4 Years On, Smart Cities Mission Is Nowhere Close To Reality, But Shows Promise

Looking Back At How BJP’s Smart City Project Has Fared, And Where We Are Now

As the world progresses towards being more connected and closer through data, policymakers in India are looking at how these advances can be harnessed. The purpose of doing so is to increase the standard of living of the population, along with reducing waste of resources and an efficient functioning of socio-cultural institutions.

Towards this end, the government of India announced the Smart Cities Mission in June of 2015. This was to promote the creation of sustainable and inclusive cities. The cities were also required to provide core infrastructure by providing a good quality of life for citizens.

In January of last year, 99 of the 100 cities had been selected for the project. The five-year program is now underway in these cities, after a countrywide competition to determine who would emerge as being worthy of the upgrade.

Join us as we take a deeper look into the Smart city mission undertaken by the Indian government.

What Are Smart Cities?

The government has pegged smart cities as being one with adequate and assured supply of conveniences such as water supply, electricity supply and sanitation. Moreover, they are also required to apply smart solutions to problems such as efficient urban mobility, public transport and affordable housing.

The cities are set to be inclusive, with initiatives taken to ensure that poor populations are represented in terms of utilities. Other items on the agenda also include more robust IT connectivity, good governance, digitization, and the safety and security of citizens.

The program has a focus on sustainable and inclusive development of cities, especially with a clean and sustainable environmental impact. The project will mainly take place through the retrofitting of certain areas of a city for improvement and redevelopment. Further, cities will also be extended in an environmentally friendly fashion as a part of the Greenfield development project.

The movement will be undertaken as a pan-city initiative, where smart solutions will be deployed in large swathes of the city. According to the government this will function as a  “lighthouse approach”, where examples that are set can be replicated within and outside the city.

The Creation Of SPV For Autonomous And Customized Planning

One of the more innovative approaches of the smart cities mission is to create a special purpose vehicle organization for each city. The organization will be headed up by a full-time CEO who is given the task to implement that smart cities mission in his/her city.

While the innovations in each city will no doubt be governed by the standards set by regulatory authorities, there is a lot of room for novel solutions. As every city faces unique problems in logistics, planning, and utilities management, it is important to take a bottom up approach when it comes to delivery solutions for each individual participant.

In addition to control over existing city infrastructure, the SPVs will also be given a ₹1000 crore funding, split 50/50 between the state and central governments. Currently, this is the state in which the mission is supposed to be, lasting until 2022. The 2022 mark is around when citizens will begin to see the changes in their own cities.

According to the government, the creation of these SPVs is to increase the engagement of smarter individuals in the decision-making process of the smart cities. This is similar to when Nandan Nilekani was put in charge of the Aadhaar project. This represents a higher level of citizen engagement on the part of the government , promoting the growth of a healthy forum of discussion between the government and its population.

The Progress Until Now

Currently, the smart cities program is moving under the radar of the general population, due to it being announced in 2015 and the selection procedure completed only last year. However, active progress is being made in major cities across the country. By December 2018, the number of implemented projects in smart cities was just under 35%, with almost 50% of the funds being used up by the SPVs.

The first batch of cities selected for the project are set to show visible results by 2021, which is 5 years after the mission was announced. The 20 projects that were chosen in the first round of the selection competition are the cities whose projects will be completed first. Moreover, the proper implementation of the smart cities required the development of Integrated command and control centres for each city. Out of the 99 cities, only 11 have ICCCs, with centres in 29 cities under construction and 21 other tenders processed.

While progress has been slow in the smart cities project, it is important to note that the project is indeed, a long-term vision. With just under 2 years left before the project taking off in cities such as Bhopal, Pune, Bhuvaneshwar and Chennai, among others, it will be interesting to see how the elections will change the momentum of the project.

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