As one of India's most ambitious exercises in the recent past, the Smart Cities Mission can only succeed through a people-centric approach assert those in the know.
The development of India's Smart Cities has to be people-centric if the programme has to succeed in the long-term, a cross section of experts opined. This will entail smarter use of available resources and technologies to improve both infrastructure and service delivery in areas proposed for such development.
Addressing the 'National Summit on 100 Smart Cities India 2017', Amit Singh, Director, Smart Cities, PwC, remarked that though the federal Government's Smart Cities Mission was not an instant recipe to address the problem of rapid urbanisation, it was an important initiative all the same. 'Success or failure of this lies in our own hands as citizens are the most important part of the smart city ecosystem,' he said. Agreeing with Singh, Arun Kumar Mishra, Director, National Smart Grid Mission, added that besides processes and technology, people too will form an important component of the smart city grids. He observed, 'Historically, people were not required to contribute to the Smart City Grid. However, times are changing now and we can't go ahead and serve to the demands of people as and when they come. We also need them to be active participants in the smart city processes.'
Although technology will be pivotal to the effective rollout of the Smart Cities Mission, industry insiders feel that this might require some level of standardisation being put in place. Dinesh Chand Sharma, Director, Standardisation, Policy & Regulation, Seconded European Standardisation Expert - India (SESEI), emphasised the importance of implementing common architecture platforms, 'We need to implement technologies that are future proof. There is a set standard that defines Smart City, but we need to have a standard ICT architecture for surveillance that can be used to plug and play applications.'
Alka Asthana, CTO, Bharti Infratel Ltd, pointed out that the expectation set had not been standardised. She briefly elaborated on how the challenges that firms such as Bharti Infratel encounter at the ground level impacted their capex. Citing the example of Bhopal, she said, 'The nerve centre is not ready in the city and, hence, overall implementation and fruits of implementation are not visible on the ground.'
Describing the Smart City Mission as one of the most dynamic and challenging initiatives ever planned in modern India, Swayan Chaudhuri, Managing Director & CEO, Panaji Smart City Development Ltd, added, 'It is a new process for all involved and the biggest challenge that this mission faces is in implementation. Since it is a new process for all involved, the need of the hour is effective consultation. Experts in the domain and industry leaders need to step-up and come out with consultations that can help in effective planning and execution.'
But how can this multitude of challenges be best surmounted? Elaborating on this point in a little more detail, Reji Kumar Pillai, President and CEO, India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF) said, 'Planning a city may take decades and not just years. What we are trying to do is look for quick fix solutions for the existing problems, which should not be the case. The rate of change of technology and its impact also needs to be taken into account while planning for a smart city.'
Earlier, welcoming delegates, Shashi Dharan, Managing Director, Bharat Exhibitions, organiser of the summit, said, 'GoI's vision to create 100 new smart cities to support the rapid urbanisation is an important step, as it seeks to provide residents with an efficient and reliable infrastructure, enhanced quality of life and economic opportunities.'
He added that though in the absence of information and communication technologies (ICT) one cannot have a good smart city, but close attention had to also be given to several other aspects.
Asked for a comment on the sidelines of the event one of the delegates, Archana Mohan, PhD Scholar in Sociocultural Anthropology, Binghamton University, interestingly pointed out, 'Smart cities in India have to be inclusive. This means catering to people from different socio-economic backgrounds, gender, physical disabilities, and so on. For instance, if you planning to have smart public transport, it should be accessible to people on wheelchairs or it should be safe for women to take any kind of public transport. For inclusive smart cities, you also need to cultivate conscious smart citizens through awareness campaigns. However, this aspect is presently not so much in focus when we talk about smart cities in India.' In Mohan's view, these challenges need to be worked upon simultaneously, with everyone from lawmakers, planners, companies, NGOs, academics and citizens working together to resolve them. The summit also hosted two technical sessions on on 'Transforming India Towards Smart Cities' and 'Technologies Driving Smart Cities' that saw representatives of firms from India, Israel and Singapore make presentations on solutions offered for smart cities in areas as diverse as urban planning, cloud computing, data centres, energy, transportation and sustainable development.
It is estimated that by the first half of the 21st century, 70 per cent of India's population will be residing in cities. Moreover, the country is expected to overtake China in population terms by 2024. Therefore, in June 2015, the country kickstarted a $7.5 billion programme for development of 100 smart cities. In addition, 500 other cities will also be revitalised under the plan.
- Manish Pant