Physical contours of smart city to be visible by June: Hardeep Singh Puri
New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government launched an ambitious project in 2015 called the Smart Cities Mission. The project envisaged area-based interventions for developing urban areas or cities. Following citizen consultations with more than 2.4 million people, 100 cities are now implementing concepts such as smart roads, smart solid waste management, solar rooftops and smart schools, to name a few. In an interview, housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri talks about the mission, India’s evolving smart city paradigm and how Internet of Things (IoT) is being leveraged for designing smart cities. Edited Excerpts:
Area-based strategy for development of cities is not new. So what is it the government trying to achieve through the Smart Cities Mission?
Smartness, whether of building or a city, is not something on which you have a choice. It’s an imperative with thrust on your current existence. When we talk smart cities it includes host of things—greens, sustainable infrastructure, safety for everyone, surveillance ensuring safety for women. So you need to invest in walkways, pedestrian-ways, cycle tracks, green spaces and it is an ongoing process.
By June 2018 you can start getting physical contours of what a smart city looks like. Different cities are in different stages of processing, tendering. So far, cities which have been selected have completed 147 individual projects for Rs1,872 crore. Another 396 projects are underway with the cost of Rs14,672 crore. Overall, you are looking at $30 billion of investment. You cannot build modern infra(structure) based on government hand-outs.
Between now and 2030, India in 2030 still needs to be built. So I think government has done very well in order to embark on a process of selecting 100 Indian cities as part of the smart cities programme, which is in the first phase.
How has the performance of smart cities been?
Some of them are doing excellent. I don’t want to name because I am the Union minister, I give ‘shabash’ to you and not to him, that’s not fair. All I would say, we have an app now which captures all urban services that we are providing and performance of each state. People can look into it. So there is a subtle naming and shaming going on. They all can switch into that app and find out. Some states are really not responding. In one state I have written letters but it’s not responding. Overall the project is very encouraging.
But critics of smart cities are saying that by just one or two interventions you cannot declare a city to be a smart city?
I absolutely agree. Anybody who tells you that by one or two interventions or limited set of interventions will make a smart city, he is talking nonsense. But you have to make a beginning and you must know your resources. How much asset you have? And you must make a beginning. I think we made a very good judicious choice that we have selected only 100 smart cities to start with.
Some of these municipalities are complaining that the financial assistance provided is very small and cannot change a city’s landscape.
You cannot depend on government hand-outs completely. At the end of the day municipal bodies need to raise their money. If you have smart solutions, if you have cleanliness, housing for all, then you are able to leverage the smart city programme and raise money through bonds.
Municipalities have land as the biggest resource and it’s up to them whether to transform it into a world-class market like Khan Market by introducing interventions like pavements, hiding power cables, etc or let it be an urban slum. If you can develop the potential of land, money could be raised through municipal bonds.
As far as funding is concerned, World Bank is coming with another $5 billion scheme for AMRUT+ and smart cities. The French agency ADF is coming up with €100 million assistance. So far $30 billion has been set aside for the smart city programme. What does it aim to do in a nutshell? Contribute to transformation of cities into engines of economic growth.
Do you think municipal bonds is the best way to raise money?
Yes, there is a lot of work in pipeline. We may have to design an ecosystem. Pune has demonstrated and Hyderabad has already initiated the process. At the centre, we are working on an ecosystem based on number of features which will result in local bodies, municipal corporation to raise these bonds. Look, land is a state subject and no state wants the centre to come in. So municipalities have to ensure that there is no political interference when introducing these smart solutions. If they ensure this, raising money is not an issue.
With increasing urbanization what challenges do you see for smart cities?
In democracy you cannot tell people where to live and nor can we stop migration. We have to tackle it by creating infrastructure. The reason why people move to urban areas is because there is a pull factor and push factor. So make the rural areas more attractive. There are concepts of magnets and counter magnets. Say if one city is going full you bring attractive factor in some other city and make it a pull factor for the public. We urbanize slowly and that is why west calls us reluctant urbanizer.
We have to look at urbanization as a great opportunity for economic growth. So objective of this smart city is one to provide core infrastructure and decent quality of life to the residents – where you can breathe clean air, you can send your children to school, you have a home in which you can live in with kitchen and toilet. All parts of different schemes. Like cleanliness is Swachh Bharat Mission, for gender empowerment—title of the house should be in the name of the lady, application of smart solutions, etc.
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