Urban waste, poor public transport and lack of reliable electricity are the main issues of contention among 20 cities selected under the Centre’s smart city project. But only two of them — Pune and Visakhapatnam — will get foreign help in improving infrastructure.
These are the only cities that have been adopted by various countries to have found a place in the top 20 list announced by urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday. France has adopted Pune and the United States the port city of Visakhapatnam.
The US had also expressed an interest in adopting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi, but not a single city from Uttar Pradesh found a place in the list. France also wanted to adopt Puducherry, which, like a few other shortlisted cities, missed the first tranche.
Apart from France and US, countries such as Germany, China and Sweden had volunteered to adopt Indian cities under the project.
Naidu said some other cities would be covered in the next list to be announced in 2017.
“Apart from providing money, we will also give consultancy on how to improve urban infrastructure,” a French government official had told this correspondent in October.
Most cities selected in the first phase of the project do not have urban infrastructure — public transport, waste disposal, adequate power supply, healthy water supply, broadband connectivity and parking — to match their rising populations.
For instance, Pune has just 500 buses for 37 lakh people while Bhubaneswar has just 125 buses for around nine lakh people.
Jaipur can boast of having a good public transport — with 2,350 buses for 66 lakh people — but its waste management, like many other cities, is in shambles.
“We will use the money to improve the management of solid waste and water among other things,” said Rakesh Sharma, additional commissioner, Jaipur Municipal Corporation.
In most of the cities like Pune, Bhubaneswar, Bhopal, Indore, Ludhiana, Kochi and Belagavi (Belgaum), less than half of the municipal solid waste generated is scientifically treated. Plants to treat the generated sewage are still a distant dream.
But the big question that remains is whether the smart city project will change the face of Indian urban landscape. The first leg covers a little over 10% of India’s urban population of 377 million.