The Smart Cities Project: An Update

The Smart Cities Project

The Smart Cities Project

Before the Smart Cities project started, Venkaiah Naidu, the urban development minister of India, had delivered a memorable quote – “jitna aata, utni roti” – thus effectively implying that he would only go as far as his means allowed him to. However, now it seems that he may be bowing to political pressure from various circles and permitting the entry of more cities into the Smart Cities project. The urban development policy stated quite clearly that only 100 cities would be part of the revolutionary project, which is supposed to be completed over the coming five years. However, now nine more cities – including state capitals – have been brought into the fold.

List of Smart Cities Added

  • Patna
  • Thiruvananthapuram
  • Bengaluru
  • Amaravati
  • Itanagar
  • Gangtok
  • Srinagar
  • Jammu
  • Rae Bareilly
  • Meerut

Nomination of more cities than permissible

In fact, the governments in Uttar Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir have also been given the power to nominate the cities. UP has gone with Meerut and Rae Bareilly, and J&K has chosen its two capitals – Jammu and Srinagar. This entire choice can be regarded as a blatant disregard of rules set before. Aishwar Rao, spokesperson of the said ministry, has, however, denied that there was any political influence behind the inclusion of the aforementioned cities.

Whereas, recent events in Jammu and Kashmir would suggest that such this claim may not be entirely true. The government of Jammu and Kashmir was unable to nominate any city after regional leaders in both parts went toe-to-toe in demanding smart cities for their respective areas. This impasse continued for more than a year. According to Muhammad Ashraf Mir, who was the state’s urban development minister until March 2016, the decision to choose both cities was a politically-motivated one and was done with the intention of appeasing people.

The lack of infrastructure to support execution

Experts opine that one area where proper execution of the Smart Cities project could face some serious issues is infrastructure. It has already been a year since the project was announced. It is supposed to be completed by 2022 and the government is supposed to spend INR 50,000 crore as initial investment. Very recently in Pune, PM Narendra Modi introduced a variety of proposals on the occasion of the first anniversary of the said project. They may be enumerated as below:

  • plain slum rehabilitation
  • sewage treatment plants
  • plastic bottle recycling
  • setting up new-age information and communications technology (ICT) solutions
  • e-pathshalas
  • intelligent transit management system
  • intelligent street poles
  • multi-purpose smart cards across every mode of public transport

While critics do acknowledge the wide variety of proposals on offer, they also feel that it betrays the vague nature of a concept such as smart cities. They feel that this concept is still at its initial stages as far as the imagination of common people in India is concerned.

Critics are also of the opinion that for a project with a scale as grand and ambitious as Smart Cities to be executed successfully there has to be ready infrastructure. After all, according to them, this is all about completely redoing the service provisions across the country and tying it with ICT. The list includes services such as water supply, waste collection, sewage, and urban mobility to name a few. They feel that in a country like India that faces so many infrastructural challenges, such lofty ambitions may not be achieved within the time span set by the national government. This is the reason why the deadline for the project has been set back as well. The state of infrastructure in India – even in the urban areas – is worrying enough and this is what prompts such pessimism.

Will living in Smart Cities be a costly proposition?

It is being stated that in the future if people wish to live in a Smart City or near any planned public utility, such as an airport or a national highway, they may have to part with some more money than they may wish to by way of taxes, which are supposed to fund the said constructions. Prime minister’s office (PMO) has recently provided some directives to the effect and the central government has also started work on what is being called value capture financing (VCF).

VCF is supposed to help the government earn back a part of the value that private landowners derive from living in close proximity to public utilities of the best kind. PMO has even formed a committee that is supposed to look into different areas of the said policy and then organize discussions regarding the same with different stakeholders. The committee is being led by Sameer Sharma, urban development additional secretary, and has joint secretaries from various infrastructure-related ministries like road transport, civil aviation, ports, and economic affairs. The discussions are supposed to be organized during August and policies are expected to be finalized come October.

This tool of public financing is actually much in practice around the world. It operates on the logic that funds derived from such taxes will enable the governments to make the necessary investments and develop public infrastructure that can help in those areas taking rapid strides towards economic progress. Some of the major components of such planning are increasing the prices of land and levying more taxes. This extra money is then used by the government in the future for more infrastructural projects. It is expected that the said policy will also allow state governments to be benefited.

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