This Diwali, if you happen to drive into Bangalore’s Electronics City, you may be automatically guided to a free parking slot close to your destination. A mobile application will let you know where a parking slot is available even before you arrive. Chances are that you may even see street lamps fitted with smart sensors that can change the intensity of the light according to the traffic flow, shifts in seasonal weather and when events such as an accident take place.

All this is part of a pilot project being undertaken by the Electronics City Industries Association (ELCIA) along with US technology giant Cisco.

A 5-kilometre stretch has been identified where, in addition to parking and street lighting, other features, such as security surveillance, traffic management and water management, will be controlled centrally through intelligent sensors, information systems and the Internet to improve the quality and efficiency of civic amenities in the area.

When scaled beyond the 5-km stretch, this project will be presented as the proof of concept of a smart city, early next year.

Like Bangalore, there are several such smart city projects being undertaken across the country, in places such as Dholera in Gujarat, Kochi in Kerala, Aurangabad in Maharashtra, Manesar in Delhi NCR, Khushkera in Rajasthan, Krishnapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Ponneri in Tamil Nadu and Tumkur in Karnataka.

The National Democratic Alliance Government has announced that it will set up 100 smart cities, with an initial investment of ₹7,000 crore.

According to the Smart Cities Council, an industry body, a smart city gathers data from smart devices and sensors embedded in roadways, power grids, buildings and other assets. It shares that data through a communications system and uses smart software to create efficient services.

The need for such cities arises from the fact that the population is migrating from rural to urban areas. “By 2050, about 70 per cent of the global population will be living in cities and India is no exception. India will need about 500 new cities to accommodate the influx into its urban regions,” says Anuj Puri, Chairman and Country Head of commercial real estate service company JLL India.

Future needs

IBM, which was among the first to talk about smart cities with its Smarter Planet campaign in 2008, is involved in a number of projects in India, including the ₹14,000-crore Palava city, which is being developed by the Lodha Group. Planned as Mumbai’s sister city, Palava, located at the junction of Navi Mumbai and Dombivali, will be spread over 4,000 acres and constructed over three phase till 2025. Construction began in 2010, and the project has delivered around 6,000 houses in phase one. Phase two began in February.

According to Shaishav Dhairia, Development Director, Palava, Lodha Group, a number of services such as an e-governance portal, an emergency helpline, e-education, a smart-card enabling cashless retail transactions and recording of medical data for better treatment are being planned.

Nidhi Gupta, 31, sold her flat in Ghansoli to shift to Palava and is already feeling the change. “It feels safe and secure enough to take walks at midnight. Several facilities for children, such as a school and summer camp activities, are an added bonus,” she says.

Major challenges

Apart from difficulties attracting private capital, the biggest concern is over land acquisition. Most of these smart cities are being built ground up, on land currently owned by villagers who may not be open to a change of ownership or who may want a premium price. For example, the proposed smart city in Dholera, Gujarat, has faced resistance from the locals. Some farmers and residents have challenged the notification of the Special Investment Region Act under which this project is being executed, calling it unconstitutional.

Lack of coordination between various Government agencies and project execution are the other areas of concern. Aamer Azeemi, Managing Director, of Cisco Consulting Services for the Asia-Pacific Region, is involved in planning four upcoming smart city projects along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. “My biggest worry is on the execution of these projects,” he says. “If Government departments continue to work in silos then smart cities won’t work. We have suggested to the Government to set up a smart-city governance cell that can monitor and coordinate the projects.”

Rahul Sharma, Executive Director and Partner, Global Business Service, IBM, agrees. “Apart from the challenge of bringing about a change in mindset that the smart city in India is a concept whose time has arrived, there are other challenges such as segregation of domain expertise and authorities, such as police, municipal corporation etc, with their own agendas and structured processes.”

Lowering expectations

Experts believe that given the challenges, the expectations from smart cities in India may have to be toned down. One of the key points of difference is the paying capacity for services. For example, a mobile user in India pays an average of ₹100-150 a month compared to $30-$40 in European markets.

“Not all smart cities being planned in India will have smart lighting and smart parking on day one. What India needs is a solution that will bring basic things like healthcare and education into your homes. So, it will not be fair to compare the features available in developed countries like Singapore or the US to what will be available here,” says Angshik Chaudhuri, Executive Director for Globalisation, Cisco in India.

With inputs from Manisha Jha in Mumbai, Sangeetha Chengappa in Bangalore, Navadha Pandey in Delhi

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