Hundred smart cities a real challenge
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Hundred smart cities a real challenge

India is not an urban country, as the rural areas still hold the majority. Two-thirds of the country’s population still lives in villages. But looking towards more job opportunities and eventually a better living, the migration to cities is taking place at a fast pace.

chandigarh Updated: Feb 05, 2015 13:31 IST
Krishna Mohan
Krishna Mohan
Hindustan Times

India is not an urban country, as the rural areas still hold the majority. Two-thirds of the country’s population still lives in villages. But looking towards more job opportunities and eventually a better living, the migration to cities is taking place at a fast pace. Sixty-seven per cent of migrant households in urban areas had migrated because of employment opportunities (as per 64th round of National Sample Survey).

In the next 20 years, the country’s urban-rural ratio is further going to undergo a paradigm shift. According to studies (McKinsey Global Institute Report), 350 million people will move to cities by 2030. The challenges of urbanisation are indeed being faced by most of our cities. The situation is, in fact, aggravating for the worse, each passing day with almost 30 people migrating from rural belts to cities each minute.

Considering the need for more urban areas to accommodate such a huge ongoing migration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of creating 100 Smart Cities has created a stir both at the national as well as international levels. And even the government in its budget for 2014-15 has allocated Rs 7,064 crore for the dream project.

Defining the term

For a country, which even after 67 years of Independence or after a decade and a half of entering into the 21st century is yet to have a single smart city, creating 100 smart cities in the next decade or so is going to be a real challenge.

As per the commonly accepted definition of a smart city, in addition to the basic amenities, such as all households to have access to toilets, solid waste management, all road networks to have storm-water drainage network, quality education and health facilities, the city should have 24-hours power back-up, water supply, high-quality and high-frequency mass transport system, segregated bicycle track, 100% Wi-Fi connectivity (The union urban development ministry’s draft concept on smart city scheme also carries a similar definition).

With the government’s budget allocation of Rs 70 crore per city and assuming that the same amount continues to pour in for the next 10 years, it would still not be possible to create a city fit enough to be called a Smart City. The High-Powered Expert Committee on Investment Estimate in Urban Infrastructure has estimated an investment of Rs 7 lakh crore over the next 20 years to create 100 smart cities with a population of 10 lakh each. To fill the gap, the government is banking heavily on private players and is also looking for the PPP (public private partnership) model. But in India, if we talk of the PPP model, the past experience shows that it doesn’t work much. So, bringing in private players will be another challenge for the Modi government.

Kyoto’s solution for Varanasi

Modi’s pact with Japan’s historic city Kyoto to develop Varanasi -- the oldest continuously living city in the world -- as a Smart City may or may not be able to give Varanasi the desired new look.

Being from Varanasi, I am well versed with its problems. Over the years, Varanasi has seen a highly disorganised growth. It wouldn’t be practically possible to change its current set-up into a Kyoto-like smart city, which is a confluence of heritage and modernity. The beauty of Varanasi lies in its primitiveness. Tourists from across the world come to visit it for its ancient heritage and culture, old by-lanes of the city, the aura that surrounds the temples and ghats and not for its modernity. It’s a huge city and it’s relatively impossible to convert it into a smart city.

But, a pocket-like cantonment area or the Banaras Hindu University campus area can be given a smarter look, equipped with IT and modern amenities -- the concept of ‘smart city within a city’. Basically, without changing the real character of the city, Varanasi needs a facelift.

Target smart blocks

The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Limited plans some smart cities along the 1,500km industrial corridor across six states. The setting up of industrial units will generate massive employment and will act as magnet for the shift from rural to urban areas.

However, the government’s other target area of having smart cities in all 29 states would not be easy. If the government is keen on achieving the target of its smart city concept across the country, the best way is to have a smart block in the existing city, which can be projected as a ‘smart city within the city’, which can, over a period of time, be expanded to cover majority of the city. Subsequently, the focus should also be on arresting migration by simultaneously developing good facilities in rural areas as well.

Chandigarh closest to concept

As far as the region is concerned, Chandigarh is the only city that can perhaps fit into the concept. It qualifies to be a smart city ever since Le Corbusier wrote its Edict in 1948. Envisioned as the city of Sun, Space and Verdure, it continues to follow the edict in spirit and nature. Utilising local materials, indigenous technology and local manpower it was to be a finite-sized city offering the best of amenities to all classes of people.

The city boasts of having one of the best electricity distribution systems with almost 24x7 power supply, best storm-water drainage system, and excellent infrastructure of roads, outstanding traffic management, and citizen services at the doorstep through e-Sampark centres. It can surely be called a confluence of old and new Chandigarh with the development of the Technology Park which provides excellent opportunities of trained manpower and also opportunities of skill development. Each building in this city is climate responsive sans artificial means of heating, ventilation and air cooling (HVAC). Of course, with greater affordability and the effects of climate change, air-conditioning and other HVAC systems are prevalent in most buildings today. Yet with little intervention and innovation the city can offer a stiff competition to any smart city across the globe.

(The writer is a former Haryana IAS officer, who served the Chandigarh administration as deputy commissioner and home secretary. Views expressed are personal.)

First Published: Feb 05, 2015 13:29 IST