The nation's rise coincides with the development of groundbreaking technologies for smart cities. Is India making the most of it?
In June 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his bold Smart Cities Mission, an investment of Rs 980 billion to develop 100 cities across the country into intelligent, sustainable and resident-friendly communities. Amongst many ambitious initiatives by the Modi Government- Make in India, Digital India and Sagarmala are only a few of the government's ongoing programmes- the Smart Cities Mission is notable because of, both its scope and its timing. With the selection of Shillong as the 100th city in June 2018, the Central Government has approved cities in 34 states and urban territories. The sweeping initiative will overhaul cities in every corner of the world's seventh largest country by area.
India's timing may well be perfect to take advantage of the emerging technologies. As the nation demonstrates its eagerness to stimulate economic growth and improve the quality of life, it has now access to an array of technological solutions that were not available a few years ago. Funding from the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) will allow for the development of new projects and technologies, including multi-modal transportation, waste management, affordable housing and the creation of open spaces. Innovative companies throughout the world are racing to turn various infrastructure components into data points and India stands poised to implement these technologies for dramatic results.
The Elements of a Smart City
While there are unifying characteristics, the details that make a city or an area smart can vary widely. The development of smart cities can depend largely on the existing infrastructure, local culture and societal needs. The lifeblood of a smart city is data and the infrastructure developments that define a smart city are designed to make optimal use of this critical resource. By turning urban objects- public transportation turnstiles, traffic lights, city buses, electronic ID cards- into data points, cities are able to collect and analyse vast amounts of information about the day-to-day movements of their systems and citizens. This aggregated data allows, both the computers and human analysts to suggest and implement changes to improve efficiency and deliver an improved experience for the end user.
Improvements, Large and Small
The potential societal improvements offered by smart cities range from incremental enhancements to wholesale lifestyle changes. While the 1.27 million residents of Jabalpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh may not be aware of the changes that have been made to their waste management system, including GPS-enabled trucks and heat sensors in landfills, they will enjoy substantial benefits over time from a system that is more efficient operationally and economically. The potential environmental impact of an improved waste management system would be to improve everything from air quality to life expectancy.
On a broader scale, cities that connect and integrate vast amounts of data points are able to deliver immediate and tangible lifestyle improvements to their citizens. Connected multi-modal transport systems offer real-time information to commuters, notifying them of disruptions as they occur and allowing them to plan their optimal route based on a comprehensive picture of the transportation network. Command and control centres, such as the Rs1.55 billion facility recently opened in Pune, allows the city to respond to emergencies and disruptions on a faster and more informed basis than ever before. These types of facilities ensure that the daily life is safer and more efficient for residents and travelers. An intelligent traffic management leads to a fewer accidents; a connected command and control centre can dispatch emergency services more quickly during a crisis.
Cities Serving Citizens
The urban population growth is occurring on an unprecedented scale throughout the world and nowhere is that truer than in India. According to the recent Nikkei Asian Review article, an estimated 1 million people per month move from rural and semi-rural areas in India to major cities. This incredible growth rate demonstrates, both the necessity for and the potential benefit of the SCM. As India's urban population centres swell, the need for efficient systems and institutions becomes critical: a well-managed public transportation system allows a city to maximise the potential of its workforce and stimulate its economy; a system plagued by disruptions and inefficiencies has the dual impact of frustrating citizens and stymying growth. In addition to better accommodating the residents of India's urban areas, the SCM will develop new greenfield cities to attract new residents and stem the overwhelming growth of the existing urban population. One such example is Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh, where a new smart township will support the population growth in a crucial industrial corridor. The 100 cities taking advantage of the SCM will experience immediate and long-term benefits. A key characteristic of smart cities is the use of open innovation, wherein citizens are invited to develop applications and propose improvements to the city's intelligent infrastructure. By leveraging the collective human intelligence of a city, in addition to the artificial intelligence provided by aggregated data, smart cities opens the door for unlimited enhancements to every aspect of urban living. A true smart city never sleeps; it is always collecting data, responding to new information, adapting its processes and developing new improvements.
Progress and Promise
Since announcing the SCM in 2015, progress has taken place in waves throughout India. Among the first round of cities to be selected for the programme, Bhubaneswar in the eastern state of Odisha has already made substantial strides towards the development of a public-private common payment system. Citizens will be able to use smart debit cards to pay for utilities and public transit journeys, offering increased convenience by combining multiple services under a single payment account.
The SCM has also had a tangible impact with regard to affordable housing, a critical area of need as the Indian cities are challenged by the booming population. Among the 60 cities selected for the programme in 2016, approximately 75 affordable housing projects are in development; this number will undoubtedly increase as the remaining 40 cities solidify their plans. According to the most recent estimates by the National Institute of Urban Affairs in New Delhi, more than 4,500 projects have been proposed by the initiative's 100 cities; projects already implemented as a result of the investment have impacted nearly 100 million Indian citizens.
With the 100 cities of the SCM selected in five rounds, it is to be expected that the development will occur in phases across the country. As the plans of the final smart citiesù selected in January 2018- round into form and identify qualified project management consultants, cities across the nation will be buzzing with activity. Projects will be implemented over the course of the next few years, with results depending on the size and scope of each city's proposed plans. While the immediate implementation of these technologies may take time, they will offer future-proof benefits to be enjoyed by the generations of Indian citizens.
Authored by Kshitish Nadgauda, Senior Vice President and Managing Director-Asia, Louis Berger.