DOES ‘100 SMART CITIES MISSION’ REQUIRE A STRONGER IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY?

As the urban population and incomes increase, demand for every key service such as water, transportation, sewage treatment, low-income housing will increase 5-7 fold in the cities of every size and type.

          The government has now realized the need for cities that can cope with the challenges of urban living and also be magnets for investment. The concept of ‘Smart Cities Mission’ evolved from this need.

WHAT IS THE SMART CITIES MISSION?

          The National Smart Cities Mission is an urban renewal mission launched on June 25, 2015, to promote cities to provide core infrastructure, a clean and sustainable environment, and a decent quality of life to their citizens through the application of ‘smart solutions’.

          The purpose of the Smart Cities Mission is to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to Smart outcomes.

          The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is the implementing ministry in collaboration with the respective State governments. It is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme that has initially included 100 cities to be covered between 2019 and 2023.

WHAT IS A SMART CITY?

–It is a city where there is a significant and extensive improvement in the physical, social, and economic infrastructure.

–A ‘Smart City’ is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability.

–It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents.

OBJECTIVES OF THE MISSION:

–The objective is to integrate city functions, utilize scarce resources more efficiently, and improve the quality of life of citizens.

–To improve safety and security.

–To improve the efficiencies of municipal services.

–The use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is at the core of enhancing the city’s livability, workability, and sustainability.

–The Ministry of Urban Development has identified 24 key areas that cities must address in their ‘smart cities’ plan.

–Of these 24 key areas, 3 are directly related to water and 7 are indirectly related to water – Smart-Metre management, leakage identification, preventive maintenance, and water quality modeling.

–Smart Cities Mission is one of the mechanisms that will help operationalize the nationwide implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) priorities like poverty alleviation, employment, and other basic services.

FUNDING AND IMPLEMENTATION:

–Central Government will give financial support to the extent of Rs. 48,000 crores over 5 years i.e. on an average Rs.100 crore per city per year.  An equal amount on a matching basis is to be provided by the State/Urban Local Bodies (ULB).

–Additional resources are to be raised through convergence, from ULBs’ funds, grants under Finance Commission, innovative finance mechanisms such as Municipal Bonds, other government programs, and borrowings.

–Emphasis can be given to the participation of the private sector through Public-Private Partnerships (PPP).

–Citizens’ aspirations were captured in the Smart City Proposals (SCPs) prepared by the selected cities.

–The implementation of the Mission at the City level will be done by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) created for the purpose. The SPV will plan, appraise, approve, release funds, implement, manage, operate, monitor, and evaluate the Smart City development projects.

SELECTION OF A ‘SMART CITY’

–The selection process of Smart Cities was based on the idea of Competitive and Co-operative Federalism

–A two-stage selection process was followed and 100 smart cities were first distributed amongst the States and UTs based on equitable criteria.

States/UT shortlisted potential smart cities based on certain pre-conditions and scores.

–Then each of the potential 100 smart cities prepared their Smart City Proposal (SCP) which contained the model chosen (retrofitting or redevelopment or greenfield development or a mix thereof).

ANALYSIS OF IMPLEMENTATION:

–Implementation has been the weakest link of urban infrastructure projects. Nearly 54 percent of such projects taken up in major cities earlier under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) are yet to be completed. The same could be the fate with Smart Cities Mission.

–JNNURM partially relied on private sector investments to speed up its implementation. However, private investors refused to come forward. Out of 2,900 JNNURM projects, only 50 projects were backed by the PPP model.

–The total estimate of investment requirements for the Smart Cities Mission comes to Rs 7 lakh crore over 20 years which translates into Rs. 35,000 crore annually.

–Most ULBs have limited technical capacity to ensure timely and cost-effective implementation and subsequent operations and maintenance of smart city projects owing to limited recruitment over a number of years along with the inability of the ULBs to attract the best of talent at market competitive compensation rates.

–The latest government data reveals that 49 percent of 5,196 projects for which work orders were issued remain unfinished. Among 33 cities that completed their five-year duration this year, 42 percent of the projects are incomplete. As of June 23, 2021, Rs 40,622 crore has been released of which Rs 27,862 crore (69 percent) was utilized, according to utilization certificates.

–The Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) with the PPP model was meant to corporatize the entire process but ended up limiting the powers of Urban Local Bodies. This goes against the 74th Amendment Act, 1992, which gives autonomy to the local bodies and encourages decentralisation. Many cities and States opted out of the mission as they disagreed with limiting the powers of the local governments and States, thus trouncing federalism.

–There are also instances where assets of the Urban Local Bodies are being sold off at market rates to raise investments for the Smart City Mission scheme and to invite other investments. This cyclic burden on ULBs is of no use.

–Buses still continue to fall short of the requirement, even after taking up metro rail projects in some more cities, and public transportation systems across the country continue to be inadequate in meeting the mobility requirements of a growing urban population.

WAY AHEAD FOR INDIA:

–Indian cities need to be sustainable before they are made smart.

–The city administrations should not go on demolishing slums without following due process of law, to seize the land in the name of beautification and development.

–Smart cities should not mean building skyscrapers and townships with workplaces inside, but surrounded by poor slum dwellers on the periphery.

–Migrants’ housing should be in-built in the ‘Smart Cities’ plan, otherwise, the construction workers working for building these very ‘Smart Cities’ will be left without any shelter for themselves, that’s what happened during the Covid lockdown.

–Healthcare and education can form the core agenda with inclusiveness, instead of the glamour of super-houses and ultra-transportation.

–The project ‘100 Smart Cities’ is right now covering 21% of India’s urban population and that too only major cities. This has to extend to the lower Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities with large-scale improvements in core infrastructure and services to make cities more liveable, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable.

–Urban cities need to be Climate Resilient with infrastructures to handle urban floods and cyclones. This does not mean some kind of barricading, this means the construction should start from scratch using ecofriendly options right from the use of construction material made from wasteland debris, to building ‘Sponge Cities’ for stormwater drainage, to constructing bioswales using mulch and mud, to using biogas plants for housing societies, to sanctioning wide use of solar panels for geysers and cooling systems.

–The focus should not be inter-city competition, the focus should be on each city adapting itself to its unique environmental and socio-economic conditions. Now, suddenly turning to solar and wind energy, smart energy grids, electric vehicle charging infrastructure etc., and shutting down current industries, is practically not possible for a developing country like India, it does take time. Our current power usage by coal and other non-renewable energy resources has to be technologically driven to minimize the use gradually with the dignity of labour provided to current workers working in these industries, till effective renewables reach the poor and remote locations. We are in ‘Phase Down’ mode, not ‘Phase Out’.

–Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) should be able to technologically respond to any crisis like epidemics or any unknown outbreaks that can lead to pandemics, terror attacks, urban warfare, fires etc.

–For timely completion of the project, all clearances should use online processes and be cleared in a timebound manner.

–For quicker completion of the pending projects, technology-based live dashboard records can be made so that every aspect of the pending work is known in real-time to the concerned department and timely action can be taken. For. eg. If water supply line work is done, but electrical lines are yet to be placed, the water supply line work that is completed can be marked as green and an alert for the next works – drainage and electrical lines, can be sent, so that granular data is available for ease of access and there is a minimum delay.

–Money should be directly infused in the Urban Local Bodies instead of inviting favourite private players and this money infused should be utilised in human resources hiring. For ‘Smart Cities’ we need not just labourers, but also good engineers, field workers, healthcare staff, emergency services providers etc. ‘Smart Cities’ should mean smart hiring addressing large-scale unemployment issues. Credit flows through ‘Municipal Bonds’ and National Infrastructure Investment Fund can be one of the major options.

–The Special Economic Zones (SEZs) concept needs to be revisited for they struggle for exports and foreign exchange, and end up being underperformed. Instead, domestic markets can be explored and SEZs can focus on manufacturing units apart from services sectors.

–As regards roads and access, public transport should be the core of the facilitation along with providing facilities to private car owners. Unless public transport systems are augmented to keep pace with the rapid urbanisation and substantial increase in travel demand, the challenges brought about by increasing use of private motor vehicles—like acute road congestion, rising air pollution and a high level of accident risk — will only intensify. 

–Citizen participation does not mean social media trolls participation, although it’s a platform for good suggestions if any, on-ground survey would give greater clarity. This will make the programme more people-centric.

–‘Smart Cities Mission’ plan also lacks energy in dealing with crimes and issues pertaining to women’s safety, this needs to be addressed sooner than later.

–At a macro level, a push to rural jobs and investments, incentives in agriculture and allied activities will prevent the rush of the migrant population moving towards cities, being then called as ‘urban poor’, every year, in search of a better life. For this, ‘Smart Villages’ needs to be on cards.

–Last but not least, our population lacks digital literacy. We must first empower our largely poor population on how to use those smart services to be truly called residents and beneficiaries of ‘Smart Cities Mission’.

–BY YOGITA KADU

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