When will my city become smart? This is the question that I am sought to respond to very often. The name 'Smart Cities Mission' should be renamed 'Smart Area Mission' as no city under smart cities will turn smart as per the funding provided under the mission but only an area will receive focused attention in its transformation. In the case of the smart city project, an area of 50 acre for redevelopment or 250 acre in case of greenfield or 500 acre in case of retrofitting, as the case may be, is enhanced to showcase the value propositions of a smart city with the intent that the rest of the city gets inspired to make alterations in its own existing localities, areas and communities of similar nature, allowing the rest of the city to evolve with smart practices.
This means that the focus is on development of a particular area of a city using smart solutions to transform it into a better planned one through retrofitting and redevelopment. It differs from the mandatory pan-city development initiative, which aims to apply 'smart solutions' to the entire city-wide infrastructure. This ensures that the entire city is engaged in at leas one pan-city smart solution to get a whiff of the idea of transformation.
Cities planning 'Smart Areas' are facing an uphill task due to the biggest stumbling blocks: mindsets and capacity building. As we have been visiting several cities around the country, we are convinced that unless capacity building for conceptualisation of projects, procurement and standards and specification guidelines, is not carried out, the roll-out will face delays.
Notwithstanding the challenges, there are cities on the move. Andhra Pradesh has done a commendable job in the area of greenfield cities and is likely to reap rich dividends in the future. Developing cities on the basis of their economics lies at the core of sustainability. Andhra is master planning cities with this foundation. Pune's success at mobilisation of funds for their water project met with success last year indicating a healthy appetite among investors for such projects. Hyderabad followed suit by also successfully raising bonds to the tune of Rs 2 billion. However, 'corruption' in civic corridors raised its ugly head and the tenders in Pune had to be canceled. The Pune water supply project is facing a delay.
Another challenge relating to siloism, where civic departments do not take an integrated view, came to fore when Pune Commissioner had to cancel tenders for concretisation of the roads as this project can only be undertaken after the water supply project is executed or else it will lead to breaking the concrete roads for the execution of the water supply project. The Pune commissioner has demonstrated alacrity in canceling the subsequent tenders. Incidentally, Pune topped a recent urban governance survey followed by Kolkata, Thiruvanthipuram, Bhubhaneshwar and Surat.
More than half of the surveyed 23 cities, do not generate enough revenue internally to even pay for the salary of the municipal staff. While a third of municipal staff positions remains vacant. Further the average tenure of a municipal commissioner is found to be only 10 months. Only two of the 23 cities had provided for public representation and connect. It was in 1994 that the 74th amendment to the Indian Constitution was passed. The amendment recognised municipal corporations as independent bodies and defined the relationship between governments at the Union, state and municipal levels. Even though the amendment highlighted the need for mayors, municipal planning bodies and municipal corporations, it still left cities mostly under the supervision of state legislatures. The role of a mayor also continues to remain a marginal one. It is high time the act was overhauled.
The year 2018 will be about projects delivered and impact assessment as we draw nearer to our elections in 2019.