The development of a smart city that offers a good quality of life to its citizens and that is not only future ready but also sustainable is a time-consuming process. The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) has been at the centre of the government’s urban rejuvenation agenda. Project implementation has picked up pace in the past year. Progress has been documented in both project completion and technology penetration while the role of the private sector too has evolved.
The SCM’s impact on citizens’ lives has been grouped into four areas – ease of living, smart governance, connected communities and urban resilience. Some cities have made significant progress in these areas and have taken a gamut of initiatives for their overall transformation.
- Smart governance: Integrated command and control centres (ICCCs) have been operationalised in cities such as Visakhapatnam, Bhopal, Rajkot and Vadodara. The key components of these command centres include CCTV cameras, smart traffic solutions, environmental sensors, public address systems, emergency call boxes, and smart public transit management systems. The Janmitra mobility card was launched in Ahmedabad as part of its smart governance initiatives. The card can be used across public transport modes such as bus, metro and water metro, in addition to mercantile and internet transactions, thereby enhancing the commuter experience and increasing cashless transactions.
- Urban resilience: Diu became the first district in the country to use 100 per cent renewable energy during the day. Its solar project was implemented in two phases – Phase I generates 3 MW of electricity and Phase II generates 6 MW. The Jaipur solar rooftop project has also brought down electricity bills by generating 1.1 MW from installations on four public buildings. The Bhopal, Pune and Coimbatore public bike sharing projects have not only been successful in promoting the non-polluting and healthier way of travel, but have also reduced congestion on roads.
As a model city in the greenfield category, the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City) has been included in the Smart City Mission Statement and Guidelines. GIFT City has deployed several advanced technologies across different sectors with a view to becoming future ready. It has deployed automated waste collection systems, wherein waste is thrown into a disposal chute and water is sucked through pipes at a speed of 90 kmph. Further, plasma technology has been adopted for wastewater treatment. For energy efficiency, a district cooling system has been planned as part of the city’s smart infrastructure. The system conserves up to 30 per cent energy as compared to traditional air-conditioning systems. Besides, it has developed the vision of being a “digging-free” city by placing all the utilities in tunnels across the city.
More recently, Infosys joined the Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator programme to offer end-to-end solutions for smart stadiums, smart venues and smart event management. This programme is designed to connect cities, municipalities, government agencies and enterprises with Qualcomm Technologies’ ecosystem to help deliver greater efficiencies, cost savings and broad access to solutions for smart cities’ problems.
Further, in order to bridge the gap between the top-performing and bottom-performing cities, the central government has come up with a 100-day challenge and has devised a 20:20 model for the cities, wherein the top 20 cities will support the bottom 20. The challenge is expected to be a game changer for the worst-performing cities. What remains to be seen is how successfully the cities are able to handhold each other. The top-ranked city, Ahmedabad will help Chandigarh, which is at the 81st spot. Nagpur, the second position holder, will assist the 96th ranked Port Blair. Tripura, Ranchi, Bhopal and Surat will help in improving the development pace of Silvassa, Shimla, Aizawl and Saharanpur respectively.
Under the SCM, a number of mobile applications that aim to integrate citizens and the government are being developed. Various cities are developing apps to improve overall management in areas such as parking, traffic and surveillance. Gwalior has developed an all-in-one app solution consisting of four modules – Veerangana (for women’s safety and security), a blood bank management system, Paryatan (for promotion of tourism), and citizen-centric services (taxi services, hotel bookings, travel planner, etc.).
Among the upcoming smart governance projects, there is one in Amaravati on environment monitoring sensors and warning systems being developed at an estimated cost of Rs 2.68 billion. Dehradun has planned the setting up of smart sensors or iPoles at a cost of Rs 2.35 billion. Further, New Town Kolkata has an upcoming data centre and Wi-Fi project being developed at a cost of Rs 990 million. Other upcoming area-based development (ABD) projects in New Town Kolkata include the setting up of Wi-Fi hotspots, laying optic fibre cables and installing LEDs at a cost of Rs 990 million. Besides, Bhopal has planned an investment of Rs 990 million on information and communications technology under ABD whereas Amritsar has an upcoming investment of Rs 990 million on e-governance.
New focus areas
Intelligent video systems are a platform that allow technologies and devices to synchronise smoothly and fulfill the function of making roads safer. Road surveillance is critical as it tracks road vehicles, analyses patterns and behaviour, and detects abnormalities and anomalies before any mishap occurs. Non-compliance with road safety rules, road-based crimes, and weather- degraded roads are common in the country. A smart and open video management system and smart analytics would allow users to analyse the data and information collected to better foresee and prevent transport issues such as road blockages, improve road conditions, prevent vehicle accidents and optimise traffic conditions. The SCM is also aimed at developing sustainable and ecologically conscious cities. To this end, a key trend is the allocation of green spaces at strategic locations so as to bring residents closer to nature and promote a sustainable lifestyle. Further construction is not permitted in these areas.
At present, most of the urban local bodies continue to struggle to generate funds. This issue is expected to be addressed through raising funds from municipal bonds, value capture financing, tailored bonds, user charges and increased private participation. (The success of the Pune, Greater Hyderabad, Bhopal, Amaravati, Ahmedabad and Indore municipal bond issuances indicates an appetite for financing well-managed municipal bodies.) Moreover, each smart city receives Rs 10 billion, contributed equally by the central and state governments.
However, given the number of projects to be implemented, these funds are inadequate and states are therefore encouraged to raise the rest of the required funds independently. They may raise funds through user charges, public-private partnerships (PPPs), borrowings from financial bodies, land monetisation, non-tax revenues, municipal bond issues and through convergence with other schemes. So far, nine cities have floated municipal bonds raising about Rs 34 billion. Meanwhile, arrangements are being made with multilateral and bilateral agencies such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Asian Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the United Kingdom Department for International Development and the World Bank for soft loans. Besides, there are 190 PPP projects worth about Rs 150 billion that are under implementation. Of these, 82 projects worth Rs 37.04 billion have been completed. The projects are spread across 41 cities and multiple segments such as affordable housing, solid waste management, rooftop solar, public bike sharing, mobility cards and public utilities.
While implementation has picked up pace, the mission still faces several challenges. Though the country has performed very well with respect to IT projects, it lacks technical capabilities at the design evaluation stage. Delays were reported in technical execution due to faulty planning and there have been issues with respect to specifications stated in the tender documents. Cities spent a lot of time in setting up special purpose vehicles and finding the right management consultants. The slow pace of implementation is attributable to the long project planning process, which on average takes 15-18 months. Most of the smart cities involve a lot of retrofitment of legacy infrastructure, which is also a big challenge.
The way forward
With the increasing adoption of internet of things (IoT), there is an emerging need for an IoT policy framework for smart cities. IoT can be defined as the interplay of the software, telecom and electronic hardware industries and promises to offer tremendous opportunities for many sectors. A framework is also needed to develop and showcase industry use cases for the deployment of IoT across various domains such as connected cities, water management, environmental regulations, remote health, waste management, safety, supply chain and logistics.