Having recognised that cities are the engines of growth and are drawing a million people every minute from rural areas, the Government has introduced the ‘Smart City Challenge’, handing over the onus of planned urbanisation to the states. In the approach to the Smart Cities Mission, the objective is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and offer quality of life to citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘smart’ solutions. Those states that measure up to the guidelines and nominate cities could get funding of Rs 100 crore per year per city for the next five years. The funding is a golden chance for states to rejuvenate their urban areas but the Smart Cities Mission still has its own challenges to face. Here are the top 10:
1. Retrofitting existing legacy city infrastructure to make it smart: There are a number of latent issues to consider when reviewing a smart city strategy. The most important is to determine the existing city’s weak areas that need utmost consideration, e.g. 100-per-cent distribution of water supply and sanitation. The integration of formerly isolated legacy systems to achieve citywide efficiencies can be a significant challenge.
2. Financing smart cities: The High Power Expert Committee (HPEC) on Investment Estimates in Urban Infrastructure has assessed a per-capita investment cost (PCIC) of Rs 43,386 for a 20-year period. Using an average figure of 1 million people in each of the 100 smart cities, the total estimate of investment requirements for the smart city comes to Rs 7 lakh crore over 20 years (with an annual escalation of 10 per cent from 2009-20 to 2014-15). This translates into an annual requirement of Rs 35,000 crore. One needs to see how these projects will be financed as the majority of project need would move through complete private investment or through PPPs (public-private partnership).
3. Availability of master plan or city development plan: Most of our cities don’t have master plans or a city development plan, which is the key to smart city planning and implementation and encapsulates all a city needs to improve and provide better opportunities to its citizens. Unfortunately 70-80 per cent of Indian cities don’t have one.
4. Financial sustainability of ULBs: Most ULBs are not financially self-sustainable and tariff levels fixed by the ULBs for providing services often do not mirror the cost of supplying the same. Even if additional investments are recovered in a phased manner, inadequate cost recovery will lead to continued financial losses.
5. Technical constraints of ULBs: Most ULBs have limited technical capacity to ensure timely and cost-effective implementation and subsequent operations and maintenance owing to limited recruitment over a number of years along with inability of the ULBs to attract best of talent at market competitive compensation rates.
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Photo Credits: Naya Raipur Development Authority