Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will lend a helping hand to India in selecting 100 towns that will be turned into smart cities under a flagship project of the Modi government that has made little progress since it was announced eight months ago.
The billionaire’s charitable organisation Bloomberg Philanthropies Foundation will assist the urban development (UD) ministry in organising a ‘city challenge competition’ where cities will be given scores based on urban reforms they have carried out, their impact and what they propose to do in four key areas: Swachh Bharat (sanitation), Make in India (ease of doing business), good governance (modern accounting system, rationalisation of property taxes) and e-governance.
Cities that score the highest will be picked for the smart cities project, to be implemented in a 10-year period.
Reforms in sanitation and good governance were also mandated under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), an urban modernisation program launched by the previous UPA government in 2005.
“Just any city won’t make the mark. Only those that have undertaken most of the mandatory reforms under JNNURM and those with innovative ideas to improve governance in future will be selected. The idea is to not only reward progressive cities but spur laggard cities to implement reforms,” said an official.
Only a handful of the 65 cities under JNNURM, which ended in 2012, were able to bring in reforms successfully with Ahmedabad, Surat, Nagpur, Pune, Madurai and Vijaywada benefitting the most.
A senior UD ministry official said that despite zeroing-in on the selection criteria for the towns, it would still take “a minimum of three to four months to select the cities”.
The ministry still isn’t clear about the funding model for the project that will require a total investment of about $1.2 trillion over a 20 year period. It has only maintained that a large part of the financing will have to come from the private sector.
Bloomberg is likely to visit India in February to finalise the agreement. His foundation has organised similar contests in over a dozen cities in America and Europe. Sources said the former mayor pitched the idea to PM Modi during the latter’s trip to the US in September last year.
In his 12 years as Mayor, Bloomberg turned New York’s $6 billion deficit into a $3 billion surplus through a slew of measures including raising property taxes. He’s also the 10th richest person in the US.