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100 Smart Cities Concept, a Dream or Reality

Saturday, September 08, 2018

By Ashish Mahajan, Founder PropStory

Smart cities have become synonymous with wi-fi internet, CCTV cameras, solar power, digital technology, smart waste management and sustainable practices. However, there is more to a sustainable smart city than just these criteria.

In India, most cities follow a top-down approach to initiating good practices such as better waste segregation and management, rainwater harvesting, waste water treatment and recycling, and adoption of solar power. The local municipalities decide to incorporate practices and these are then informed to the local populace. Instead, engagement with the citizens is required in order to have their full buy-in and co-operation. There are numerous examples of villages where the local villagers themselves have come up with innovative solutions to water shortages, composting, using solar power, etc. Involvement of the local people is critical to the success of any smart mission.

This aspect is especially crucial as India strides toward its 100 Smart Cities Mission which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2015. Under this initiative the selected 100 cities will receive funding of Rs. 500 crore from the Centre for implementing various projects such as smart classrooms, upgrading health facilities, rejuvenating water bodies, building separate paths for walking and jogging, slum rehabilitation, digital data management and more.

For many Indians and outsiders the 100 Smart Cities Mission sounds more like a fantastic dream rather than an achievable goal. Two factors are essential to making the dream come true. The first is to ensure practicability and applicability of the projects undertaken. Some projects are taken up for glory rather than actual measurable benefits to the people. Since 2015, plans are being made energetically, however, there is very little one hears about successful implementation. On-ground implementation of projects is moving at too slow a pace. Engagement with experts, local citizens and institutions is a good way to relook at stalled projects, redesign them if necessary and implement to better effect.

Another interesting way is to organise hackathons and invite students, experts and startups to propose practical sustainable solutions for local problems. The best among these can be selected for review, and the best one implemented with the guidance and support of the respective participants. Pune’s municipal bodies have followed this process effectively.

The second factor is measurability of successfully implemented plans and projects based on the Smart Cities Mission guidelines and benchmarks. These can differ from city to city, and project to project, as well as based on the funding schemes. But, ensuring accountability and measurability is vital to the success of this ambitious mission. Too often in India we make good plans which are decently implemented but sooner rather than later they succumb to failure in the absence of accountability and measurable standards. Every local municipal body along with its citizens needs to be empowered towards this goal.

India is expected to add 300 million more Indians to its urban population over the next 20 years. At present, most infrastructure in urban centres are sagging under the weight of the burgeoning population. The current adhoc and unplanned urbanisation will fail to sustain the growing numbers. Therefore careful planning is the need of the hour. Each of the 100 smart cities should aim to be replicable islands of excellence in urban living and sustainable practices geared towards enhancing quality of life. Engagement with locals, and practical and measurable solutions will determine if the 100 Smart Cities Mission will become a reality or remain an ambitious albeit unattainable dream.

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