Making India's cities smarter

India plans to turn 100 of its urban centres into smart cities by 2022.

At the inaugural conference of One Mega Event: Smarter Solutions for a Better Tomorrow, experts threw light on how cities can be made smarter through a comprehensive and interconnected approach combined with increased public participation.

A smart city is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. There are many technological platforms involved, including but not limited to automated sensor networks and data centres.

Smart cities are equipped with adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, effective sanitation, including solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing, especially for the poor, robust IT connectivity and digitalization, e-governance and citizen participation, sustainable environment, safety and security of citizens, and health and education. Of the 98 cities and towns in India that five years down will graduate into smart cities, 24 are capital cities, another 24 are business and industrial centres, 18 are culture and tourism influenced areas, five are port cities and three are education and health care hubs.

Thinking Beyond Technology

Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, Government of India said: “When we talk about smart solutions, there tends to be a focus on technology and not the real issues that we are trying to solve. There is a tendency to create technological Disney Lands but the real issues are urban issues that need solving.”

Sanyal went on to explain that there was a critical need to think about the technologies of today. “Cities will last for generations but if we get over enthusiastic about embedding and hardwiring today’s technology, there is a real danger of getting hard wired in obsolete technology in future.” “The smartness of a city is about human capital, not technology,” he added.

Jagan Shah, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, India said that while technology is providing solutions to many problems, cities are not about technology only. “Almost 60 cities out of the 100 in the Smart City Mission are ready for action,” Shah explained. “They are learning and dealing with any problems that cities would face in implementing projects.”

The Mission Milestones

About key milestones to be achieved in the smart cities mission, Shah said that urban governance needed to be reformed. Application of technology in governance (such as property tax) is a key step. “The idea of digital India is that we should adopt e-governance.” Shah added that all cities should have operating systems that can integrate all functions. There needs to be municipal reforms such as land value capture. “Technology can enable but not deliver the final outcome,” explained Shah.

“The idea is to make each smart city, a mecca. Health, clean, safe and productive places that foster creativity, entrepreneurship and promotes knowledge-based industries. Cities have been framed on the basis of consumption as of now. We need to move into productive and creative cities,” noted Shah.

One Mega Event not only brought new technologies to the fore but showcased innovative and creative solutions on display for the development of smart cities.

Delivering the inaugural address, the Chief Guest, Rajiv Gauba, Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, said "The Smart Cities Mission has come to represent urban transformation and it's very interesting to see the kind of ground work being undertaken. The idea of smart cities would no doubt boost business and the economy of the country."

Stating that the Mission was launched with the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Swachh Bharat Mission, he explained that, "the focus should be on innovation and new ways of implementation. Smart cities doesn't essentially mean new cities, or added infrastructure, but incorporating smart technologies for the current cities."