Steady Pace

One of the most ambitious government programmes for urban renewal and transformation, the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) was envisaged to be implemented through a bottom-up approach instead of a top-down approach that is followed for most government programmes. The objective of the mission is to provide core infrastructure in Indian cities and ensure a decent quality of life to citizens through the deployment of smart solutions.

With the aim of developing 100 smart cities, the mission conceived the implementation of 5,151 projects at an investment of Rs 2,050.18 billion. Of the total investment requirement, the central and state governments are to provide Rs 922.58 billion in the form of budgetary support or grants, Rs 430.54 billion is expected from convergence with other ongoing schemes, Rs 430.54 billion from public-private partnerships, Rs 102.51 billion from debt and loans, Rs 20.5 billion from cities’ own funds and Rs 143.51 billion from other sources. The 100 cities were selected through four rounds of aggressive bidding.

While the 2020-21 budget has not stated any particular increment for the SCM, the 2019-20 budget had allocated Rs 64.5 billion for the mission against Rs 61.69 billion in 2018-2019, a 4.5 percent hike over the previous year.

Progress so far

Planning for and putting in place the implementation structure for the SCM has taken a lot of time. However, more recently, implementation has picked up pace. After the mission was launched in 2015, it took about two years to select the 100 cities in a phased manner. Currently, all the 100 smart cities have incorporated special purpose vehicles and city-level advisory forums and have appointed project management consultants to appraise, approve, implement, manage, operate, monitor and evaluate projects.

The 100 smart cities proposed 5,151 projects requiring an investment of over Rs 2 trillion. As on February 24, 2020, 4,488 projects worth Rs 1.64 trillion have been tendered, of which 3,655 projects worth Rs 1.22 trillion have been grounded and 1,575 projects worth Rs 259 billion have been completed. While the pace of project implementation has been satisfactory for some cities, progress has been sluggish in others.

The regular monitoring of performance has ensured significant improvement in project implementation. There has been a 227 per cent growth in the projects tendered, a 294 per cent growth in the projects grounded/completed and a 393 per cent growth in projects completed in the past one and a half years.

This year’s Smart City Rankings released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) have been a cause for cheer for Uttar Pradesh, as three of the state’s cities made it to the top 10 smart cities. Apart from Agra topping the list, Kanpur and Varanasi secured third and seventh rank respectively. Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu has made steady progress in terms of implementing smart cities projects, where as many as 18 smart city projects, including water supply improvement and solar power projects, are in the execution phase. Besides, riverfront development in Varanasi and Indore, and a public cycle sharing project in Bhopal have been lauded by the centre. Cities such as Kochi and Visakhapatnam have been recognised for their solar power initiatives. Overall, the cities that have shown considerable progress include Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Varanasi, Lucknow, Nagpur, Surat, Visakhapatnam, Vellore, Tiruppur, Vadodara and Ranchi. Further, Ahmedabad is planning to set up the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City). It is the country’s first international financial services centre with a multi-services special economic zone. Proposed in Union Budget 2020-21, five new smart cities are planned to be developed on the pattern of GIFT City with dedicated metro corridors, energy-conserving buildings, state-of-the-art design elements and automated garbage collection.

The central government will release a report card of the 100 selected smart cities in three categories – ease of living, municipal performance index and climate – in June 2020 as the SCM completes five years. This will help cities in planning better and moving towards data-driven governance which will eventually improve their liveability.

The 20:20 model

In January 2020, the government came up with the concept of “sister cities”. This concept, known as the 20:20 model, involves pairing the 20 best performing cities with the bottom 20 cities as sister cities. The top 20 cities, the ones which have shown better development by leveraging the latest technologies, will share the know-how of implementing these technologies, and undertaking financial management, detailed project reports, feasibility studies and impact assessments, with the bottom 20 cities. As per the model, each city will sign an MoU for a period of one year with its sister city. The cities will troubleshoot together, try to kick start projects and thus improve the ranking of the laggard city.

For this, a 100-day challenge has been introduced by the MoHUA to fast track the performance of the bottom 20 cities. The challenge will conclude on June 25, 2020, marking the fifth anniversary of the mission.

The way forward

Going forward, the 20:20 model is expected to help the cities in improving their overall rank considerably. Once the cities handhold each other, their ranking would improve and the government will focus on helping another set of 20 cities that falls at the bottom of the list. The mission has now achieved a level of maturity that allows the government to focus on accelerating the pace of implementation. Despite this, the SCM still has a long way to go in developing urban infrastructure of the selected cities.