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Will 2018 Mark the Advent of Smart Cities? Till the time residents and locals are not at the center of the entire initiative, the smart cities mission has little value

By Amit Wadhwani

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Recently, Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State of Housing and Urban Affairs made a bold announcement that by June 2018, people will be able to see the Smart Cities and by March 2018, 500 cities will bring all building approvals online.

The government has been encouraging overseas investment for the smart city mission as it is a massive exercise and they might have taken up a bit more than they can chew. Recently, about 100 Indian local town and country planners were mentored and trained by Singapore-based companies. India plans to have 100 smart cities by 2022 and so far the challenge is to ensure completion of work in the 90 identified cities.

Expenses, a Major Issue

A public expert, Mr Joshi pointed out that the expenses on projects were extravagant with 9 lakh to 12 lakh spent per capita on cities such as Chandigarh, which means hardly 4 percent of the physical area will be developed. At this pace, the smart city dream could be postponed to 20 years. To address the issue, Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State of Housing and Urban Affairs commented that although there are limited resources, it most certainly does not mean that other areas will be neglected. There are other schemes like AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) which oversee basic infrastructure as the Smart Cities Mission does not cover the entire city. He assured that the schemes are doing their jobs perfectly. The progress on the smart city mission should be transparent and there should be no ambiguity.

No major Technological Breakthrough

Under the mission, Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) are falling short of local representatives with only the city commissioner being represented which can slow down the project. The local communities and the local officials are not involved while drafting project proposals. The decision-making is done by top bureaucrats. These bureaucrats are not prompt in taking quick decisions which is delaying the projects. Till the time residents and locals are not at the centre of the entire initiative, the smart cities mission has no value. Apart from free Wi-Fi and a few smartphone applications, the Smart City Mission has failed to bring about any impactful technology-driven enhancements to the projects. Smart city mission has been criticized for not making timely decisions.

Delay in Project Implementation

The top 5 cities selected in January 2016 - Bhubaneswar, Pune, Jaipur, Surat and Kochi are supposed to be completed by 2021-2022, but are lagging behind schedule. Kochi has begun only two projects, Pune has completed 4 projects, Jaipur has completed 47, while Surat leads with 52 projects.

The Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry is keen on roping in tap Singapore's expertise for the Smart City Mission and information technology-enabled services to accelerate the progress. Singapore based companies are working to develop Amravati and assisting Rajasthan government for townships in Udaipur and Jodhpur, along with Himachal Pradesh to develop township of Greater Shimla.

Smart Cities Mission and Make in India

The Smart City is working in close coordination with Make in India and Digital India movements. The few smart cities that are already coming up include Kochi Smart City, Lavasa in Maharashtra Naya Raipur in Chhattisgarh Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) in Ahmedabad and Wave Infratech's smart city near New Delhi. Britain's National Health Service will launch the first of 100 medical facilities slated in Amaravati.

Three smart cities will be developed in association with Germany, three with the United States, and one with Spain. Japanese companies have invested USD 4.5 billion in the Smart City Mission. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is already assisting with the development of smart cities such as Ponneri in Tamil Nadu, Krishnapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and Tumkur in Karnataka. Industrial Corridors are being developed to connect some of the metro cities in order to aid development of smart cities with their influence.

Overseas investments, combined with local community participation and timely decision-making can ensure that 2018 will definitely see a few smart cities.

Amit Wadhwani

Managing Director, Sai Estate Consultants

Amit Wadhwani is the Director of Sai estate Consultants. He started with just a couple of people in his team back in 2010. He now commands a team of nearly 200 people and, is valued at Rs. 900 crore. By 2019, he plans to float public issue, grow to a 500-member team and have an office each in 30 countries.
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