Commitment is key to Smart Cities

Shankar Aggarwal, Secretary, Urban Development

Shankar Aggarwal, Secretary, Urban Development

A society makes progress only when its people come together in a consultative manner and work collectively to achieve the common goal – a country progresses and brings in peace and prosperity. It is necessary that we create an atmosphere for people to converge and ideate to bring value to the society. This is a very first attribute of a smart city. All over the world, people migrate from rural to urban areas in search of livelihood. Our objective is not only to create jobs but also improve the quality of life. 

It is common knowledge that cleanliness of our villages and towns leaves a lot to be desired. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan targets for a clean India by 2019. Let me tell you, this does not require much of an effort, just perseverance and commitment is enough to bring about a change. Motivation to bring in a mindset change will be critical. Only if we are able to motivate each and every person in this country to take care of our homes, neighbourhood, public places, ensure that India is free from open defecation and also that there is no trace of solid waste at public places, we would have won half of the battle. We also need to rejuvenate our heritage and holy cities, which people visit for mental peace but feel agitated to see the filth. I recall, when Mahatma Gandhi visited Benaras to lay the foundation of Benaras Hindu University, he was shocked to see the filthy state that Benaras was in. At the foundation stone laying ceremony he chose to speak on virtues of sanitation and cleanliness. There is an unlocked value in our cities, which can become a source of inspiration for others. 

Under JNNURM, we have taken up urban renewal of 500 cities in a big way. From hitherto traditional focus on rural areas only, the JNNURM has been working for urban renewal and in a way has already laid the foundation of smart cities. From acute shortage and poverty in 1947, India has come a long way in becoming a global leader in foodgrain production and exports. Our challenge now is to grow at 10 per cent or above, create employment opportunities and bring in satisfaction. So, we have to take the learnings from the earlier JNNURM – instead of following project based approach, we have to follow a programme based approach. These 500 cities under JNNURM will be focusing on urban infrastructure, roads, urban mobility, water supply, sanitation and sewerage. 

Our next question is 100 smart cities – why smart? Interestingly, the life expectancy has hovered around 40 years or so since the time of Jesus Christ. During the last century and more so in the last 20 years, it has gone up to 65 years. To my mind, it is the infusion of technology that has led to this change, because of which we are able to achieve that we have been trying to achieve for so many centuries. Practically, today, everything is converging on mobile that has emerged as the most powerful tool in our hand.

Our towns are falling apart and the quality of life in urban centres is deteriorating. There is energy in our youth and we need an environment to harness this potential. It requires four things: first, institutional framework, that means improved quality of governance. This also means, all services to be delivered electronically, all governmental processes to be automated and everything to be available in  public domain except in those cases where the information is sensitive. Further, the technology is to be deployed not only in enhancing security but also in instilling a sense of security amongst citizens. 

Second, creating physical infrastructure. Creating underpasses, elevated roads and mass rapid transit systems have to become the order of the day considering a huge movement in mobility. Probably not much attention has been paid, but cycling needs to be promoted. Amenities like water, sewerage, power, sanitation are to be committed. May be a little bit of smart element in the form of pre-paid smart cards can also work. An example here is one private developer in Pune with 400 acres of township, which has enabled every utility service to be pre-paid – the recovery is 100 per cent and savings are enormous. For example, 134 liters per capita per day water consumption has reduced to 95 liters per capita per day. 

Third attribute of a smart city is social infrastructure. Maintaining electronic health records, tele-medicine, e-education can improve the quality of life. Private sector is ready to extend its hand forward and so are we.

Finally, the economic infrastructure. If we really want to grow and create more jobs, we have to impart good quality skills to our younger generation. We need many more institutions for skill building. This again can be done with governmental support. All these pieces of infrastructure, if we could connect with a layer of ICT, we will be able to offer options to our citizens and that will make our cities smarter. We can bring in prosperity and are willing to learn from academia, industry, town planners and all other stakeholders. At government, we will navigate and stand by you in collectively working towards realising this vision.

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of INCLUSION. Comments are welcome at

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