Commentary: India’s Smart Cities Opportunity

Fri, 2016-03-04 10:10 -- SCC India Staff

Smart cities

There is an element of smartness in being Indian.

This smartness has been well documented in a book called “Juggad Innovation,” which encapsulates the ingenuity with which Indians resolve complex problems using smart solutions.

In India, many workers prefer a Swiss Army knife over a specialized tool. For example, the hydraulic excavator is considered the world’s bestselling earthmoving machine, but in India the most popular earthmoving machine is the loader backhoe. Here, workers use backhoes with a variety of innovative attachments that serve the needs of rural and semi-urban India.

India’s infrastructure is due to experience a smart revolution. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has launched an urban renewal program in the form of a “smart cities” policy right onto the doorsteps of the state and city administration officials and the citizens. Mode has directed the responsibility and accountability to the states, along with funds meant for city transformation.

For the first time since independence, urban planning in India is given prime importance. Ninety-seven cities have now submitted their city development plans for a competition to vie for financing city plans. Of these, 20 cities have already been selected for priority financing of their area development plans. Further, 40 cities will be selected this year and another 40 in the following year. Nearly $16 billion will be spent on these plans over the next five years. It is likely that RFPs for $600 million will be issued by end of this year.

This drive is most timely and essential. It comes when we have run out of options. Our cities have reached a point where a crumbling and ill-planned urban infrastructure will hinder growth, and therefore our engines of growth will start to sputter.

Deficiencies in existing city services also have dire needs. Benchmarks need to be set for fulfilment of basic needs and amenities. Resources will come from a sharp reduction in the wastage that emanates from an apathetical administration. Technology can enable the detection of this wastage and it can help identify the area and extent of reduction.

Technology has already pervaded our daily lives with Uber and Ola changing the dynamics of car ownership. E-governance is facilitating issue of licenses and certificates, and CCTV monitoring is helping to reduce crime. This is just the beginning, and yet there are several areas of improvement which need no support from technology such as governance structure, reduction of outdated conditions and laws, bringing accountability among government servants, enhancing public transport capacities and others.

Mandated citizen participation is a unique component of the smart cities mission. This comes to about 12% of the population of the 97 cities or over 15 million people. Citizens have voted, endorsed, commended, suggested and demonstrated their participation in the future of their cities. Further, citizen groups are required to serve on boards established to undertake the approved city development plans, ensuring a continued participatory process.

Other challenges await, beginning with a change of mindset among India’s populace.

An India Readiness Guide was launched by Smart Cities Council India under affiliation with Smart Cities Council USA. This is the first document of a framework for planning cities. The 400 page plus guide consists of Indian case studies with smart solutions deployed in India reinforcing the need to create India specific solutions in making India into a smart nation.

Please take a moment to download the guide and learn how your business can help grow India’s future.

Pratap Padode is founder and director of Smart Cities Council India and managing director of ASAPP Info Global Group, ENR’s media partner in India. He can be reached at Pratap.Padode@India.SmartCitiesCouncil.com.

Source:ENR