The Karnataka government’s abject failure with regard to implementing Smart Cities Mission projects in seven cities in the state is disappointing, to say the least. According to figures provided by the Department of Urban Development, the state has utilised not even 1% of the allocation made for these projects. Bengaluru and Mangaluru have the dubious distinction of not having completed even a single project. Since its formal launch in 2016, seven cities in Karnataka — Bengaluru, Belagavi, Davangere, Hubballi-Dharwad, Shivamogga, Mangaluru and Tumakuru — were chosen to benefit from the Smart Cities Mission. However, Karnataka has failed to tap the immense potential of the Mission. An urban renewal and retrofitting programme, the Smart Cities Mission is the brainchild of the Narendra Modi government. It aims to develop some 100 cities across the country into citizen-friendly and sustainable cities. Since the one-size-fits-all development strategy has not worked in the past, the Smart Cities Mission uses a bottom-up approach, in which local authorities in each city decide what infrastructure they need. Each of the selected cities receive an average of Rs 500 crore, with a matching amount being put in by the state/urban local body. So far, Karnataka has received around Rs 6,462 crore for projects in the seven selected cities. Projects worth just Rs 30.97 crore have been completed. Most of the other projects are either in the process of implementation, tendering or in the conceptual stage. The few that have been completed are minor projects.
Back in 2016, when Bengaluru did not figure in the list of cities selected for implementation of the Smart Cities initiative, Karnataka made a lot of noise. Many in the state accused the central government of discrimination and for allowing political considerations to govern the process of selecting cities. Where has that early enthusiasm to participate in the Smart Cities Mission gone? Why is Bengaluru lagging behind other cities and Karnataka behind other states?
It appears that officials are not clear about what a ‘smart city’ entails. Consequently, infrastructure projects that should have been executed by the Public Works Department are being implemented under the Smart Cities Mission. Urban planners and other experts need to meet immediately to provide the mission with direction and conceptual clarity. In a decade or so, the majority of Indians will be living in cities. Our creaking urban infrastructure is expected to collapse by then, but that need not happen if we show some long-term vision and action in developing our cities now. The Smart Cities Mission is an opportunity for us to make that happen. Karnataka has only itself to blame for the tardy implementation of projects. It must rise up to the challenge.