The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) has been at the centre of the government’s urban rejuvenation agenda. In the past few years, notable progress has been observed in various cities in terms of technology penetration, while the role of the private sector has also evolved over time.
The Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City) has been included in the “Smart City Mission Statement and Guidelines” as a model city in the greenfield category. 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. Besides, it has developed the vision of becoming a “digging-free” city by placing all its utilities in tunnels across the city, thus removing the need to excavate roads to repair or maintain those utilities.
Recently, major developments such as the growth of mobile applications and real-time dashboards have been witnessed across the country for enhanced monitoring amid the Covid-19 pandemic and provision of citizen-centric services. Moreover, advanced technologies such as geographic information system (GIS) and internet of things (IoT) are now being deployed in the urban infrastructure space by various state governments. Today, technology start-ups are also collaborating with the government for the development of smart cities.
Focus on m-governance
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 such as taxi services, hotel bookings, and a travel planner. Likewise, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation’s (NDMC) new citizen-centric app acts as a one-stop solution to all citizen-centric grievances. Using the app, citizens can raise complaints related to the functioning of the municipality; book citizen facilities such as parking spaces; navigate to locations in the NDMC area; and pay for services such as utilities. The Delhi Police has also launched an app known as “Tatpar” to offer safety and convenient 24×7 online access to citizens. It is a one-stop solution through which one can access over 50 citizen-centric services. Raipur Smart City has developed a web portal and a mobile application, which will help citizens consume city-centric information specific to Raipur city, and also pay their property tax and water tax, and make other municipal corporation and utility-related payments.
Technologically advanced communication infrastructure
A number of cities have deployed GIS technology solutions across the urban infrastructure sector. For example, Varanasi has deployed GIS technology to ensure sustainable operation and maintenance of its water supply and sewerage assets. Vadodara Smart City is using GIS solutions for mapping of underground service lines such as drainage, sewerage and gas pipelines, as well as other cables, to ensure that they are not damaged during development work or the laying of new underground service lines. Pune Smart City has launched a road asset management system to provide a GIS-based decision support system to the city corporation, which will help in making crucial decisions about the prioritisation of roads for repair and maintenance works. Agra Smart City has launched the “IGiS platform”, an indigenous technology that brings GIS, image processing, photogrammetry and computer-aided design together on a single platform and can also provide a multitude of solutions across areas such as agriculture, defence, forestry, disaster management, land information, mining, power, smart cities, urban planning, utilities and location-based services. GIS mapping of utilities is being conducted in Chennai, while Ludhiana is also deploying a GIS-enabled system to levy property taxes.
New initiatives in light of Covid-19
Cities have made significant progress with respect to the development of integrated command and control centres (ICCCs) to disseminate information and create awareness about the pandemic among citizens. ICCCs comprise city portals, citizen apps, variable display boards, public address systems, and push notifications on mobiles from citizen databases. The Bengaluru and Kakinada Smart Cities have launched data dashboards that will act as singular sources for all pandemic-related actions and measures, as well as for data collection. Varanasi has deployed drones to spray sanitiser around the Covid-19-sensitive parts of the city. The city also made use of CCTV surveillance and GIS technology through a dedicated command and control centre to keep a tight vigil on crowd movement during the lockdown. Agra Smart City, in association with Scanpoint Geometrics Limited, has created a GIS dashboard that will show various hotspots, a heat map, the number of positive and recovered cases, and more. Meanwhile, Kalyan-Dombivali has developed an interactive geospatial dashboard comprising multiple GIS layers to visualise the extent of the spread of the virus. Surat Smart City has created a data API and published it on the Smart City Open Data Portal to provide information on Covid-19 patients.
Mobile applications are also being used to contain the spread of Covid-19. Surat’s SMC Covid-19 Tracker has been tracking people with global or interstate travel history, as well as persons who have come in direct contact with Covid-infected individuals. Pune has developed a mobile-based dashboard consisting of live GPS, while Varanasi has created the COVID-19 KASHI mobile app for citizens and for internal coordination of departments. Similar initiatives have been launched by Pimpri-Chinchwad and Hubbali-Dharwad.
Emerging partnerships between smart cities and start-ups
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has been encouraging start-ups that offer innovative products or services that can be applied to various areas in the smart cities. Invest India has worked with the SCM to identify the pressing problems faced by cities. It has identified market-deployable technological solutions to these problems from start-ups. Agra has been working with Gaia Smart Cities, an IoT start-up, to leverage its technology platform, including a Covid-19 self-assessment app built on Microsoft’s Azure, to track Covid-19 cases. Meanwhile, Surat Smart City has established SURATi iLAB, which provides a platform for innovation, research, start-up incubation, trade facilitation and skill development. The B-Nest Foundation in Bhopal has been supporting start-ups in various sectors. Over 30 start-ups from sectors such as waste management, home automation, agri-tech, IoT, autonomous vehicles, healthcare, digital marketing, drone surveillance and fintech are operating in the city out of the B-Nest facility. Anthill Ventures, an investment and speed-scaling platform for start-ups, has partnered with the Andhra Pradesh government to support the SCM by identifying world-class smart city solutions across Asia.
Challenges and next steps
Technology is at the heart of the upcoming smart cities, enabling automation and real-time integrated city monitoring. Information and communications technology-based solutions have to be embedded in practices such as traffic management and solid waste management (SWM) to enhance outcomes and improve process efficiencies. Through such integration, an interoperable system can be created that can be monitored through a centralised control centre. Moreover, technology can be used to enhance social development through digital healthcare facilities. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the need for technological upgradation in smart cities to ensure the safety of citizens. However, one must note that such technology should be carefully used, as it has its drawbacks in terms of data security. Other challenges faced by cities include the lack of efficient SWM systems, affordable housing, and sustainable energy; erratic water supply; and poor safety and security. These need to be dealt with using innovative solutions in order to make cities connected, liveable, environmentally sustainable, adaptive and future-proof.