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Investigating into Modi’s Smart City Project: How far did it go?

As the global population continues to grow at a steady pace, more and more people are moving to cities every single day. Experts predict the world’s urban population will double by 2050 – which means we’re adding the equivalent of seven New Delhi Cities to the planet every single year. Urban areas also contribute a higher share of GDP. In India, the urban population is currently 31% of the total population and it contributes over 60% of India’s GDP. It is projected that urban India will contribute nearly 75% of the national GDP in the next 15 years. Cities are accordingly referred to as the engines of economic growth. There is accordingly a crying need for the cities to get smarter to handle this large-scale urbanization and finding new ways to manage complexity, increase efficiency, reduce expenses, and improve quality of life.

With the launch of “The Smart Cities Mission” in 2015, PM Modi was quite successful to inspire in us the dream of having a technologically advance, connected and “smart’’ modern cities. But the conceptions of the whole mission and the gist with which it was started is seeming to fade away or is it?

The Mission had its own rollercoaster implementation graphs and varied greatly from state to state, city to city. Although it did manage to achieve a low percentage of its goal, we cannot say the scheme never benefitted us.

The key features of a Smart City are in the intersect between competitiveness, Capital and Sustainability. The smart cities should be able to provide good infrastructure such as water, sanitation, reliable utility services, health care; attract investments; transparent processes that make it easy to run commercial activities; simple and online processes for obtaining approvals, and various citizen-centric services to make citizens feel safe and happy.

The Smart Cities Mission was launched in 2015 by PM Narendra Modi under the Union Ministry of Urban Development with an aim for an “Urban Renewal”. A total of 100 smart cities were selected on the basis of their performance on the “Smart City Challenge” and a fund of Rs 98,000 crore approved by the Cabinet. It was the first time that the Government of India had selected a competitive base for the selection of cities was funding and it was indeed a wise choice.

Indian Smart Cities
Indian Smart Cities

The basic aim of the whole mission was to select areas of Urban Development including technological advancements, better infrastructure, increased connectivity, and an overall “modernization”. This is the reason why we describe the functioning of this scheme as “redevelopment”.  An aim to implement innovation and technology, and hand it over to the ease of the citizens, the Smart Cities mission has managed to create big impacts on the life of its urban population.

With the creation of a new layout and improved infrastructure, each city will be modeled based on the detailed survey by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and will receive a new shape of its underdeveloped areas. This will not only affect the area concerned but will also have a good influence on areas nearby and so the recommendations will be taken based on an entire area including the ones adjoining. Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project in Mumbai, earlier known as Bhendi Bazaar Project and East Kidwai Nagar in New Delhi are two best examples of the “city renewal” mission.

Besides this, the Smart City Mission has also implemented Greenfield development in various locations, GIFT City, Gujarat, is one of the most successful implementations under this. This was basically an innovative technique of detailed planning, city extension, affordable housing, and financing to select city areas under ULB.

Another thing that was focused under the Smart Cities Mission was the implementation of AI and Tech in the field of public ease and living. This was implemented through Smart Traffic Management Systems, GPS monitoring of public transport, water recycling and a planned distribution and water management in the cities.

Indian Smart Cities
Indian Smart Cities
Indian Smart Cities
Indian Smart Cities

The Smart Cities Mission, though planned by the Central Government, had to have its root on the ground which was reflected in the creation of Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). The SPV was the controller of the projects, specialized in each city that it was set up in. It monitored the needs, reported the plans that were to be implemented, surveyed, funded and finally implemented each scheme accordingly. The SPV was created to do the work of the Central Government for each city through working along with ULBs, state government and other local bodies concerned. 

On the heart of this scheme was the set up of the Smart City Centers or the SCC. The SCCs plays a major role in the functioning and implementation of the Smart City Mission by acting the basic Control Unit within each city. So far, ten cities have set up SCCs and the results are getting increasingly better. The main function of SCCs is to plan Smart City Schemes including digital technology and other aspects are carefully combined with the need and atmosphere of each city it is in. It also provides as a surveillance center to gather in the needs and demands of the city as well as check in on how the schemes are being implemented.

The set up of the SCCs have shown tremendous impacts on the cities development from lowering crime rates to AI implementation including Air Pollution Control Systems, Wi-Fi enabled locations, smart sensors for Emergencies such as flood, emergencies dial-up and many more. 

Working to decrease on the levels of pollution and abiding by the Paris Treaty, the Smart City mission is aiming to bring in “Clean Technologies” in fields of transport, infrastructure, and waste management to upgrade the cities into more and more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The Mission is backed up and rooted with schemes like AMRUT, HRIDAY, Digital India, Make in India, Housing for all. Swachh Bharat Mission and many more for the overall development of select cities.

Major cities under the mission have shown significant developments. The crime rates in Kota, Bhubaneswar, Pune, Jabalpur have lowered by 18% with a major decrease in Traffic Violations. A Rs 155 crore project in Pune for the implementation of over 200 Wi-fi hotspots, around 80 sensors for environment and flood and approximately 136 public address systems have already shown high target accomplishments. Other cities like Bhubaneshwar is issuing Smart City Debit cards that can be used as ONE CARD for all transport mediums and network. The implementation of 200 POS sale machines with the help ICICI bank has made the city one of the best performing cities under Smart City Mission.

Indian Smart Cities
Indian Smart Cities

The Funding task was a big challenge for the government and the implementation of funds for different schemes had to be done throw Private or Public-Private Investments, which according to MoHUA is one-fifth of the total investment. The total fund approved by the Cabinet was Rs 48,000 crore but a data by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has assessed the cost of a total of 4,500 Smart City Projects to be Rs. 2,03,979 crores. Over 329 projects under this mission are calculated to cost more than Rs 100 crore while a major mission of providing affordable housing projects alone would cost Rs 17,036 crore. But with the growing success of Smart City Mission, large economies such as the US, Japan, France, etc. have joined hands with the Government of India to help fund this. 

Indian Smart Cities
Indian Smart Cities

Spain’s Barcelona Regional Agency has signed MoU on cooperation in the field of technology. United States Trade and Development Agency has planned to develop Visakhapatnam, Allahabad, and Ajmer as smart cities while Japan will be supporting Chennai, Ahmedabad, and Varanasi as Smart Cities. France took in Chandigarh, Lucknow, Puducherry with a $1.5 billion investment. Singapore has invested to develop Amravati in the sector of Transportation. Other countries who will be investing in the Smart City Mission includes Sweden, Israel, the Netherlands, UK, and Hong Kong.

Although the Mission is lagging behind its projected target with only 33% of all Smart City Mission being completed, the increasing percentage has managed to track down major development issues and can already be felt with the cities concerned. Although the Smart City Mission has utilized only 1.8% of total fund released for urban schemes, the Mission has brought home several significant achievements. India has managed to increase its Foreign Direct Investments and cooperation with other Countries and is leading the way of the “largest growing economies in the world”. But what concerns us the most is the faster and more efficient use of funds and better management of Smart City Projects which have varied greatly over the 3 years of the Smart City Mission.