The Smart Cities Mission needs to be efficient, socially inclusive

| Updated on December 01, 2019

The lack of coordination between various agencies and lopsided priorities in the building of the cities have left much to be desired

Five years after the Centre announced the Smart Cities Mission, the country is yet to see any impact of this project on the ground. In 2014, the NDA government had announced that it will set up 100 smart cities across the country. The objective of the Mission was to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, and a clean and sustainable environment with the application of technology. So far, 81 per cent of the projects proposed under the Smart City Mission have been tendered out, while 25 per cent of the projects stand completed. A total of 5,151 projects worth ₹2,05,018 crore have been proposed by cities participating in the Smart Cities Mission. But nothing much has changed on the ground, due to the lack of coordination between various agencies implementing the project and lopsided priorities when it comes to investing the funds allocated under the programme.

Globally, a smart city is built on a communication network that gathers data from smart devices and sensors embedded in roadways, power grids, buildings and other assets to create efficient services. But cities selected under India’s Smart Cities Mission are busy focussing on basic infrastructure. Even here, the Mission cities are putting their highest share of investment (16.60 per cent) into urban transport development. Despite cities facing a solid-waste management crisis, only 2.4 per cent of the funds have been allocated towards this issue. Social sectors and storm-water drainage are also low on priority. Lack of coordination between various government agencies and project execution is another area of concern. In some areas, Smart City Missions have created a parallel mechanism of governance instead of strengthening local governing bodies. There is also little attempt being made to create awareness among citizens about the need for such cities. Some of these smart cities are being built from the ground up, on land currently owned by villagers who complain that the project is being thrust on them without considering their requirements. A World Economic Forum paper recently pointed out that people’s participation in the Smart City Mission is limited to digital literates, potentially skewing opinions.

The Centre needs to urgently initiate systemic reforms if it wants to make India’s cities future-ready. 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. In this context, the Smart City Mission has raised great expectations. But commitment from the State governments and governance reform at all levels of government is required to make it a success. Institutional reform, as well as an inclusive notion of city spaces, is required to take the Smart City project ahead. Cities need to be not just technologically smart, but liveable for all.

Published on December 01, 2019

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