India File

What’s smart about Smart Cities?

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on February 25, 2019

Unfinished business: Almost all cities are trying to fill the infrastructure backlog in the name of Smart Cities Mission   -  THE HINDU

The Smart Cities Mission has not visibly improved living conditions or citizens’ participation in urban governance. Radheshyam Jadhav reports

“The entire world is talking about our efforts. The Smart City Mission has given a new dimension to urbanisation,” declared Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month, after laying the foundation stone for the water supply and sewage system project as part of the Smart City Mission in Solapur, Maharashtra. Modi added that the Mission was a great success because of public participation.

The PM told people assembled there that his party has fulfilled what it promised in the 2014 Lok Sabha election manifesto.

But not many seem convinced. “I don’t know what Smart City is all about. My city, which is part of the Mission, has not changed,” says Arvind Shinde, a local youth in Solapur. “ The city lacks basic facilities and infrastructure and we feel like we are living in an urbanised village,” says Shinde.

Once a major centre for cotton textile manufacturing, Solapur is struggling with its handlooms that have almost vanished from the city map, while the powerlooms are gasping. While men still cling to jobs in textile manufacturing, about 65,000 women in the city are involved in bidi rolling for about 200 branded bidi factories that supply bidis to different parts of the country. Thousands of women came to listen to the Prime Minister, hoping to get a permanent accommodation as he laid the foundation stone for 30,000 houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. They were not aware of what the Smart City was all about.

Filthy, congested roads, perennial water supply shortage, untreated sewage, slum proliferation and pathetic public transport define Solapur like any other city in India. Now, the city has undertaken augmentation of drinking water supply from Ujani Dam to Solapur city and building an underground sewerage system under AMRUT Mission. The sanctioned cost of the project is ₹244 crore under Smart City Mission.

“Nothing smart about it, Solapur is just building basic infrastructure. Let us become city first and then we can dream of being smart city” says Shinde. But it is not just Solapur, almost all cities are trying to fill the infrastructure backlog in the name of Smart City Mission.

Indian cities are crumbling under infrastructure deficit. The Ministry of Urban Development’s High Powered Expert Committee had estimated that over a 20-year period, ₹39.2 lakh crore at 2009-10 prices will need to be spent on urban infrastructure. Of this, ₹17.3 lakh crore (or 44 per cent) will be on urban roads. “The backlog for this sector ranges from 50 per cent to 80 per cent across the cities of India,” the committee report stated.

Where’s the smart?

Cut to Pune, over 250 km from Sholapur, dozens of brand new bicycles are gathering dust in front of Sambhaji garden located on the bustling Jangli Maharaj road. Amidst heavy traffic congestion, nobody even bothers to look at these bicycles which have been parked for citizens to use as part of Pune Bicycle Plan. Some 4,500 bicycles have been deployed in more than 300 locations in the city to encourage citizens to use bicycles instead of two-wheelers.

A pet ‘Smart’ project, intensely propagated and supported by city-based NGOs, has not attracted citizens. With an investment of ₹10 crore, the project is at a standstill. Bicycles now have been locked with chains by the city corporation and a few cases of theft have been registered. Cycle tracks across the city are encroached; even so the Pune Smart City officials want to take forward the project.

 

Similar is the case with retrofitting of footpaths. Civic officials have no mechanism to protect footpaths. Recently, 25 electric buses were introduced in the Pune Municipal Transport, but the overall condition of the transport body and buses remains pathetic. The city has about 1,400 buses on road, even as the requirement is almost double the current fleet. Breakdowns and accidents are common and the majority of buses are unfit to ply.

“I don’t know what is happening. We read in papers that Pune has got this award and that award for Smart City project, and I wonder if I stay in the same city or I’m reading about some other city,” says Sneha Gadkari, a housewife.

As another smart project, Pune has created a model to skill urban poor youth and give them an opportunity to be gainfully employed. However, hardly 5,000 youths have registered for skilling courses and out of 1,051 who completed these courses, 586 have got placement. The city has over 14 lakh people living in slums.

However, Rajendra Jagtap, CEO of the Pune Smart City Development Corporation (PSCDCL), says, “Smart city has started addressing those aspects of citizens life that were not done earlier. The expectations of citizens are high, with a lot of new innovations and services to come up under the Mission. After Pune was declared a part of the Mission, we are facing negativity and criticism. But we are trying to meet high standards set by the Mission. We are being criticised even for the projects that we are not implementing”.

Where are Smart Cities investing?

Cities selected under the Mission are busy focusing on basic infrastructure. Mission cities are putting their highest share of investment (16.60 per cent) into urban transport development. Even as cities face a solid waste management crisis, only 2.4 per cent investment is directed towards this sector. Social sectors and storm water drainage are also least important subjects on the investment agenda with just 2.5 per cent investment proposed for projects in these areas.

After urban transport, area-based development is the second most important investment priority for cities. Under the area-based development programme, cities pick up one area and develop it fully so that the model could be replicated in other parts of the city.

As per Smart Cities Mission guidelines, the Central government had proposed financial support to the extent of ₹48,000 crore (23.4 per cent of Smart City Proposal value) over five years i.e. an average of ₹500 crore per city. An equal amount, on a matching basis, is provided by the State/Urban Local Body (ULB).

Apart from these, around ₹42,028 crore (21 per cent) is expected from convergence with other Missions, ₹41,022 crore (20 per cent) from Public Private Partnerships (PPP), around ₹9,843 crore (4.8 per cent) from loans, ₹2,644 crore (1.3 per cent) from own resources and rest from other sources.

The urban Missions are very ambitious, but the funding offered by the Government of India for these Missions is a very small part of what is needed, says eminent urban development expert, Isher Judge Ahluwalia. “The national urban missions have raised great expectations. But successful planned urbanisation for rapid growth requires commitment from the State governments and governance reform at all levels of government. The technology focus in planning for urbanisation must be supplemented with heavy emphasis on institutional reform,” she says.

“India needs to recognise cities as independent units of governance and economy. We need to urgently initiate systemic reforms to city governance principally comprising spatial planning and public utility design, municipal finance, municipal staffing, empowered mayors and councils, metropolitan governance and transparency and citizen participation,” says Srikanth Vishwanathan, chief executive officer of the Bengaluru-based Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy.

Ground reality

However, instead of strengthening local governing bodies, Smart City Missions have created a parallel mechanism of governance. The Smart Cities Mission is being implemented by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a limited company incorporated under the Companies’ Act, 2013, in which the State governments and urban local bodies are the promoters having 50:50 equity shareholding. “This is an effort to sabotage independence of local governing bodies. Now, the Centre is not giving funds under Smart City Mission, but dictating how cities should be developed,” says Pune-based activist Vijay Kumbhar.

Under the Smart Cities Mission’s area-based development, the Pune Municipal Corporation selected IT sector-dominated Aundh-Baner-Balewadi to be developed as a ‘ model’ to be replicated in other parts of the city. The PMC assured citizens that within five years, this ‘model’ would be ready. There was huge unrest in the city after citizens realised that not all of Pune, but one small part of the city will be developed under the Mission. The government and civic officials had to calm down agitating people, assuring them that some funds will also be given to other parts of the city.

Citizens came on to the street against road widening, implementation of Bus Rapid Transit System, walking plaza and slum rehabilitation alleging that projects were being thrust on them without considering their requirements.

But Mukta Tilak, Pune Mayor and one of the directors of the Pune Smart City development Corporation Ltd, says that owing to the Smart City Mission, city and citizens are thinking of urban development from a new perspective. “From traffic control to sewage treatment, we are thinking of innovative solutions. It will take time to change the complete picture, but we have moved in the right direction” she says.

Where does the Mission stand?

Fifty three per cent projects across India under the Smart City Mission are still in the tendering stage while just 39 per cent projects are either completed or in the implementation stage. But the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs informed the Lok Sabha this month that the pace of implementation of projects has picked up significantly.

“There has been a 309 per cent increase in projects tendered, 327 per cent increase in projects grounded (where work has started) and 489 per cent increase in projects completed since December 2017”.

Twenty cities that were selected in round one in 2016 are expected to complete their projects by 2019-20 to 2020-21 while 40 cities in round two have to meet the deadline of 2019-20 to 2021-22.

 

The analysis of the Smart Cities Mission, by Delhi-based Housing and Land Rights Network, concluded that there is the glaring absence of emphasis on inclusion and social justice.

“The Mission is being advertised as a strong investment opportunity for foreign governments, MNCs, and the Indian corporate sector. However, the slow rate of investment and inability of cities to mobilise the required funds reveal the limits of overly relying on the private sector. Moreover, the undemocratic powers conferred on SPVs and the predominant role of the corporate sector bring to light dangerous trends of privatisation of governance and corporatisation of Indian cities” states the report.

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Published on February 25, 2019
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