A few days back, a reputed Indian daily news paper carried a misleading article on smart cities, "Only 22% funds utilised in six Housing Ministry schemes, triggering a widespread speculation over actual progress of the Smart Cities Mission. While, the news report managed to sensationalise the issue, it failed to report the fact that funds released or utilised is a part of the government procedure to ensure accounting norms; it is not a barometer of the physical progress or speed of the implementation of the envisaged target. The accounting periods to which the sensational item pertained was only upto March 2016. Further, most of the schemes have large capital intensive projects with a completion time range of 1-3 years for the project and hence what would be important would be how many schemes have been completed or are in various stages of completion.
While most metro cities do not figure in smartening up, cities like Pune, Bhubaneswar, Bhopal, Jabalpur a few to name, are making strides in their efforts to make this mission a success. For instance, Bhopal, which was selected as one of the smart cities, has been making a very good progress in the implementation of smart projects. In fact, a progress report by AmCham and PwC revealed that Bhopal is ranked second in the implementation of smart projects with Pune taking the top slot. The city has recently launched Indias first cloud-based Common Integrated Data Center, Disaster Recovery Centre and Integrated Control and Command Centre. Bhubaneswar, which ranked first in the initial batch, is famous for its PPP-based common payment system. Pune for that matter is managing the entire citys function through a command and control centre. Lastly, Jabalpur has a collection of projects to make solid waste management more efficient by introducing GPS-enabled trucks and RFID tagged garbage bins.
Going forward, the government has been able to stride the mission with substantial milestones physically and financially. Lets take a look at the physical milestones. Smart City Mission has lots of convergence with other missions like AMRUT, Housing for All etc. and some of the projects are implemented under PPPs. The SCM has identified projects worth Rs 2 trillion for all 99 smart cities across the country. Of which, around 1,333 projects worth Rs 506 billion have been completed or are under tendering process. There are 329 projects which will cost more than Rs 1 billion, each and 73 affordable housing projects worth Rs 170 billion.
As stated in this column earlier, the scheme could have been better positioned as Smart City Area Mission. This would have helped citizens understand that an area is being smartened and more and more areas need to emulate the practices before the entire city turns smart. Further some tier 2 cities are showing proactiveness and are securing ranks in the race for a Swachh Bharat.
Challenges apart, this mission is a go!