental matters, non-renewable resources, social and economic development, increasing populations, city infrastructures, Governance & Funding etc. Greater emphasis on cities needs cities to think independently for economic growth and sustainability of various infrastructures.

This has resulted into need for smart cities, where resources can be effectively shared and good governance achieved for smooth citizen empowerments.

Thus in a determined bid to recast the urban landscape of the country to make urban areas more livable and inclusive besides driving the economic growth, the Union Government has approved the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation of 500 cities (AMRUT).

The Importance of Smart Cities in India

India’s urban population is currently around 31 per cent of the total population and it contributes over 60 per cent of India’s GDP. India’s is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate, so much that estimates suggest nearly 600 million of Indians will be living in cities by 2030, up from 290 million as reported in the 2001 census. With about 30 village dwellers moving every minute from villages to become city dwellers, not many villages will be left India at the end of this century.

Today’s cities face significant challenges – increasing populations, environmental and regulatory requirements, declining tax bases and budgets and increased costs. Moreover, the cost of Information and Communication Technologies has plunged making it economical for the government to implement them. Citizens are increasingly getting instant, anywhere, anytime, personalized access to information and services via mobile devices and computers. And they increasingly expect that same kind of access to city services.

With increasing urbanization and the load on rural land, the government has now realized the need for cities that can cope with the challenges of urban living and also be magnets for investment. The announcement of ‘100 smart cities’ falls in line with this vision.

Three pillars of smart city:

Institutional infrastructure, physical infrastructure and social infrastructure constitute three pillars on which smart city rests.

Institutional infrastructure refers to the activities that relate to the planning and management systems. Physical infrastructure refers to urban mobility system, the housing stock, the energy system, the water supply system, sewage system, sanitation facilities, solid waste management system and drainage system which are all integrated through the use of technology.

Physical infrastructure should focus on three aspects. Improvements in public transport – metro rail, BRT, LRT, Monorail, etc. Improvements in infrastructure of other motor vehicles – ring roads, bypasses, elevated roads, improvements in the existing road ways. Improvements in infrastructure for walking, cycling and waterways.
Social infrastructure helps in improving human capital index so lot of emphasis should be on education, healthcare and entertainment systems. Quality education for school and higher education, quality healthcare facilities and good entertainment facilities like sport facilities, cultural centers, open spaces and plazas are essential ingredients for quality life.

Brief about Smart City Mission

Under the Smart Cities Mission, each selected city would get central assistance of Rs.100 crore per year for five years. Smart City aspirants will be selected through a ‘City Challenge Competition’ intended to link financing with the ability of the cities to perform to achieve the mission objectives. Each state will shortlist a certain number of smart city aspirants as per the norms to be indicated and they will prepare smart city proposals for further evaluation for extending Central support.

This Mission of building 100 smart cities intends to promote adoption of smart solutions for efficient use of available assets, resources and infrastructure with the objective of enhancing the quality of urban life and providing a clean and sustainable environment. Special emphasis will be given to participation of citizens in prioritizing and planning urban interventions.

It will be implemented through ‘area based’ approach consisting of retrofitting, redevelopment, pan-city initiatives and development of new cities. Under retrofitting, deficiencies in an identified area will be addressed through necessary interventions as in the case of Local Area Plan for downtown Ahmedabad. Redevelopment enables reconstruction of already built-up area that is not amenable for any interventions, to make it smart, as in the case of Bhendi Bazar of Mumbai and West Kidwai Nagar in New Delhi. Pan-city components could be interventions like Intelligent Transport Solutions that benefits all residents by reducing commuting time.

Under smart cities initiative, focus will be on core infrastructure services like: Adequate and clean Water supply, Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, Efficient Urban Mobility and Public Transportation, Affordable housing for the poor, power supply, robust IT connectivity, Governance, especially e-governance and citizen participation, safety and security of citizens, health and education and sustainable urban environment.

Smart City Action Plans will be implemented by Special Purpose Vehicles(SPV) to be created for each city and state governments will ensure steady stream of resources for SPVs.

Implementation challenges in Smart City Mission

i. Providing clearances in a time bound manner: it will be crucial for the smart city dream to come true. For timely completion of project, all clearances should use online processes and should be cleared in a time bound manner. A regulatory body should be set up for all utility services so that level playing field is made available to the private sector and tariffs are set in a manner that balances financial sustainability with quality.
ii. Financing smart city: finance will play a crucial role the success of the smart city mission. One needs to be see how these projects need to be financed as majority of project would move through complete private investment or through PPPs (public private partnership). Both the central government as well as state governments would be interested only in Viability Gap Fund (VGF).
iii. Reliability of utility services: For any smart city in the world, focus is on reliability of utility services be it electricity, water, telephone and broadband services. Similarly, municipal services such as water supply, drainage, solid waste management need to be of high quality and should be available 24X7.
iv. Capacity building program: Building capacity for 100 smart cities is not an easy task and most of the ambitious projects get delayed due to lack of quality manpower both at the center as well as states. Investment in capacity building programs have a multiplier effect as it helps in time bound completion of projects and also helps in designing programs, developing faculty, building databases as well as designing tool kits and decision support systems. And all these have a lag time so capacity building needs to be strengthened right at the beginning.
v. Extensive usage of ICT: An extensive use of ICT enabled services will need a sound communications backbone and the best example for this is Singapore. Cities to become smart, it is essential that the governance structure is also smart. Therefore, urban local bodies would need to make effective use of ICTs in public administration to connect and coordinate between various departments.