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How ‘Smart’ is India’s Smart City Mission?

Smart Cities and Urban Development in India

Urbanization is a continuing megatrend, in 1950, only 30% of the world’s population was urban. In 2014, 54% of the global population lives in urban areas and 2050, it is anticipated that two-thirds of the world’s population will be urban, with 95% of that growth taking place in developing countries (United Nations, 2018). Currently, 30% of the Indian population resides in urban centers, these centers contribute around 65% to the national GDP (Deloitte, 2015). India envisions infrastructure across the country must expand rapidly (Department of Land Resources, 2013) due to which Smart City Mission has been launched in 2015.

Related: Smart city concept by MoUD, Government of India

Indian Smart City Mission has the objective is “to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions. The Mission has three models of Area-based development: Retrofitting, Redevelopment and Greenfield development, and Pan city development which envisages the incorporation of Smart solutions in the existing infrastructure. Retrofitting is the introduction of Smart solutions in the existing built-up area of 500 acres, Redevelopment involves the replacement of existing built-up area for redevelopment purpose for an area of 50 acres while Greenfield development will take place on the vacant land of more than 250 acres. For the purpose, the government is providing 100 crores per city every year.

Inadequacy associated with India’s Smart City Mission

Though the mission seems great but yet there are few inadequacies associated with it. First being, MoHUA has not described the meaning of a Smart city to them. It has defined core infrastructure elements of the Smart City which are similar to the infrastructure proposed in the development plan/Master Plan of the city. So there is no difference created but just the introduction of ‘new’ terminology. While the Master Plans focuses on each and every part of the city, the Smart city mission fails to envisage the same. It has been defined the areas would be chosen based on citizen consultation. But it has failed to address the underprivileged people who don’t have access to internet/education. There are only 72% of internet users in urban areas use the internet daily (India, 2019) and do not know how to participate in such a citizen consultation process. Also, it varies from city to city which kind of development has to take place.

Smart City IoT

There might be cities that do not have vacant spaces or are denser like that of Mumbai, Greenfield development, in that case, may not be possible. The same can’t be substituted in the mission if they want to redevelop an area or anything else. This requires attention. Does India need a really smart infrastructure is also a question? The cities where basic amenities and services are lacking, as five out of the eight cities, less than 50% of those populations have access to improved sanitation facilities, and three out of the four mega-cities examined have less than 50% coverage of cooking gas connections, the survival of digital infrastructure is going to be a big challenge for the ULBs.

The concept of development at the Regional level is also not taken into consideration. Ignoring the same will bring focus on growth centers/large cities rather than focusing at the regional level. The rural-urban linkages and dependencies have to be recognized. This will not only promote cities but also rural areas would be given the required attention.

Related: Impact of Smart Cities on India | Opinion

What could be done?

Instead of coming up with the ‘new’ concept, the inadequacies in the old concepts have to be seen and alterations could be done so that one can understand the need and scope of it easily.

The concept of development Plans, Local Area Plans, Zonal development Plans, and Site Plans are not new. The infrastructure which has to be targeted in the Smart city mission has to be targeted in the Plans stated above. The reason behind this is, the Smart City concept deals with the city area itself and it ignores the Peri-urban areas where unplanned growth of settlements is occurring. Focusing on such Plans (Development Plan), will not only help the city area but also the peri-urban areas which lack necessities and are often ignored.

Also, bringing Regional perspectives into the picture can be the addition.

The flexibility should be given to the city government/Development authority depending upon where the development is needed and of what kind. On the smaller scale, instead of focusing on Retrofitting and Redevelopment, Local area Plans and Zonal development Plans should be the guided Plans to understand the needs of the local area such as the ward or zone of the city area. The Smart city elements could be incorporated in the given Plans for making it more efficient and also wide citizen participation can also be involved at the ground level. In this case, since the Planners and the experts have to visit the field, a more precise picture of the needs of the people can be analyzed. While in the smart city mission, online consultation of the citizen may not provide a clear picture of the community, and it’s needed.

With the stated approach, the outcome would be much more efficient since the development will not be focused on the city itself but also peri-urban areas would be given prior consideration. Unregulated and unplanned development would be controlled and regulated. Also, the approach will define the clear picture of the community assets and their needs because the prior analysis of existing conditions would be done followed by citizen engagement for any recommendation and proposal. There might be a case where ‘Smart solution’ is not the real solution but the solution comes from the community itself depending upon their needs. Community Inclusion would be the best outcome as all the underprivileged and marginalized groups of the society will be given an opportunity for development. Not only Urban areas, but the emerging settlements also face the challenge of development and infrastructure. Therefore, not only 100 smart cities, each and every city should be allowed to develop be its census towns or other class towns that need attention.

The potential impediments could be the availability of technical experts within the Urban local bodies/Development authorizes, in that case, the stakeholders to be hired for SPVs can be given an opportunity for the suggestions. Also, the major part where the cities lack is funding, in that case, the Smart city fund could be allocated to ULBs and development authorities for effective implementation of Plans and proposals.