Smart Cities Journey: Emerging trends, recent initiatives and the road ahead

Emerging trends, recent initiatives and the road ahead

The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) has faced many hiccups over the past year. A total of 100 smart cities had been selected through four rounds of competition from Jan­u­ary 2016 to June 2018. The cities were expected to complete their projects within five years of being selected under the mission. However, the government had to extend the timeline for the implementation of the mission to June 2023 due to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as ot­her factors. As of March 4, 2022, the government has released Rs 292 billion for the 100 sm­art cities, of which Rs 252 billion (86 per cent) has been utilised. So far, the selected 100 smart cities have tendered out 6,928 projects worth Rs 1,912 billion; issued work orders for 6,282 projects worth Rs 1,655 billion; and completed 3,576 projects worth Rs 599 billion.

Key initiatives

Most of the smart cities have addressed issues related to climate change, disaster preparedness, mitigation and adaptation as part of their proposals. In order to enhance walkability and in­crease the use of non-motorised and public transport, smart cities are implementing 789 smart road projects worth Rs 268 billion, as of March 4, 2022, promoting non-motorised tra­ns­p­ort and better pedestrian facilities resulting in the reduction of congestion, environmental po­llution, and greenhouse gases. Further, 95 solar power projects worth Rs 13 billion are be­ing im­p­lemented. Around 316 smart water pro­jects worth Rs 240 billion and 268 smart wastewater pr­ojects worth Rs 179 billion have been taken up.

Integrated command and control centres (ICCCs) have been operationalised in 76 smart cities. These ICCCs are playing an important ro­le in improving traffic management, solid wa­s­te management and water distribution management. Smart cities have effectively used ICCCs and related smart infrastructure for better management of the Covid-19 pandemic. With the primary objective of achieving green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the SCM has launched national-level challenges to promote safer, healthier and environment-friendly cities. These include Streets4People, India Cyc­les­4Change, Transport4All, Nurturing Neigh­bo­ur­­hoods and EatSmart Cities Challenges.

The SCM has brought technology and digitalisation to the forefront. The government also recently launched the Natio­nal Urban Digital Mission (NUDM). The vision of the NUDM is to improve the ease of living for citizens by creating a national urban digital eco­sys­tem that delivers accessible, inclusive, efficient and citizen-centric governance across towns and citi­es. Other new initiatives under way include the India Urban Data Exchange, Artificial Intelli­ge­nce Strategy for Urban India, and Smart City Stan­dar­ds. Today, smart cities are sharing data on the India Open Data Platform.

The government has launched the Smart Cities and Academia Towards Action and Rese­ar­ch (SAAR) programme, a joint initiative of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the Natio­nal Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) and leading Indian academic institutions of the country. Under the programme, 15 premier architecture and planning institutes of the country will be working with smart cities to document 75 landmark projects under the SCM. The documents will capture the lessons learnt and best practices, provide opportunities for engagement on urban development projects to students, and enable real-time information flow between urban practitioners and academia.

The way forward

The government has set big goals for urban development, expanding the successful projects and new-age practices to 4,000 cities with a population of 500,000 each. Techno­logy will play a crucial role in this. The SCM should be a long-term programme, not restric­ted to five or six years as currently envisioned. Indian cities are at a low level of development. Given the quality of governance and the social and economic problems facing these towns and cities, any transformation will take a long time.

An integrated approach to urban development is the need of the hour. ICCCs have po­ten­tial and they have now started to bring together all local government authorities on to one platform. Training programmes should be organised to build managerial and financial capacities of the staff employed by special purpose vehicles (SPVs) and urban local bodies. Training needs must be properly identified. SPVs should be supported with adequate funds, trained personnel and proper equipment.