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The National Democratic Alliance government's flagship Smart Cities Mission (SCM) launched in 2015 is nearing its second deadline of June 2024. Aimed to improve the quality of life in urban India through the application of smart solutions, SCM has so far achieved a completion rate of 83%. Of the total ₹86,850 crore allocated over eight years by the Union and respective state governments, ₹72,571 crore has already been utilised by the participating cities.

Have the cities smartened up? Is the quality of life better for its residents? Are these projects worthy to serve as role models for other towns and cities facing the challenges of unsustainable urbanisation? HT takes stock of some of the key projects and what they hope to accomplish.

The Union government maintains the objective of the mission is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and decent quality of life to their citizens, clean and sustainable environment through the application of smart solutions. The idea is to look at compact areas and create replicable models, which will act as role models for others.

The mission identified 21 sectors in which the 100 smart cities selected projects based on their specific needs. These include education, health, housing, water supply, solid waste management, roads, non-motorised transport, public transport, smart governance, recreational spaces, and energy-related infrastructure, among others.

An official of the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA) — the ministry running the mission — said that the cities were given the freedom to choose projects, and many catered to the sustainable development goals (SDG 2030) of clean water, sanitation, sustainable practises, clean energy and even decent work and economic growth. The SDGs were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 to end poverty, reduce inequality and build more peaceful, prosperous societies by 2030.

The Union government provides conditional fund transfers to states for specific developmental programmes. The fiscal burden under a CSS is shared by the states and the Union government equally. However, in addition to government grants, the smart city projects were permitted to access finances from other sources including private sector finance, debt, as well as through revenue like user charges, taxes, and surcharges.

Common to all cities

The integrated command and control centre (ICCC) was found to be the most common feature among all these cities. Through these ICCCs, and a host of connected cameras, sensors, and other Internet of Things devices, authorities can monitor, scrutinise, and improvise everyday functions like security surveillance, policing, waste management, street light management, traffic management, water supply and even respond to extreme weather situations like floods and storms.

Through the 3,000 public address systems active in 77 cities, authorities were able to issue warnings and advisories to the public in one go. There are 1,884 emergency call boxes in 56 cities through which citizens can alert the authorities about any distress situation.

More than 15 coastal towns incorporated their disaster response mechanism within the ICCCs to prepare for impending natural disasters at a micro-level; 11 cities started monitoring and managing flood situations with the help of the ICCCs and 62 cities adopted red light traffic violation systems even as 2,000 important traffic junctions were retrofitted with adaptive traffic control systems.

The ICCCs were also used to monitor waste collection and management processes with the help of cameras, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) equipped bins, automatic vehicle locators and other technological applications in more than 80 cities.

Rajkot used its ICCC to coordinate between the key stakeholders, as well as with other cities' departments to monitor the on-ground situation during the recent cyclone Biparjoy. Chetan K Nandani, CEO of Rajkot Smart City said flood monitoring sensors are placed at the Aji and Nyari dams as well as at elevated and ground-level reservoirs in and around the city to track and respond to flood situations in the city in real-time.

Transport, public infra

To improve urban mobility, over 2,500 km of smart roads have been constructed. A smart road comes with pavements and dedicated underground utility ducts for electricity, water, sewage, and optical fibre lines to negate the need for road digging. Apart from this, 7,500 public buses have been deployed, including over 2,000 e-buses and over 5,000 bus stops have been built. In a boost to non-motorised transport, 573 km of bicycle tracks have been built and more than 10,000 bicycles have been deployed under the public bike-sharing model.

So far, in the last eight years, 367 parks have been developed and redeveloped across 100 cities. Over 1,300 projects to improve other public spaces including 180 waterfront projects have been undertaken across 47 cities. More than 200 monuments have also been restored under the SCM project. In Udaipur, 10 city gates such as Satta Pol, Chand Pol, Hathi Pol, and a six-km long heritage fort wall around the walled city were restored among other structures of historical importance. In Srinagar, the conservation work of Naqashband Sahib, Khanqahi Moula Shrine, Hassanabad Imambara, Durga Nag Temple, St. Luke's Church, and Raghunath Temple were taken up.

More than 44,000 affordable housing units have been built and 6,300 rooms have been built in community housing projects. In all so far under the SCM, more than 300 health clinics have been developed, and more than 479 ambulances have been procured. So far 100 MW of solar energy capacity have been added in 100 cities and more than 50 lakh LED solar street lights have been installed.

Views and critiques

Dr Girdhar Gyani, Director General of the Association of Healthcare Providers of India (AHPI), a conglomeration of private healthcare providers, said the Smart Cities Mission could have used their funds to reach the recommended ratio of three hospital beds per 1,000 people in all the 100 cities to stand out as lighthouses. “Right now there is a huge disparity in terms of healthcare availability across the country and within states,” he said.

Rakesh Verma, former IAS officer and a policy analyst based in Bengaluru said that the SCM unlike other national missions is “a lateral entry in the urban infrastructure space”. This has led to a lot of municipal functions to be handled by consultants. Instead, he said the local municipal staff need to be trained. “Moreover, the surge in digital infrastructure under the Smart City canopy raises significant data security and privacy concerns, necessitating stringent measures to ensure the protection of citizens' personal information and maintain public trust,” he said.

In the recently launched India Infrastructure Report 2023, a chapter by Tathagata Chatterji, a professor of urban management and governance at the School of Human Settlements, XIM University, Bhubaneswar and Chetan Vaidya, an urban expert with over 30 years of experience have detailed some of the shortcomings of the SCM. The report is a compilation of authored papers on issues integrating infrastructure, and urban redevelopment by subject matter experts compiled by the National Institute of Urban Affairs, Infrastructure Development Corporation (Karnataka) Ltd, and the IDFC Foundation.

In their chapter titled ‘The Smart Cities Mission and the Digital Transformation of Urban India’, Chatterji and Vaidya write: “Many cities implemented public bicycle sharing schemes without proper integration with other transportation modes and inadequate attention towards operations and maintenance. Moreover, sometimes projects were rushed through to access project funding deadlines. Often this came in the way of participatory planning and effective citizen engagement. In many cities, while citizen participation happened at the initial stages subsequently, it was reduced due to exigencies of project execution. A more robust mechanism for citizen engagement on a continuous basis needs to be worked out.”

However, this does not mean that success stories do not abound under the mission.

In central Karnataka’s Davanagere, flooding was a regular feature with every instance of moderate to heavy rain due to inadequate drainage network. The Smart City Mission decided to lay a holistic stormwater drainage system for the entire city and after three years, 56.71 km of stormwater drains and sub-drains were constructed. Now, Veeresh Kumar, CEO of Davanagere Smart City said, there are hardly any major instances of floods.

“Initially, it was a challenge to manage all these parallel projects that were running to make the drainage network ready. Tenders for 15 projects were issued at different times and we had to monitor their progress and quality simultaneously,” Kumar said.

In Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur, 2,000 households are going to be given 24x7 water supply under the area-based development scheme, CEO Chandra Pratap Gohal said.

“At present, the challenge is to retrofit the existing infrastructure with new meters and sensors and implement the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system,” he said.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Soumya Chatterjee

Quelle/Source: msn, 26.01.2024

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