More brickbats than bouquets for Smart City Mission in 2017

TALKING POINTS 2017: SMART CITIES

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Smart Cities Mission (SCM), an exclusive initiative of the Modi government, has got much attention because of its promise to dramatically transform cities. SCM was launched in 2015, aiming to develop 100 cities in the country as ‘smart cities’. The cities are selected based on their current development status and their project proposals.

The chosen cities get funding of Rs 500 cr each from the central government and the respective state governments. They have to secure the rest of the funds through municipal bonds, PPP projects etc. This implies that citizens will have to pay user charges for many of the services developed under SCM too.

Mission projects broadly include water supply and sanitation, electricity, transport management, housing etc. Use of IT is also a major component in service provision and coordination between departments. Many cities have Command and Control Centres integrating various departments, for overall city planning and management.

So far, 90 cities including metros like Bangalore, smaller cities like Trivandrum, and towns like Dharamshala have been selected to be smart cities. Sixty cities had been selected in 2016, and 30 this June.

Under SCM, development would not be uniform across the entire city – broadly, 80% of the project funds would be to develop area of 50-500 acres within the city (termed area-based development). Only about 20% of the funds would be to develop technology-based solutions for the entire city (pan-city solutions).

During 2017, foreign countries and companies have increasingly involved and invested in SCM. Many cities have appointed MNCs like KPMG as Project Management Consultants, and also awarded tenders to global companies. But the government has also faced questions on the purpose of the mission as well as delay in implementation. Here is a round-up of the happenings and conversations on Smart Cities Mission in 2017.

January

  • Progress is slow in the 60 selected cities. Of the 731 smart city projects approved overall, only 24 (3.3%) had been completed, and work initiated in only 49 (6.7%). Half the projects had not been started at all.
  • Japan Ambassador meets Venkaiah Naidu, Urban Development Minister at the time, to convey that Japan will associate with the development of Chennai, Ahmedabad and Varanasi smart cities. Since then, Japan has involved in developing metro rail, Mandal Industrial Park etc in Ahmedabad. With this, Japan joins other countries like US, UK, France and Germany that are associated with developing smart cities in India.

February

  • Government issues a press release in which Naidu asserts that smart city development is not elitist but has instead triggered comprehensive urban development. He says that 114 projects worth Rs 1582 cr would be completed by June, on the second anniversary of the mission’s launch.

March

  • Rs 5961 cr was released to cities under SCM during 2015-16 and 2016-17, says Rao Inderjit Singh, Minister of State (Urban Development), responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha

May

  • The Third Smart Cities India 2017 Expo is held in New Delhi. Supported by the central government, the expo brings together government officials, global industry leaders, urban planners etc on smart solutions for cities.

June

  • Thirty more cities are selected for the mission, with projects costing around Rs 57000 crore, taking the total number of smart cities to 90. The announcement was made around the second anniversary of the launch of SCM. With this, the total investment for SCM went up to 1.9 lakh crore.
  • Naidu launches the City Liveability Index that will rate 116 cities – including smart cities, state capitals and cities with population over one million – on the quality of life they provide.
  • Delhi-based NGO Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) publishes a study, criticising SCM for being exclusive while ignoring the lack of basic services for marginalised urban groups. It says that even smart cities that had affordable housing projects were demolishing existing slum settlements. The study also criticises the undemocratic structure of the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) created to implement SCM in each city. SPVs can have sizeable private share, and can potentially bypass elected bodies.
  • There are also arguments that limiting development to a very small area within the city would amplify inequalities, and would only create returns for private investors in the mission.
  • Naidu refutes such charges, pointing out that most of the 30 newly selected cities have affordable housing, school and road projects that benefit the common man.
  • Pune launches its Command and Control Centre, and becomes the first city to have an ‘interoperable smart card’, a single payment card for multiple transport modes in the city. Command centres of Pune and Nagpur are to be fully functional by end of 2017.

July

  • Urban Affairs Ministry asks New Delhi Municipal Council to complete its smart city projects ahead of time, to lead by example.
  • PM Modi reviews mission progress and pulls up the Urban Affairs Ministry for slow progress. He also urges state governments to do weekly reviews of mission progress. After this, Secretary of the Ministry D S Mishra writes to state governments to quickly implement 261 projects that have a visible and transformative impact. These are projects costing Rs 31,000 crore in the first 60 smart cities. States are also asked to speed up 370 PPP projects costing over Rs 32,000 crore.

September

  • A report by Scroll.in reveals that that the Urban Affairs Ministry had shut down an initiative by BIS to to set clear standards for defining smart cities. A committee in BIS was developing standards for services and quality of life in cities, so that cities could get the smart city tag only on meeting these standards. The ministry had replaced this with the City Liveability Index that ranks the already selected smart cities by comparing them.
  • The Urban Affairs Ministry circulates guidelines to states on ‘India Smart Cities Awards Contest 2017’ that will award smart cities which perform well in various categories. Awards will be presented next June, at the third anniversary of the mission.

October

  • D S Mishra writes to all state and central government authorities involved in SCM to participate in a review meeting in November.

December

  • The last 10 cities under the mission will be announced by January end, says the current Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. He says that some smart cities will be on the ground by June.
  • The mission continues to lag severely in many cities. An example is Rourkela, which was selected in September 2016, but has not seen any visible improvement.

About Navya P K 25 Articles
Navya P K is a former senior staff journalist at Citizen Matters, and a freelance journalist based in Kerala.

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