“For me, Smart Cities Mission is the beginning of India’s urban renaissance. I am describing it as a renaissance because there has been a paradigm shift in both the planning, approach and implementation of this mission.
From this ‘top down’ planning approach to a ‘bottom-up’ planning approach, from merely waiting for funds to flow from the Union and State governments to creatively generating funds through bonds and value capture finance and public private partnership, it has been a paradigm shift.
While the government has a Constitutional mandate to devolve funds, functionaries and functions on local bodies, the progress has been slow. However, it is heartening that in a threefold increase over that of the 13th Finance Commission, the 14th Finance Commission awarded total grants of Rs.87,114 Crore to Urban Local Bodies.
Post independence, economic planning was done at the national level by the Planning Commission. Earlier, there was hardly any connection with spatial planning at the city and regional levels. The urban agenda prepared by the present Government aims to address this gap by integrating several types of plans at the city level.
The vehicle to do this is the Smart City Challenge – a competition in which more than 14 million people participated to discuss and decide on the future of cities. This was a unique concept as it enabled a participatory role to the people in deciding about the future of their cities.
I am happy to note that the City of Bhubaneswar which stood first in the competition has been given an international award by the American Planning Association. In the top 20 global Smart Cities ranked by the British market research agency Juniper Research, Bhubaneswar again finds a place.
The Smart Cities Mission, which was described as ‘Mission Transform nation’ by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, seeks to transform cities into sustainable centres of economic activity and provide improved quality of life to citizens. The Mission saw a complete shift in the urban development planning in the country as “bottom-up” approach was adopted as against Delhi-driven ‘top-down’ method which used to be followed till then.
Another remarkable feature of the mission was to take up credit rating of cities. The Government have started a campaign to do the credit rating of cities. This exercise to understand the financial health of our urban local bodies by credit rating has been completed in 348 cities. I am happy to note that 146 cities have “Investment Grade” with more than BBB(minus) grades and 30 cities with more than A(minus) grades.
One more important strategic element of the Smart Cities Mission is the use of digital technology to bring about transparency and accountability, as well as improving the service delivery to its citizens. In the Smart Cities Mission, cities are rolling out fast network of sensors and cameras to collect data, which is then analysed by using artificial intelligence to make predictions and decisions regarding collection of solid waste, traffic management, control of crime, etc.
In fact, cities are using digital technology to build a nervous system for our cities. This is an invisible and magical weapon which will make life more convenient for all the people. I am happy to note that Smart City Centres have already been completed in 8 cities; Ahmedabad, Kakinada, Visakhapatnam, Nagpur, Pune, Rajkot, Surat, and Vadodara. 15 more Smart City Centres are under construction and another 31 are in the tendering stage.
Another novel feature of Smart Cities Mission is Area Based Development - cities pick up one area, develop it fully and then proceed to develop all other areas of the city one by one. The reason is that,“Areas” in India are so different -- the local plan for development of Paharganj in Delhi will be very different from that of Greater Kailash. The selection of Areas and the components to be developed within the area are done by the citizens. Work has started in Udaipur and Ujjain on integrated Area Based Development.
Several cities have started to develop smart streets as part of Area Based Development. In smart streets, different activities on the streets are re-organised so that all get a place. In the completed streets of Pune and Surat, there is marked difference in the visual aesthetics and optimal utilisation of space.
Making the Urban Local Bodies financially self-sufficient is very important for sustainable development. I am happy to note that Pune and Ahmedabad have issued Municipal Bonds and the proposals of another eight cities are in an advanced stage to issue the bonds.
Another financial tool, having a large potential is Value Capture Finance (VCF). Government invests a lot of money in cities, which leads to increase in property values. Government policies also have a positive effect on house values. In Value Capture Finance, a small share of this increase in property value due to actions by Government is taken by the local bodies for constructing public projects. I am happy to note that 17 cities are in an advanced stage of formulating Value Capture Finance policies and creating bye-laws to implement them.
Smart cities have caught the imagination of the world. Countries are attempting to make a couple of cities smart or, perhaps, half-a-dozen. India has set itself a target of 99 Smart Cities which will act as Lighthouses for other cities to follow. The programme and its multiplying effects are much larger.
Clearly, this new initiative requires a new skill set, an ability to access and utilize the state of the art from around the world and an attitudinal shift where we forge new partnerships and collaborations rather than executing project only by the government.
The wave of urbanization is unstoppable.
All that we have to do is to use this as an opportunity to transform the way we manage this historical trend.
In many ways, we have lost a lot of time, probably, but it is never too late.
We have to give a new impetus to systematic urban planning, sustainable funding and swifter execution.
There is a need for upgrading the professional competence of civil servants to enable a more competent handling of urban management.
A more people-centric, transparent governance using technological tools as well as a humane, and objective, interface is the need of the hour.
The essence of ‘smartness’ is efficiency, effectiveness, excellence and empathy. It is governing our cities with people at the very centre of the whole system.
Dr. Sameer Sharma, who was the Mission Director for Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Capacity Building programme from 2014 to 2017 is publishing the story of this journey. The book is aptly titled as Smart Cities Unbundled because we have to tell India and the world what an Indian Smart City is and what constitutes Smart Cities Mission of India.
Thank you, Jaihind!”