By 2030, urban areas are expected to serve 40 per cent of India’s population and contribute 75 per cent to India’s gross domestic product. This rapid expansion necessitates the comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure to improve quality of life and further attract investments. In turn, this will set in motion a virtuous cycle of growth and development.
The development of smart cities is a step in this direction. It is meant to set an example that can be replicated both within and outside the city, catalysing the creation of similar smart cities in various regions across the country.
At present, there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. It varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources available and the aspirations of residents.
Nevertheless, the core infrastructure elements in a smart city would include adequate and assured electricity supply; sanitation, including solid waste management; efficient urban mobility and public transport; affordable housing, especially for the poor; robust information technology connectivity and digitisation, good governance, especially e-governance and citizen participation; a sustainable environment; safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly; and health and education facilities.
Smart Cities Mission
The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) was launched on July 25, 2015. It aims to develop cities that apply smart solutions to provide core infrastructure and give their citizens a decent quality of life.
The SCM will cover 97 cities over a period of five years, from 2015-16 to 2019-20. Thereafter, the mission may be continued depending on the result of an evaluation by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
The strategic components of area-based development under the SCM are city improvement (retrofitting), city renewal (redevelopment), city extension (greenfield development) and a pan-city initiative in which smart solutions are applied to large parts of the city.
The definition of “smart” will vary for every city, and thus each one has to formulate its own concept, vision, mission and plan (proposal) for a smart city that is appropriate to its local context and resources available. The central assistance of Rs 500 billion to be disbursed during the mission period is not project specific and can be used for any element of a smart city including technology, transportation, smart governance, smart planning, smart energy, etc.
Progress so far
In January 2016, the MoUD released a list of 20 cities selected to be taken up for development as smart cities in Round I of the Smart City Challenge.
Overall, 97 cities competed in the Smart City Challenge, of which 20 have been selected for funding in the current financial year (2015-16). The winners are from 11 states and the Union Territory of Delhi. Three cities are in Madhya Pradesh, two each in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and one each in the remaining five states made it to the list of winners. These cities have been selected on the basis of feasibility of the proposal, cost-effectiveness, result orientation, citizen participation, strategic plan, vision and goals, etc.
The central government will invest Rs 508 billion in these cities over a period of five years. Of the total investment, Rs 386.93 billion will be spent on area-based development and
Rs 121.09 billion on pan-city development. A total area of 26,735 acres has been identified by these cities for making them “smart” through necessary interventions. These include an integrated urban planning effort with a sharper focus on infrastructure, land use planning, transport, design and architecture.
The way forward
Round II of the challenge (2016-17) will open on April 1, 2016, and 54 cities will compete with their revised proposals, which can be submitted by June 30, 2016. The remaining 23 cities (of the 97 cities that competed) that are required to upgrade their proposals and which could not meet the benchmark set by the winning cities will also participate in Round II. It is expected that up to 40 cities will be announced in Round II in August 2016.
Going forward, the smart city programme will open up huge opportunities for various stakeholders – urban planners, equipment and technology providers, etc. However, certain issues need to be addressed before the transformation of a city into a smart city is possible. The current situation reflects fragmented accountability where cities are subject to rules and regulations drawn up by the centre, state and district administrations. Also, not all departments that operate inside a city have a central command and thus departments are often not coordinated.
Further, investments in cities are currently undertaken by separate departments, as a result of which each department designs projects focused on solving its own problems, not taking into account holistic implications. The lack of a unified approach leads to operational inefficiencies, making the city less resilient during emergencies as there is a lack of availability of real-time, cohesive information, as also of efficient resource allocation and infrastructure management.
Ultimately, projects must be delivered on the ground and the responsibility for this will lie with state governments and local authorities. The key to making the SCM a success will be the effective and timely execution of projects.