New Delhi: The rising aspirations and needs of citizens are driving India towards new-age infrastructure where “SMART" is the byword. Almost every new infra project, be it public or private, coming up in the country is bringing in elements such as internet, internet of things, automation and technology to make it a part of evolving Smart India. Smart infrastructure is a broad concept with several components. A look at three of the basic ones and how they are redefining India as Smart India:

Smart Railways

Indian Railways tried to take a leap into the smart category with the introduction of Wi-Fi at its railway stations in January 2016. The then railway minister, Suresh Prabhu, decided that in the era of internet, provision of such a facility at railway stations will be a big draw for the public and also add to revenue. The idea was greatly appreciated by the people and the initial target of having Wi-Fi at 400 stations was raised to 7,000 by the present railway minister, Piyush Goyal.

RailTel, the public sector undertaking of Indian Railways that is responsible for undertaking the project, said it is on course. “Till date, around 690 railway stations in the country have been equipped with Wi-Fi," said Sucharita Pradhan, spokesperson for RailTel, which has undertaken the project in collaboration with Google, Department of Telecommunication and others. Till April, around 28 million people had used Wi-Fi at railway stations, she said.

Another effort towards achieving the goal of smart railways was the introduction of SMART (Specified Modified Aesthetic Reform Travel) coaches in trains such as Tejas Express. These coaches, which cost around 3 crore each have features such as bio-vacuum toilets, modular fittings, sensor-taps, attendant call buttons and reclining seats and can run at speeds of up to 200km per hour.

“We are trying to reinvent and work according to the needs of new generations," said a senior railway official on the condition of anonymity.

All attempts to improve infrastructure such as provision of escalators at stations, Wi-Fi, the introduction of books and other content on trains, as well as the “get your meals on train" scheme are part of the effort to achieve the smart railways goal, he said.

Smart Cities

In June 2015, the urban development ministry started a programme called the Smart Cities Mission, with a focus on using innovative digital technologies to resolve the increasing challenges in the urban areas of the country. The aim was to use smart solutions to promote sustainable and inclusive cities that provide core infrastructure with a decent quality of life. At present around 100 cities are within the ambit of this plan.

There are several aspects to a smart city, including assured power supply, sanitation with sewerage treatment plants, rainwater harvesting, smart metering, smart parking, energy efficient street lighting, energy efficient buildings and safety of citizens.

“When the mission was started, it was criticized by everyone," said an official from the urban development ministry. “Public and experts said basic city infrastructure such as potable water, sewerage and power should be provided first before thinking about making cities smart. However, they fail to understand that there is a big difference between a greenfield project and a brownfield project."

“It was difficult to initiate major construction and development work without displacing people living and working, or travelling through these areas, but we still tried," said the official quoted above.

“The efforts are now showing. Several concepts are getting popular. For example, solar-powered streetlights are being adopted by various municipal corporations with the introduction of anti-theft systems for the solar panel. Smart parking is also getting a huge response. Several startups have come up offering solutions and are contributing to make India smart," said the ministry official.

An official from the Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited, special purpose vehicle for the Smart Cities Mission, said: “Smart cities are focusing on the grassroot level and once the change comes at lower level, the upper levels will start improving themselves. Municipal corporations are the basic change makers. Once they start adopting innovations and solutions for smart India, the drive will itself replicate to masses."

Smart Highways

Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari says smart highways are his dream. He defines a smart highway as a green highway, with plantation all around the road and vertical gardens in cases of space constraints. The highways would have the latest systems installed so that commuters would get SMS alerts about traffic, be able to pay toll based on the distance travelled on highways, and not encounter traffic lights. The power needs on national highways would be met through solar energy. The toll system would also be powered by solar energy.

There would be no parking woes and the highways would be sound and air pollution free. Commuters would also have access to local markets, restaurants, and shopping complexes that would provide employment for local residents.

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