Lacunae plague Smart Cities Mission

Lacunae plague Smart Cities Mission

A meagre chunk of smart city proposals addresses pan-city issues. An assessment of the pan-city proposals of the first 20 smart cities show reduced emphasis on sustainab-ility facets like equity and ambiguity in how the projects would achieve financial sustainability

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In the 2015 UN General Assembly held in New York, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a commitment to make our cities smart, sustainable and engines of progress. He affirmed that much of India’s development agenda is mirrored in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) with focus on sustainable and inclusive development of cities was seen as a significant step towards achieving these goals.

The SCM guidelines proposed two types of development for each smart city – area-based and pan-city development. The pan-city initiative has been considered an additional feature in the Smart City Plans (SCP), add-ed primarily to make it more inclusive. A review of the pan-city initiatives of the first 20 smart city proposals reveals the probable impacts in terms of sustainability principles such as equity, efficiency, well-being, financial viability, administrative realism, foresight and accountability.

Share of sector-wise pan-city proposals reflecting each sustainability principle: Transport sector had the highest number of pan-city proposals (29%) while 26% of the plans were multi-sectoral. Water, sanitation and waste management constituted another 28%. Energy (8%), health and education (5%), and risk management (5%) were the other sectors that were considered for pan-city proposals.

The proposals for all these sectors predominantly focused on efficiency of service delivery. For example, for transport, the proposals mainly involved traffic management, parking, transit operations and management etc. Some multi-sectoral pan-city plans also included command and control centres, surveillance camera networks etc.

On the same lines, the water sector proposals mainly focused on efficiency of service delivery like reduction in transmission and distribution losses, monitoring water usage and quality among other things.

Efficiency is again the prime focus in the solid waste and sanitation sectors. Projects in these sectors included GPS tracking of Solid Waste Management (SWM) trucks, fleet and asset management, waste water quality monitoring and smart STPs (Sewage Treatment Plants).

Energy sector proposals included Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) implementation, smart metering, demand forecasting, LED street lights etc. These sector proposals also reflect some aspects of foresight and accountability.

In the case of health and education, the proposals focus on  some aspects of foresight and include projects like e-learning and skill development, e-healthcare systems, etc. Health and education are the only sectors which have also emphasised the aspects of equity and well-being through interventions such as centralised hospitalisation facilitation for economically weaker sections and mentoring programmes by senior citizens for underprivileged students.

Risk management
In the case of risk management, the proposals equally focus on the efficiency and foresight aspects which include emergency response and city incident management, command and control centres with warning systems, risk assessment and modelling systems etc. Some of the main lacunae observed across the projects include the following:

• The proposals lack clarity on how services will be made accessible to marginalised or disadvantaged people (for example, no clarity on the coverage of water connections and 24x7 water availability especially in slum pockets of the city);

• Although the proposals include estimated costing for all projects, there is no clarity on financial viability as well as the capacity or skills required for the implementation and operation of projects like Command and Control Centres;

• Lack of focus on the complete value chain for waste and sanitation (for example, the proposals are limited to the development of smart STPs and Quality Monitoring).

To conclude, while focus on efficiency in service delivery is likely to make some positive impact on its quality, lack of attention to equity, resource efficiency and environmental efficiency render the proposals less sustainable. There is no clarity as to how efficiency is being translated to improvement in overall well-being conditions and could provide a better quality of life to the city’s disadvantaged population such as people living in informal settlements and urban poor pockets.

Although other aspects of sustainability, like foresight and accountability, were addressed in some proposals, the plans show an overall lack of strategic focus to attain the objectives of sustainable and inclusive cities.

(The writers are research analysts, CSTEP, Bengaluru)

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