Water, toilets, phones: Smart-city picks trail global peers on all fronts

  • Moushumi Das Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 18, 2016 12:49 IST
Meant to change the way urban India lives, smart cities promise uninterrupted power and water supplies, internet connectivity, e-governance along with quality infrastructure.

India should look at smaller and comparable global cities and not giants such as New York or London while executing its smart-city programme, a study has said.

The government often cites places like Barcelona, San Francisco and Singapore as the models for its ambitious urban overhaul but it may have to lower its sight, as most Indian cities trail their global peers economically as well as socially.

Policymakers should look at cities like as Medellin in Colombia or Casablanca in Morocco, whose economies are smaller and compare better with the Indian cities, American think tank Brookings Institution has said.

“Typically we look into markets in New York, London, Barcelona or Amsterdam when looking at smart-city interventions. But, the issue is in many ways they are not apple to apple comparisons. These cities have much different economic and developmental traits,” said Adie Tomer, one of the authors of the report that will be made public on Friday.

The report compares three smart-city picks – Vizag, Ajmer and Allahabad -- with nine metropolises across Asia, Africa and Latin America having similar demographic and economic traits.

Be it personal wealth or access to basic amenities such as piped water, toilets or electricity, Indian cities are behind the nine on almost all counts.

The idea behind the study was to show the minimum amenities a city needed to be turned into smart city, report’s lead author Dr Shamika Ravi told HT.

Meant to change the way urban India lives, smart cities promise uninterrupted power and water supplies, internet connectivity, e-governance along with quality infrastructure.

India plans to have 100 such cities and will spend around Rs 9,6000 crore over the next five years on the programme. Thirty-three of the cities have been chosen, the remaining would be picked by 2019.

The three Indian cities fare no better economically. The report says that though the nine metros -- chosen from 300 through clustering technique – are relatively poor when compared to cities like London or New York but even there the Indian cities lag them.

For instance, the per capita GDP of Vizag, the most developed of the three Indian cities, of around $2000 is lower than that of Alexandria. The Egyptian port city rates poorest -- per capita GDP of $2,682 -- among the nine metros, which also include Shantou (China), Durban and Capetown (South Africa) and Brazilian cities of Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza.

Also, in none of the Indian cities all the residents have piped water or a toilet at home. But in most of the nine metros, these facilities are universal.

There is a yawning gap when it comes to services like electricity and mobile phone – the two basic requirements for a smart city. India may be world’s third largest smartphone market but its 70-80% mobile phone adoption rate is way behind a 90% rate for Brazilian and African cities surveyed in the report.

“Once the gaps are known, the quantum of investment that will be required to fix them can be planned. Also, it will help policymakers explore innovative ways to manage and finance urban development in Indian cities,” Ravi said.

The report also calls for a clear governance framework to drive smart city changes.

The smart-city programme will need a lot of money the report indicates, suggesting financing plans to improve the basic services and infrastructure in our cities.

“There is a need to make urban areas more attractive investment markets for private players,” Ravi said.

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