Ambitious Smart Cities Mission disconnected from ground realities

Last Updated : 13 September 2020, 11:39 IST

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In February, the Bengaluru Smart City Limited started work on a project that is set to transform Freedom Park in Bengaluru from a popular site of protest into an interactive heritage centre; the Rs 10 crore project will see the use of the latest visual technology - LED screens, 3D imaging and virtual reality - to bring aspects of the nation’s history to life. A little less than two km away, the Kempegowda Bus terminal, with its links to the railway station, metro network and state bus transport, still remains a maze of confusion to the outsider.

Experts feel that projects like the Command Centre for Solid Waste Management or a display system showing bus routes, in bus stations, that better serve the long-term needs of the city, should have been prioritised.

As of May this year, projects worth Rs 925.46 cr were ongoing. Some of the planned projects under the PPP model include a Multi-Utility Facilitation Centre in Belagavi (Rs 145.09 cr), Solar power units along the Tunga canal in Shivamogga (Rs 139.09 cr), the redevelopment of the Central market and fish market in Mangaluru (Rs 114.03) and replacing existing lights with LED lighting in all cities.

None of these projects, save for the LED lighting project, have found takers among private developers. When it comes to solar energy, the tariffs are said to be too low, and in Tier-II cities, facilities like Multi-Level Parking Centre see no investors due to lower fund realisation and trouble with relocating existing facilities.

A big chunk of TenderSure projects in Bengaluru, repackaged as a Smart City initiative, have stalled because of lack of police approvals. With the metro work already underway in Bengaluru’s Central Business District, the police fears an unmanageable traffic snarl if all of these projects are green-lit as well.

‘Piecemeal approach’

The current progress of the project in Karnataka’s cities indicates a piecemeal approach, without any focus on solving problems in any one sector.

The one silver living is the Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCC) which have already come up in five cities; in Mangaluru, the ICCC is being used to monitor the Covid-19 crisis in Dakshina Kannada district. Ideally, all the individual components of the Smart City project should feed into the ICCC, but this seems to be taking time. The CCTV cameras at ‘Smart Bus Shelters’ in Mangaluru for instance, seem to be dysfunctional; across the state, ‘smart poles’ which provide free WiFi and monitor traffic have been set up but it is unclear to what extent the data they have captured is being used.

Activists familiar with the local administration in their cities are also skeptical of the local bodies ability to parse the data and come up with meaningful solutions.

Ultimately, in their inability to effectively implement the project, the local corporations are squandering a valuable chance to invest in the well-being of their city.

Published 05 September 2020, 18:02 IST

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