Making cities 'Smart'

Gyanendra Keshri, Executive Editor, INCLUSION

One of the top agendas of Narendra Modi government is to build 100 smart cities. This will be the biggest city-building exercise in the Indian history.

One of the top agendas of Narendra Modi government is to build 100 smart cities. This will be the biggest city-building exercise in the Indian history. The government has already set the ball rolling, making budgetary provision of Rs 7,060 crore for the project in the current financial year. Team INCLUSION analyses the challenges associated with the ambitious programme

Globally, advancement of most of the countries have been directly linked to urbanisation. One of the main drivers of the remarkable economic growth of China in the past three decades, have been rapid urbanisation.

The proportion of people living in urban areas is much lower in India when compared with the global average. Nearly 377 million or 31 per cent of Indians live in cities, while 54 per cent of the world population is urban. In countries like Japan and Australia almost 90 per cent of population is urban. More than 80 per cent of the Unites States, Britain and most other developed countries’ population live in cities, while over half of China’s population is urban.

Rapid urbanisation is inevitable to sustain high economic growth. India’s urban population is estimated to increase by 157 million in the next 15 years. It is expected to increase by another 500 million by 2050, by when more than half of the country’s population will be living in urban areas, for the first time.

However, mere urbanisation is not enough. The cities need to be made smart to improve the quality of life and attract higher investments, which is critically important for accelerating economic growth. Investors look for quality infrastructure before putting in their money.

Realising the importance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that building 100 smart cities is among the top of his government’s agendas. The government has already set the ball rolling, making budgetary provision of Rs 7,060 crore for the project in the current financial year.

Even though, only 30 per cent Indian population is urban, the pace of movement of people from rural areas to cities is sharp. India’s urban population rose from 286 million in 2001 to 377 million in 2011 and is estimated to reach 600 million by 2031. According to private estimates the country would need 500 new cities to accommodate such a huge migration of people from rural to urban areas. 

India’s urban population, which is less than a third of total population, contributes more than 60 per cent of the country’s GDP and this is estimated to go up to 75 per cent by 2020. Urban population during this period is estimated to increase to 35 per cent. The share of urban sector in India’s GDP was 45 per cent in 1990.

India’s 53 biggest cities that occupy just 0.2 per cent of the land and have 13.3 per cent of the population, contribute nearly a third to the country’s GDP, while the 100 biggest cities contribute 43 per cent to the national output.

Smart cities will play a critical role in boosting investments. Investors look for quality infrastructure before putting in their money. In his maiden Independence Day address to the nation, Modi made a strong pitch for making India a manufacturing hub. Inviting global investors for setting up manufacturing units in India, Modi gave a slogan: “Come, make in India.” Smart cities would prove a big boost to overseas as well as domestic investors.

Although there is no single definition, “smart city” generally refers to cities using information technology for planning and solving problems. A city can be called “smart” if it is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure and has sustainable real estate and communications system and the facilities are economically viable.

The backbone of infrastructure in such cities is information technology. It should have intelligent energy, water, transport, security and waste management systems. For example, there should be intelligent systems for managing traffic flows, video surveillance networks for handling public safety along with systems for delivery of emergency healthcare and high-speed broadband connectivity.

Such cities are critically important to address the challenges arising out of increasing urbanisation and attracting overseas investments.

Technology
Cloud is one of the biggest technologies available today that can help make a city smart. It helps in keeping the expenditure low. No need to make large investments on setting up data centres for every thing. For example, health and education services could be improved significantly using cloud technology.

Access to basic facilities like water, power, sanitation, transportation is critical. There has to be a smart way to ensure delivery of these services.

Educating and sensitising the citizens about the technology being used: generally there is resistance to new technology. Getting people to accept the new technology is a big challenge. Just offering a solution and blueprint of technology-based smart city would not solve the problem. And it won’t succeed. There is need for proper awareness and sensitisation about the technology being used. 

People’s Participation
Intelligence of the people and not the smartness of the technology can determine the smartness of the city. Therefore, people should be at the forefront of the development of the city. Urban poor should be included in the process not just for housing but for other facilities too. They can’t be just used for building the city and then forced to leave.

People need to be smart to avail the services and benefit from the technology and improved set up. The government can install technology, but it is the people who have to utilise it. So the people need to be made smart to demand and utilise the services.

Livability
The smart city should provide safety, security, sustainability and energy efficiency. Services should be made available at a reasonable cost. The city must provide conducive environment so that people develop emotional attachment. Unless citizens invest emotionally, the city won’t sustain growth and development. Proper facility for working women is essential as working women face many challenges. Apart from ensuring safety and security they need a host of other facilities like crèche, which should take care of their kids when they are at work. Crèches must be properly regulated and have adequate security features.

Waste Management
Waste management should be decentralised in smaller recycling plants. For sewage as well as solid waste there should be recycling units within every one km radius. It will help save energy, reduce pressure on road traffic and improve sanitation and cleanliness.

Common Vision
Centre and the state governments should have a common vision as far as ways and means of development of the smart cities are concerned. Conflicting and multiplicity of ideas would only make the things more complicated. Ministries and state departments  need to come together and deliver this vision. They need to bury their differences and share the limited resources that are available with them.

Energy Supply
Uninterrupted power supply is critical for smart cities. Conventional as well as renewable power sources should be tapped to ensure 24x7 power supply.

Rooftop solar panels should be installed to bridge the gap of energy supply from conventional sources. Moreover, it will ensure uninterrupted energy supply required for some essential services.

Land
A lot of industrial and infrastructure projects in India are lying in limbo due to land related issues. Getting land is a big challenge. If the existing cities or satellite towns are to be transformed into smart cities, what will be the land acquisition strategy for development and expansion of infrastructure? In case greenfield projects, the challenge is even bigger.

Land acquisition is currently in the concurrent list. This means, the central government has one law, while state governments can have their own laws. This creates confusion and leads to unnecessary delays. Land acquisition should be brought fully under the purview of the states.

Efforts should be made to reduce indirect cost and increasing direct cost of land acquisition. Direct costs are the money paid to the farmers or the land owners, while the indirect costs are the expenses incurred in the process due to delays and bureaucratic hurdles etc. If land owners are compensated adequately, their opposition to land acquisition for infrastructure and city development will go.

The Land acquisition norms should be simplified and more powers should be given to collectors. Under the present law everything goes to chief secretary, which is not necessary.

Urbanisation Strategy
Urbanisation in India is often seen as a by-product of failed regional planning. People migrate to towns and cities because they don’t find basic facilities, proper infrastructure and jobs in rural areas. There is hardly any policy framework, either at the Centre or at the state level, for planned urbanisation. For higher economic expansion and development of the country, urbanisation is inevitable. There is need for a proper planning and clear strategy both at the centre and the state level to promote and facilitate urbanisation in a way, which is best suited for the economy.

(Gyanendra Keshri can be reached at gyanendra@skoch.in)

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