With urbanisation projected to broaden in magnitude and scale, the need to accelerate the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) has become more necessary than ever before. The mission, launched in 2015, identified 100 cities where smart solution projects would be implemented to provide core infrastructure, and a clean and sustainable environment that facilitates economic growth and improves the quality of life. Smart cities were meant to serve as lighthouse projects to other aspiring urban centres.

But from the outset, translating the blueprint to reality has been slow. And the Covid outbreak proved a setback for the SCM, which was already behind its 2019 deadline. Consequently, the report card after seven years on June 25 this year may not be as impressive as envisaged. However, delays apart, the mission has had its share of success and needs to be speeded up to meet the revised June 2023 deadline.

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Among other constraints, funding and its utilisation remain a twin problem. While it was estimated that SCM would require ₹2,05,018 crore investment, the inflow has not matched expectations. Thus, against the Central government’s commitment of ₹48,000 crore for 100 cities over five years and a matching amount from states, the Centre has so far released ₹28,414 crore, of which 83 per cent has been utilised.

Points out Pratap Padode, founder and executive director of Smart Cities Council India, affiliated to Washington DC-based Smart Cities Council: “The overall utilisation has not even crossed 50 per cent of the amount committed, and we are not even counting the two extra years taken away by the pandemic.”

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On the plus side, the pathways for the implementation of the SCM have been readied. Explains Padode: “So far, smart cities have tendered out 6,721 projects worth ₹1,88,507 crore; work orders have been issued in 6,124 projects worth ₹1,62,908 crore and, in all, 3,421 projects worth ₹58,735 crore have been completed. However, approximately 27.5 per cent of the work estimated has been completed. The progress is slow with 34 per cent of the projects completed. But the work tendered out along with the projects completed covers the entire programme. And, in that regard, the entire mission is a work-in-progress.”

Jewels in the crown

There are several jewels in the crown for the SCM. These include the Indian Urban Data Exchange, which helps cities use data intelligently to address complex urban challenges. Under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), a sub-scheme for the formulation of GIS (geographic information system) based master plan has been approved and is being implemented in 456 towns in 35 states and Union territories. Now a GIS-based master planning for Class-II towns with a population of 50,000-99,999 has been proposed.

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Chartered Bike, a public bike-sharing scheme launched in Bhopal in 2017, is also a success story. It now spans other cities including Ranchi, Surat, Kolkata and Prayagraj. There are plans to introduce 2,000 electric bikes and 200 EV charging stations in Mumbai in the next six months.

Other plusses include the ‘tertiary treated water project’ to monitor the quantity and quality of recycled water to be used for irrigation in cities. Transformation of public spaces has been executed in Coimbatore and a few other cities. Roads under the scheme feature cycle tracks, LED streetlamps and footpaths. Such streets are devoid of overhead cables and have aesthetic street furniture and smart signages. Similarly, river waterfronts have been brought to life in Ahmedabad. Ranchi, Panaji, Jammu, among others, are planning to follow suit.

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The importance of developing urban spaces was pointed out by KPMG Consultants in its recent thought leadership report ‘Envisioning Urban India @2047’. Says Puneet Narang, Partner and Head, Major Projects Advisory Co-Head, Infrastructure Sector, KPMG in India: “India@2047 is envisioned to be 50 per cent urbanised and the world’s most populous country. Transformation of the urban landscape, with cities as powerhouses of economic growth, while ensuring basic minimum infrastructure, including access to quality housing, reliable power, good connectivity (people, goods and data), water supply and sewerage, education and healthcare facilities to an estimated 820 million inhabitants, shall be of prime importance.”

Padode, in his assessment, ends on a positive note: “The SCM is a journey and not a destination and great outcomes will pave the way for Smart Cities Mission 2.0.”