We Believe that Smart City Technology has the Power to Transform India: Pratap Padode, Founder & Executive Director, Smart Cities Council India

Thu, 2018-02-15 16:17 -- SCC India Staff

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Pratap Padode is the Founder and Executive Director of Smart Cities Council India. He pioneered equity research in India by launching India’s most successful specialized equity journal, ‘Dalal Street Journal’ as its co-founder. He is the founder of ASAPP Info Global Group. He has also launched the India Readiness Guide which is a custom framework for India’s city planners. Mayur Sharma recently talked to him about his views on Smart Cities Mission – an urban renewal and retrofitting program by the Government of India, and how the Smart Cities Council looks at its role in smart city projects.

How will you define “smart water for smart city” for our readers?
Pratap: When defining “smart water for smart cities” we must first explain why such an intervention is necessary. Smart Water systems are needed in order to make an effective use of water resources, and provide an efficient water infrastructure to a country that experiences droughts and shortages of water every year. For example, using intelligent water systems, technology is used to make an effective use of water resources by increasing the number of pathways for water circulation. These systems improve the efficiency of water resources in a region by combining IT with different water treatment systems to make effective use of water. The intelligent water system has an essential role in coping with water shortages throughout the world and also for the development of the ideal smart cities of the future. Effective ways of supplying water to afflicted cities can include the production of water by seawater desalination and use of recycled water, and by managing the overall circulation of water around the city efficiently.

The concept of an intelligent water system is essential for integrating water treatment systems with information and control systems for the ultimate efficient-based utilization of water.

What stands in the way of rapid adoption of smart cities technologies?
Pratap: A few issues that stand in the way of a rapid adoption of smart cities technologies are:

  • The integration of formerly isolated legacy systems to achieve citywide efficiencies can be a significant challenge. It requires a tremendous amount of time and resources to determine the existing city’s weak areas that need utmost consideration, e.g. Achieving a 100% efficient distribution of water supply and sanitation.
  • According to the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), the total amount of investment required to complete India’s smart cities mission exceeds Rs. 5 lakh crore over the next 20 years. This translates to an annual requirement of over Rs. 30,000 crores. The financing for these projects is thus a major obstacle to the rapid adoption of smart cities technologies, as one needs to see how these projects can all be financed using the governments’ preferred Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) model.
  • The successful implementation of smart city solutions needs effective horizontal and vertical coordination between various institutions providing various municipal amenities, as well as effective coordination between the central government, state governments, and local government agencies on various issues related to financing and sharing of best practices and service delivery processes. Many cities chosen under the Smart Cities Mission have yet to set up a formal authority to oversee their smart city projects, thus contributing to the slow progress of smart city technologies in India.

You promote cities with three values: livability, workability, and sustainability. Please explain.
Pratap: At Smart Cities Council India, we envision a world where digital technology and intelligent design have been harnessed to create smart, sustainable cities with high-quality living and high-quality jobs. Thus, we promote cities that embody our three core values of livability, workability, and sustainability as a guideline, so as to work to create a clean and healthy environment, facilitate infrastructure development, and provide services without stealing from future generations.

How are the Indian cities making progress under smart cities mission? Which are the leading cities, and why?
Pratap: According to a report released by the Minister of Urban and Housing Affairs, Mr. Hardeep Singh Puri, 148 projects have been completed till date under India’s Smart Cities Mission. Besides this, 407 projects have started work, and another 237 projects are in the tendering stage. So while things have progressed slowly until now, there are very encouraging signs that India’s Smart City Mission will be successful. Further 82 out of 99 cities now have functional Special Purpose Vehicles, who monitor, assess and implement their cities smart city projects. Furthermore, the state and central governments have created an efficient system for the flow of money, so that SPVs are not hindered by financial problems. India may not finish transforming 100 cities into smart cities by 2020, but the mission is very much on track – providing smart technologies to 100 cities by 2020. Cities such as Pune, Surat, and Ahmedabad have notably fared well under India’s Smart Cities Mission.

In Surat, under Smart Cities guidelines, the city has already completed projects that have improved public transport connectivity across the city, increased the number of buses and their usage, and reduced travel time through dedicated BRT corridors managed through IT Management Systems. The city has also built a control center that provides a 360-degree view of the key functions for managing the city. The center enables city officials to better allocate resources, adopt preventative maintenance measures, and proactively manage issues that affect the quality of life for citizens in Surat.

How do you evaluate the performance of a water & wastewater companies in smart city projects?
Pratap: To evaluate the performance of various Indian water & wastewater companies in smart city projects, Smart Cities Council India uses a methodology that looks at three core parameters to form its criteria. It looks upon the current status of performance and service delivery of water in cities, and its preparedness to transform. Secondly, we look at the state of technology solutions used, and the interventions proposed by companies to improve these technologies. Lastly, we look at the contribution made by these water and wastewater companies, before assigning data vectors to these quantities in order to evaluate their performance in smart city projects.

What is the Indian Readiness Guide? Does it help urban planners, in terms of water management?
Pratap: The India Readiness Guide is a conceptual roadmap to address growth strategies, by focusing on universal principles that unite key areas of a city. It was assembled with input from many of the world’s leading smart city practitioners – the members and advisors of the Smart Cities Council India and the Smart Cities Council. The Guide was formed to help cities create a vision for their future, and to help them build an action plan to get to that better future. It helps people to understand how technology will transform the cities of tomorrow, and how people can contribute to enhancing and realizing this transformation. It suggests goals to aspire for, the features and functions to specify, the best practices to gain the maximum benefits, and the collaborative environment needed to envisage and assimilate all aspects of smart cities together. The India Readiness Guide is intended for mayors, city managers, city planners and their staffs. It helps cities help themselves by providing objective, vendor-neutral information to make confident, educated choices about the technologies that can transform their city.

What are the most successful “smart water technology initiatives” you’ve seen globally? Could these be easily replicated in Indian cities?
Pratap: One of the most successful smart water technology initiatives I’ve seen globally has been the Sensus Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) solution from Sensus, by Xylem. The Sensus AMI solution helps utilities and co-ops build a smarter infrastructure that can support multiple applications. The solution consists of advanced metering for water, electricity, gas and lighting applications, all connected by a singular, centralized system. The network securely transmits and receives data to help utilities and co-ops make better decisions now and in the future. What often begins as smart metering can develop into a more robust grid modernization effort that supports wide-ranging system measurement and control.

Such a system can be replicated in Indian cities – albeit not as easily. It would require a growing investment in smart city projects by private companies in India, similar to the significant interest in such technological projects in the United States. Furthermore, it would require a government regulation that would allow the monitoring of public and private utilities by a central authority, rather than by smaller local bodies. India is definitely headed in the right direction in order to complete its Smart Cities Mission, but a complete technological overhaul would require foreign expertise and investments, as well as a countrywide motivation to make India a global leader in smart cities technology.

Can you cite any governments doing a particularly good job with policy to promote smarter and more sustainable cities?
Pratap: The Singapore government is doing a particularly good job with the policy to promote smarter and more sustainable cities. There, they refer to it as a “Smart Nation”, rather than a collective mission of smart cities – a master plan for development, to become a global technology leader. This is driven by the Singapore governments deregulated economic structure and tech-powered infrastructure. The countries many incubator spaces, government contract incentives, and coding programs entice start-ups and entrepreneurs. The country has a ‘technocentric’ vision for future progress, which aids the government’s powerful push to make Singapore smart.

What is a favourite innovative smart city pilot or water project you’ve seen recently, outside of India?
Pratap: Recently, there was a project undertaken jointly by the University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science and School of Geography and the Environment. Their project uses machine learning methods to track the “health” of the water system under hand-pumps in rural, poor regions of the developing world, using low-cost sensors mounted in the pump handles. At scale, this has enabled the hand-pump infrastructure across Sub-Saharan Africa to begin transforming into a large-scale, distributed network for monitoring water supplies. This project addresses the rising concerns about shallow groundwater quantities in many countries and is also relevant to the sustainable development of drinking water supply in rural areas in many parts of the world. Additionally, the introduction of information technology in hand pump management is revolutionary for intensifying and enhancing the resolution of shallow groundwater monitoring in a sustainable manner.

What is so fascinating about this project, is that it addresses a basic issue for rural communities around the world in a cost-effective, yet efficient manner. The simple monitoring of hand-pumps can not only decrease the workload of those who yet walk miles just to get their families drinking water, but also maximize the use of clean water and bring the wastage down to almost nothing.

What will be your role in helping Indian cities get smart in next 5 years?
Pratap: The aim of the Smart Cities Council India is to provide the latest updates about what is happening on the smart cities development front, gather and disseminate resources, collate industry data and showcase achievements in this segment. We work with private companies and local and state governments in India to showcase the potential of smart city technology in India and bring it to the forefront of the countries agenda. We believe that smart city technology has the power to transform India, and are working tirelessly to achieve that dream.

Subsequently, Smart Cities Council India is proud to host the ‘Smart Urbanation 2018’, India’s leading platform for government and private stakeholders to dialogue and derive decisive ways to outline India’s urban reality and future strengthened with the technological revolution. Now in its 5th year, the Summit, a highly interactive conference and expo, showcases cutting-edge technologies, real-world solutions and proven strategies that India needs to build more livable, workable, sustainable cities.