Monday, January 5, 2015

Smart Cities - easy to propose, difficult to implement

On 29th December 2014, the Prime Minister had extensive consultations on the Smart City initiative with officials of Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD). The consultations focused around basic infrastructure, quality of life and waste & water management amongst others.
It is an uphill task to implement changes in urban civic life, till the citizen themselves do not change. Hundreds of regulations, rules, and facilities later if I will still get dirty looks and honks from vehicles behind me when I stop at a red signal, the entire exercise will be futile. However, the effort is worth applauding and I will continue to hope that things will change in the country for better.

JNNuRM – the first smart city initiative?

Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiled a scheme for rejuvenation of urban centers in India in December’05 and named it after India’s first prime minister. The Scheme titled “Jawaharlal Nehru National urban Renewal Mission” (JNNuRM) was to focus on city modernization with investments exceeding $18 billion over a period of seven years. The scheme has since been extended for a period of two years.

The aim of the project was to have economically productive, effective and efficient urban centers and involved upgradation of social and economic infrastructure of the cities.

While most of us know JNNuRM as a scheme for local buses and transportation initiatives, since most of the buses in the city have JNNuRM written on them, the scheme includes focus on water supply and sanitation, solid waste management, road network, redevelopment of old city areas and urban transport.

The urban transport part envisioned channeling funds via urban development bodies and state governments and roping in private operators on a Built, Operate & Transfer (BOT) model or a Build, Own, Operate & Transfer (BOOT) model.

A total of 67 cities were included in JNNuRM categorized into A, B and C based on 2001 census. The large scale implementation continues to be a challenge, with innovative methods like mid-term appraisal.

The primary focus point continued to be on public transport, since most of the 67 cities either did not have public transport or they had a very inefficient and old system in place.

Smart Cities – the next step

31% of total population in India is urban, but this contributed 60% of GDP and this number will only increase from here on. The smart cities initiative revolves around these numbers where in satellite townships are envisioned around major metros and existing mid sized cities are converted to smart cities.

Smart City is being thought out as a city which has employment and investment opportunities, with good quality of life with adequate infrastructure, public transport, housing, sanitation and water resourced to make it competitive. This will come with 24x7 electricity supply, clean air, quality education, cost efficient healthcare, dependable security, entertainment, sports and connectivity with other cities in the region.

One major factor which is included in this initiative is “Governance”. Governance by incentives rather than governance by enforcement – a concept alien to India, is being factored into this initiative.

Which City can be a smart city?

The laid out guidelines state that the 100 cities selected would be based on the combination of below parameters

·         One satellite city of each of the cities with a population of 4 million people or more (9 cities)
·         Most of the cities in the population range of 1 – 4 million people(about 35 out of 44 cities)
·         All State/UT Capitals, even if they have a population of less than one million (17 cities)
·         Cities of tourist, religious and economic importance not included in above (10 cities)
·         Cities in the 0.2 to 1.0 million population range ( 25 cities)

While this selection was limited to population under JNNuRM, Smart City initiative has made it stringent. The norms include the below amongst others,

  •       Have an existing master plan or one that is likely to be approved shortly and have such a validity of at least 10 years.
  •          Have digitized spatial and GIS maps
  •          Transparent and time-bound procedure of granting free right of way for laying optic fibre networks, water supply lines, sewerage systems        and other utilities (Not more than 7 working days).
  •          Create an IT-based platform for effective communication with the citizens and keep them abreast of various activities and plans of the city.

Smart Cities – Transportation aspect

After years of neglect, transportation is in focus in the country and Smart Cities will focus on public transport – Metro, Bus, Monorail along with Improvements in infrastructure – building of new roads, ring roads and exploring other modes of transport like waterways.

The maximum time for travel between two points is planned to be 45 minutes in larger cities and 30 minutes in smaller cities. This will have to be achieved by having dedicated bus corridors or successful implementation of Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) or quick implementation of metro across cities, an option which involves higher cost. This transport network has to have high frequency and should be accessible within 800 meters (walking time < 10 mins) in densely populated areas, along with access to para-transit.

Such systems can be achieved only when there is multi modal transportation available, with a mixture of busses whose schedule is in sync with that of the metro and busses across multiple routes feed into a metro station in the area which then transports people across the city, a system which has been perfected in Singapore, Dallas and Barcelona.

The fragmented and project based approach of JNNuRM will be replaced with a proper planning based and holistic approach with citizen engagement wherever necessary.

How will smart cities be financed?

The biggest challenge for any initiative is financing it. The local governing bodies are not cash deficit and the state governments are in similar situation. With rising deficit at central level, newer ways have to be devised to fund these projects, which are estimated to cost Rs. 35,000 Crore per year and the government plans to have a mix of Public-Private partnership as well as Viability Gap Funding (VGF).

While 60% of the funds will be used on infrastructure, 10% will be earmarked for e-governance.

Implementation Challenges

While funding can be earmarked, critical areas can be isolated and vendors can be identified, the regular pain point of Implementation will be the biggest challenges and all the more so because of the new ways, means and methods of implementing such a large scheme. While the scheme involves participation from people, something which has never happened in the past, the citizens themselves may not be aware of such activities and/or a lot of citizens will come up with multiple suggestions/issues which have a serious threat of delaying the implementation.

The Implementation of the scheme revolves around multiple stages of planning starting with Citizen Reference Framework, Smart City Development Plan and Environmental Sustainability Plan.

Concluding notes

While JNNuRM was the first scheme in the last as many years to look at infrastructure development in city, the scheme tried addressing age old issues and challenges, while Smart City initiative is one of the first schemes which looks as capacity building for the future and hence stands out. 

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