Questions as to what would a smart city be like have time and again confronted government policy makers since last June when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the flagship programme to develop 100 such urban areas.
On May 11, Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Bhola Singh raised the issue in the Lok Sabha when he asked urban development (UD) minister M Venkaiah Naidu to explain how the smart cities scheme was different from the work already being undertaken by urban local bodies. Naidu’s ministry is piloting the programme.
Going by the list of projects that the 20 cities selected under the first phase of the scheme have shortlisted for implementation, an answer to what will constitute “smartness” seems to be emerging.
Work on most of these projects may kick off by the end of June. PM Modi is likely to visit one of the cities on June 25, the first anniversary of the mission, to launch some of the projects. Each of the 20 cities will be given Rs 500 crore by the Centre over a five-year-period. The states concerned will have to make a matching contribution.
Senior UD ministry officials said the shortlisted projects fall under the four broad components of the scheme – city improvement (retrofitting), city renewal (redevelopment), city extension (greenfield development) and pan-city initiative.
While many cities have selected projects that involve providing IT-enabled civic services and smart transport solutions, others have chosen routine projects like building parks and providing rainwater harvesting facilities.
Jabalpur, for instance, has floated a tender to select agencies to provide sensor-based smart household dustbins that will help monitor door-to-door garbage collection. A state government official said that a weight sensor will be placed under the garbage bin and when its weight reaches the threshold value a message will be transmitted to the municipal staff who will send the garbage collection vehicle. Such dustbins are already being used in Mumbai.
Ahmedabad has shortlisted a consortium to implement a common city payment system – a smart card with which one will be able to pay for any services within the city such as municipal bills, parking and bus fee, utility bills, etc. Surat has chosen an intelligent transit management system, automatic traffic management system and an automatic fare collection system.
Udaipur has floated tenders to implement smart classrooms equipped with computers, web camera, electronic interactive whiteboard and projectors to aid students in their learning. Kochi will have smart mobility cards and a mobile application to inquire about civic and transport services and pay utility bills.
But not all proposals comprise IT-enabled solutions as some cities have shortlisted routine civic projects.
Pune, for instance, has floated tenders for implementing rainwater harvesting, footpath retrofitting, redesigning of streets and building a parking-cum-commercial tower. Jaipur has proposed to beautify a city garden, implement wastewater recycling project and a public bike sharing scheme. Kakinada has floated tenders for developing two city parks and solar rooftop facilities.
Urban experts, however, caution against passing off mundane, run of the mill projects under the scheme.
“Any other urban development programme can implement such routine projects. These should be showcase projects where cities highlight element of innovation,” Saswat Bandyopadhyay, professor of planning at the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University, Ahmedabad, said.
“Ad-hoc project preparation will make it a replica of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, the urban modernisation scheme launched by the previous UPA government, where 50% of the projects remained incomplete after the programme ended,” he added.