Understanding the Basics of Smart Cities
Debabrata Samanta

In recent times, there has been a buzz around smart city projects in India as cities are considered the growth engines of a country. Smart city projects not only contribute towards employment generation, but also drive overall economic growth and enable the improvement of the quality of life of citizens. The conceptualization of a smart city varies from country to country, and even from city to city in a particular country. What, however, remains constant is the understanding that the management of various infrastructures and services of a smart city will be seamless and effective.

The Government of India wants to develop 100 smart cities by 2020. How many such projects will a state or union territory get depends on the size of its urban population and how many towns it currently has. Based on this equitable formula, each state or union territory will have at least one smart city project. The government has allocated Rs. 72,961 crore for two schemes related to urban development – the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities. The Union budget of 2016-17 has earmarked Rs. 3,205 crore for the development of smart cities and around Rs. 4,091 crore for AMRUT. The first list of 20 smart cities has already been announced, starting with Bhubaneswar in Odisha.

The key elements of a typical smart city infrastructure project are:

  • City governance: Where interface between citizens and the city administration is minimal, and response from city administration is prompt and smart.
  • Energy: Smart power grid, metering, and payment that are integrated with renewable energy sources for both domestic and commercial usage.
  • Water: Smart metering, leakage detection, payment, minimization of spillage, and quality monitoring.
  • Public safety and security: Measures to identify possible sources of disturbance proactively with the help of technology, including awareness among miscreants of possible prompt consequences of unsocial/unlawful behavior. This also requires national level policy changes in terms of police reforms, judicial reforms, and political reforms.
  • Education: Creation of a healthy competitive environment where schools, colleges, and other education institutes are awarded on the basis of transparent evaluation criteria.
  • Healthcare: Promotion of both preventive and curative healthcare systems.
  • Green buildings: Promotion for the construction of ecofriendly buildings.
  • Transportation: Sustainable transportation systems such as an integrated ticketing system for metro rail, public buses, autorickshaws, and electric rickshaws.
  • Citizen services: The availability of smart services from the city administration at an enhanced cost and increased accountability among service providers.
  • Cleanliness: Improved monitoring to take prompt and effective action against littering.
  • Waste management: Introducing a smart waste management system for liquid and solid wastes.
  • Economic system: A well-integrated system for support services such as domestic workers and drivers from villages around the city.
  • Public utilities: Smart management of utilities such as water, drainage, power, gas, and sewerage through a smart power grid, smart drainage/sewage system, smart piped gas distribution system in terms of monitoring quality, flow, leakage, and online payment systems.
  • Sustainability: Creating a balance between concrete structures and greenery, and establishing and protecting water bodies.

There is a diverse group of stakeholders involved in each of the above areas, speaking different languages, and using different performance parameters and development plans. It is going to be a huge challenge to follow a coordinated approach to integrate them. To make a successful smart city, it involves not only the right choice of projects but also equipping the users with the right tools to make use of the smart facilities. A structured and disciplined approach to project governance can help the cause, along with capacity building in the art of governing projects. The Madhya Pradesh government has taken a proactive step to inculcate the knowledge of project management among its employees across departments to help them understand the pre-requisites of a successful project.

Let us review how some developed countries have adopted smart city projects, and how they can be adapted by India.

Public Safety and Security

Public safety and security is the most important criteria for a smart city. This involves effective law enforcement, swift action by security forces, and the delivery of justice in a time-bound manner. Singapore, which is considered one of the safest countries in the world, has achieved this with smart policing. CCTV cameras dot the city with minimum policing on the road; the reaction time to an untoward incident from the police is minimum. Citizens are aware of the consequences, which is firm, effective, and timebound action. What works in the city's favor is not only the application of technology but also high accountability and professionalism of the administrative services. Such mindset change can take place in India with the implementation of strong project management practices in smart city projects.

Waste Management

The most advanced cities in the world are known for effective implementation of waste management program. In Singapore, private companies such as Veolia and Sembawang manage the complete cycle of solid waste management. They collect solid waste from waste containers everyday in the morning and treat it at their plant to generate power and gas.

Such a project will be successful only if there is strong support from all the stakeholders such as the state government, central government, local administration, and residents' welfare associations. It calls for a robust project management framework to integrate the various stakeholders, execute the project, and conduct effective day-to-day governance.

The architects of smart cities must realize that these cities will attract a lot of people in search of livelihood. That is bound to affect the urban-rural balance. Along with developing smart cities, the Government of India must expand its reach to rural India. Like in many parts of Europe, smart villages provide access to all city amenities to rural citizens without taking away its countryside flavor. The Smart India dream needs to be realized on the twin concept of smart cities and smart villages. The citizens of these smart cities and villages must be well-informed, connected to the world, and to each other by information technology.

In a bid to transform rural areas into economically, socially, and physically sustainable spaces, the Government of India has announced the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission that aims to set up 300 rural clusters across the country by 2019-20.

The mission aims to develop rural growth clusters which have latent potential for growth across the country, thus triggering the overall development of these regions. The focus will be on provisioning economic activities, developing skills and local entrepreneurship, and providing infrastructure amenities.

For a country like India, where more than 70 percent of the population relies on agriculture, and people are migrating from villages to cities, it is important to consider smart villages as growth engines for sustainable growth that are in consonance with the development of smart cities.

(Debabrata Samanta, PMP, is a senior consultant with White Bull Consulting & Services Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. He has 27 years of experience in project management including major projects such as the Nghi Son Refinery and Petrochemical project in Vietnam, and the revamp and upgradation of the Indian Oil Corporation refinery in Haldia, West Bengal.)

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