- Published: 28 August 2023
Remember the scramble 7-8 years ago after Prime Minister Modi announced the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) in June 2015. More than 18 months were spent in selecting the 100 cities that would make it to the list. City bureaucrats competed with pitches and ministers pulled strings in the Ministry of Urban Affairs. It seemed transformation of the blighted urban landscape was around the corner.
Eight years down the line, the Smart Cities euphoria has waned. It is absent from election promises and in the bragging of ministers. The project was supposed to be completed by June 2021. After two extensions – the last one made in May this year – most of the ‘smart’ cities look much the same.
The report card submitted to Parliament in February this year however shows a pretty picture. As many as 7,804 projects worth over Rs 1.8 lakh crore have been sanctioned in 100 cities. Of these, 72 per cent of the projects worth Rs 1,07,000 crore were to be completed by April 30, 2023.
Around 232 projects worth Rs 15,000 crore relate to infrastructure development such as multi-modal transport hubs, multi-level car parking, and bike sharing. As many as 1,100 smart mobility projects worth Rs 22,785 crore have been completed, and 984 public spaces developed at a cost of Rs 5,861 crore.
On the other hand, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs by April this year conceded as many as 68 ‘smart cities’ had failed to achieve their targets by January 2023. The figures put out by the ministry are also misleading as 32 of the cities had completed more than their original quota of projects; and if one takes those away, the actual performance is even more dismal, the Committee noted.
So while Varanasi, Agra, and Udaipur had touched near 90% completion, many like Silvasa, Gangtok, Faridabad, and Shillong were struggling at less than 10% completion. “There have been astute attempts to manufacture a high project completion rate by completing small/less-valued projects, which take lesser time,” the parliamentary committee noted.
The revised report card in April 2023, as per the Parliamentary Standing Committee is: Against an allocation of a little over Rs 2 lakh crore to develop smart cities, as many as 5,343 projects worth over Rs 1 lakh crore have not yet been completed.
The Smart Cities Mission was doomed from the start as none of our astute planners ever chose to define what a ‘smart city’ is. The projects chosen were a mishmash of technology upgradation, mass, rapid transportation and building infrastructure. There were as many definitions of a ‘smart city’ as there were planners.
A ‘Smart City’ in international parlance is all about improving cities through technology. It was initially coined by Scandinavian and West European city planners to refer to a new level of tech modernization – from well-synchronized traffic lights and intelligent homes to driverless transportation, all aimed at making cities more livable and efficient.
The best ‘smart cities’ of the world chosen by Earth.org this year include Singapore – which has excelled in evolving a digital health care system including video conferencing for the aged. Another city Zurich was selected for among other things its streetlights that adapted to traffic levels, and which increased brightness or dimmed using sensors. The project enabled an energy saving of up to 70%.
But India’s Smart Cities Mission has been firing in a different direction – it includes technology but it also supports a full-spectrum city modernization programme. That is why it falters. It is neither strictly a tech ramp-up; nor is it focused on building basic civic infrastructure.
India’s erratic and unplanned growth of cities need holistic goals that include providing affordable housing, efficient public transportation and civic infrastructure. Building technology to create smart cities is only an adjunct to these more basic civic goals.
An old McKinsey & Company report on India’s urban landscape predicts that 40% of the country’s population or 590 million people will be residing in cities by 2030. Moreover, with the shift from agriculture to services, 70% of the new jobs being created would be in urban areas.
To make cities livable, McKinsey had estimated a massive $ 1.2 trillion by 2030 in capital expenditure. The outlay of Rs 2 lakh crore or approximately $25 billion on the Smart cities Mission is a small speck of what is required. At the micro level, sample this: Chandigarh in the first phase was allocated Rs 196 crore to fund smart water meters, a Wi-Fi zone and modern solid waste management. And it was all ploughed into one pocket – Sector 43.
“Today, in per capita terms, India’s annual capital spending of $17 is only 14% of China’s $116 and less than 6% of New York’s $292,” reminds the McKinsey report. Indian cities today are hell-holes crushing the poor in hovel-like housing and long commutes that suck the life out of the bread earner. To transform these cities multiple and focused agencies have to work in tandem tackling infrastructure, education, housing and so on. The Smart Cities Mission in its present avatar is at best tinkering around.
Autor(en)/Author(s): Gurbir Singh
Quelle/Source: The New Indian Express, 20.08.2023