Smart Cities challenge: 98 contending cities

Venkaiah Naidu

The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) of India recently released the list of 98 nominated cities, while applications for two cities are yet awaited. Over the next three years, these 100 cities will take part in a competition to receive funds from the Centre on the path to becoming "smart cities". The announcement of these 100 cities, covering 24 capitals, 64 small and medium category cities and at least one city in every state and union territory, has been rolled out under a time bound plan. The India Smart Cities Challenge is a competition designed to inspire and support municipal officials as they develop smart proposals to improve the lives of residents. One hundred cities will compete in the first round, with the best proposals receiving funding from the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).

Here are many of the questions you would like to have answers to:

Has the list of cities been made without political bias?

The smart cities mission benefits 35 per cent of the total urban population of around 120 million. This is beneficial from the perspective of the central leadership but the real challenge lies at the local leadership level. Here, state leaders have to choose between cities that have representatives who may be favourites although the city may not be ready for such an application as it involves scrutiny. In a sense, this exercise is an audit and overhaul of urban administration. However, the choices of cities are strictly as per the applications received and fulfilment of parameters.

Which cities will gain most?

These funds will have a large impact on small cities as their needs are not as large as mega cities. There are 56 cities in the list with less than 1 million population each; these will gain the most on sheer size of investment.

Are these 98 cities the ones that will get funding from the Central Government?

These cities will get Rs 20 million each to prepare their City Development Plan to qualify for the next round. Their application with the plan will be vetted and the first lot of 20 cities will be determined for this funding by January 2016. This means 78 cities will be turned down after the first round from this lot of 98 cities.

Why 98 cities?

The state of Jammu & Kashmir can only submit an application for one city while they wish to have both Jammu and Srinagar. Hence they have yet to decide and submit their application. Similarly, Uttar Pradesh is yet to provide its application for the 13th city it is qualified to apply for. Both Meerut and Rae Bareli have secured equal marks so the state has to choose among them.

How much money will these 98 cities get?

These 98 cities will get only Rs 20 million now to prepare their City Development Plan in line with the Smart Cities Mission guidelines.

What is the next step for these 98 cities?

Once the two pending applications are received and accepted, we will have 100 cities as per round one of this challenge. There are empanelled consultants who will help these cities prepare their City Development Plan, which needs to be submitted to qualify them for the next round. The next stage will see the emergence of 20 cities in the first lot by the end of the year. And in the next two years, 40 cities each will be selected to receive funding of Rs 500 crore spread over the coming five years. For the selection of 20 cities, the broad criteria will be city vision and strategy, cost-effectiveness, credibility of implementation and innovation. The remaining cities will have the chance to compete again next year.

Why was Bengaluru left out?

The states have sent the names of the cities to be included in the project. Hence if any city gets missed out, it is primarily because the state has not applied for the name of that city. The names of Patna and Bengaluru were not proposed by their respective states.

Bengaluru scored less in the 13 qualifying parameters set by the MoUD that included existing service level, past track record reforms, implementation of the Jawarharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission scheme and self-financing capacity. So, it was eliminated from the list.

Will the city planners listen to citizens? Will citizens have a voice?

The challenge requires municipal leaders and their partners to consult the public to develop proposals that are both sound and have a high likelihood of being implemented. Proposed solutions must strengthen the city's governance or its physical, social, or economic infrastructure. Special purpose vehicles (SPVs) will be formed at each local city level among the cities selected. These SPVs will have representatives from citizen groups who will reflect the aspirations of citizens.

What should the City Development Plan include?

  • A bold vision: Each city must convey its own unique vision that reflects local context, resources, and the priorities and aspirations of its citizens.
  • A pan-city initiative: Cities should draw inspiration from smart solutions that incorporate the use of technology, information and data to improve services or results for citizens. The pan-city initiative must touch the lives of many, or potentially all, of its citizens.
  • An area-based development plan: This plan will transform an existing place within each city, creating an exemplar for other areas in the city, or across the country, to follow. Depending on local circumstances, cities may choose one of three approaches: retrofitting, redevelopment, or Greenfield development.

See also:

List of 98 Cities selected under Smart Cities Mission