Can Bangalore become India's first smart city?

Can Bangalore become India's first smart city?

Rapid innovation and adoption of technological tools by municipal governments across the globe has given rise to a new nomenclature in urban planning – smart cities. If voted to power, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has promised a hundred of them in India. Can Bangalore set the trend for rest of the country by becoming the first one?

Although definition of smart city is still evolving, currently there is a wide-ranging consensus amongst experts on what constitutes one. Six broad characteristics are evaluated to conclude an existing city to be a smart city – smart economy, smart people, smart mobility, smart environment, smart living and smart governance. There are many factors and categories that are assessed under each of these characteristics but suffice to say Bangalore definitely scores high on the first three and can rapidly make amendments to fulfill the criteria of later three. Amongst all cities in India, it has the pedigree to evolve into a smart city the fastest and hence deserves to be the pilot project.

The city indeed is a smart economy with thriving entrepreneurship at the centre of a vibrant IT-BT sector. Known for its competitiveness and an extraordinary labor force, it is home to many Indian and multinational technology giants. It is internationally recognised for its IT/ITeS prowess and many presidents and prime ministers of other countries often speak with envy and awe. It is also a place for pioneering research at academic institutions and technology labs.

Its social fabric is as cosmopolitan as it can get and is dominated by ethnic plurality. A large number of smart expatriates from various countries and migrant population from rest of the country offer a variety of cultural experiences. Workers range from highly qualified to semi-skilled and unskilled who contribute productively and has earned the city the sobriquet – Silicon Valley of India. Although internet usage is relatively low, most citizens are technology savvy and are adept at using many of the modern information and communication tools.

The public transport system links every corner of the city that ensures mobility of inhabitants without much ado. State of art traffic management centres are in vogue to address traffic congestion and safety. A mono rail is on the anvil to link the airport and rest of the City. With the completion of ‘Namma Metro’ (metro rail system) in a couple of years, Bangalore can truly be construed to have smart mobility.

Cause of concern

Bangalore must drastically alter course to fulfill  the criteria for the later three characteristics. It needs to arrest the downward spiral and bring back its pre-eminent status as India’s ‘Garden City’ to be considered a smart environment city. Lakes and greenery have been disappearing at a record pace while garbage issue that received worldwide attention remains unsolved. Ever increasing pollution has become a source of some debilitating diseases and is a major cause for concern. The state government must implement the recommendations made by the Justice N K Patil committee at the earliest to preserve wetland, rejuvenate lakes, reduce pollution, create more open spaces, recharge ground water aquifers and restore the bio-diversity of the City.

The City needs to improve by leaps and bounds to fulfill the smart living and smart governance criteria but can be corrected with a stroke of state cabinet’s pen. Social infrastructure needs to be upgraded while governance needs a transformation. Government primary schools must become e-learning centres while health clinics are required in every ward that can provide quality healthcare including remote treatment and tele-assistance. Making affordable housing available for the poor and marginalised as well as slum redevelopment plans requires substantial investment. Recent launch of “Namma WiFi”, free WiFi spots in public places, can assist citizens and tourists with information while greatly enhancing safety and security. The City can easily be decongested by shifting government business permanently to Belgaum where winter session of state Assembly is currently held.

The biggest challenge comes from moving the city administration to a more participative decision making process and introducing e-governance. Firstly, there are several baby steps required like making the municipal website robust and introducing a vernacular version of the same. Secondly, there needs to be a comprehensive online portal to address public grievances and for citizens to register their complaints including over mobile and smart phones as well as invite suggestions on various policy decisions. Thirdly, a centre of operations that houses all departments and includes space for media must be built. IBM and Oracle which developed such a centre in Rio de Janeiro in a short span of eight months can certainly assist in building one in Bangalore. Fourthly, financials are a mess and a fund based computerised accounting system is a must to provide accuracy and credibility. And finally, the City should have an elected mayor for a five year term with accountability resting with elected representatives.

Bangalore, unquestionably, has all the ingredients to develop into a smart city. It needs mammoth funding and enormous political will to accomplish the dream. If central government can provide financial support and state government can let go of the stranglehold over local administration, it certainly can become a trailblazer for rest of the country.

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