Home / Politics / Policy /  Implementation key to smart cities, say experts

Mumbai: On 7 May, Union urban development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu told Parliament’s upper House that each of India’s 29 states will get to develop at least one smart city as part of the government’s mission to create 100 such cities. The process of selection and development of smart cities will begin once the guidelines are sent to the states.

The 100 cities are to be selected through a “city challenge" competition, in which cities will be graded on parameters such as revenue, expenditure, availability of infrastructure to support transport and solid waste management. Once selected, each city will get 100 crore per year for five years.

But when will India get its first smart city?

Currently, the government is in the process of shortlisting consultants for the empanelment process. Then, the states will have to choose the consultants, either through a bidding process or request for proposal (RFP). This will take at least another couple of months. Assuming that the consultants jump on board immediately after their selection, it will still take about 100 days for them to deliver their master plan for the smart city—the process for which should be over, hopefully, by November.

From November-end, the consultants will be taking turns to present their respective master plans for each of the 100 cities. Assuming that a single plan is presented daily, it would still take another three to four months—around the end of March 2016. This implies that the first plan for any central government-backed smart city would start getting implemented only around May-June 2016.

Moreover, India has a federal democratic structure, so it needs the cooperation and coordination of states, coupled with that of urban local bodies, to build smart cities.

Smart cities will face many challenges. Greenfield (new) projects are likely to face hurdles such as getting land acquisition rights and lengthy approval processes, as well as finding the right location.

India is too vast a country to have a single strategy for land acquisition, experts say. For instance, in the case of Dholera, the government of Gujarat adopted a town planning process with community participation, while the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) undertook negotiated purchases with land owners under the MIDC Act.

Haryana follows the process of annuity (paying annuity for a specified amount of years to the land owner) and in Rajasthan, there is resettlement and rehabilitation.

Prashant Pradhan, director of the Smarter Planet Solutions unit at International Business Machines Corp.’s (IBM’s) India and South Asia unit, says that “specific intervention in cities is better than a one-size-fits-all strategy".

For instance, he explained, Visakhapatnam needs emergency management solutions because it’s a coastal city and is threatened by cyclones that can affect businesses and the livelihood of citizens.

Allahabad, on the other hand, is a 100-year-old heritage city which does not have a good drainage system. So it will need an intelligent solution for treatment of waste.

And a city like Ajmer, Pradhan believes, will do well with water management and treatment systems.

Aamer Azeemi, managing director of Cisco Consulting Services, advocates that governments should “think about the big picture instead of picking verticals" when implementing the smart cities plan.

“Draw a blueprint. Share data. Then think about the applications that can sit on them. Then see how citizens can engage with those apps. Also think about all the stakeholders involved. Then prioritize the needs of each city to get the biggest bang for the buck," Azeemi said.

“We welcome the initiative which is the need of the hour for the Indian economy. Cities are growth enablers and current Indian cities are choking with the economic growth in India," said Jaijit Bhattacharya, partner, infrastructure and government services, at consulting firm KPMG. “Inter-agency coordination and governance structure for cities would be the key to having a sustainable smart city in India", Bhattacharya said, citing the example of China where the “buck stops with the mayor".

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