Smart Cities support the comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social and economic urban infrastructure, improve the quality of life, protect the environment and create jobs for millions, says Deepak Premnarayen, President, Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC), and Chairman, FirstRand Bank India.
India is urbanising rapidly and an estimated 31 per cent of Indians are living in cities as per the 2011 Census. Cities are even more important from the economic development perspective as they already contribute 63 per cent to India’s GDP. Cities are also centres of higher education, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Unless managed, urbanisation also imposes high social and environmental cost. The Indian experience, particularly in large metros, presents evidence of the need to plan better and manage our cities. Smart Cities are a step in that direction to support the need for comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social and economic urban infrastructure, to enable improvement of the quality of urban life, and improve the environment and create jobs for millions entering their productive age every year. It is estimated that at least $1.2 trillion of investment is required in various sectors including transportation, water, roads, energy and public security to achieve these objectives.
The challenge and opportunity before Indian cities is to make investments in a way that we can leapfrog to ‘smart solutions’. It is critical to realise that technology is not synonymous with ‘smart’ as there are several components to making a Smart City. These include smart technologies but equally importantly, smart policies and regulations. International experience suggests that enlightened citizens play a critical and central role in making cities smart. In Chicago, for example, infrastructure investment, economic development and community engagement were three pillars of the plan to transform the city. The plan focused on improving the quality of life in the city through initiatives such as the new open fibre optic ring to get gigabit speed, and investment in real-time open data infrastructure and platform.
Likewise in Barcelona, which has been certified as a ‘Smart City’, the initiatives taken by the city administration include introduction of a new orthogonal bus network to help transfers between any two points, a bicycle sharing system, installation of smart parking sensors to help motorists find parking and collect data about parking patterns, fixing of sensors on refuse and recycling bins for efficient MSW collection, and installation of a smart LED lighting system to optimise energy use. The Smart City initiative helped in creating about 2,000 jobs, saving 600,000 litres of water and 9,700 tonnes of CO2. The total cumulative economic benefit from the various initiatives is expected to be close to a billion dollars.
Stockholm has been a test-bed for new technologies and made an investment of Ã‡70 million in Smart City technology projects to transform itself and promote high quality e-government services. The initiatives taken by the city include creation of a fibre network to manage competition-neutral infrastructure, development of a Science City for technology innovation and economic development, use of Big Data for transport and energy efficiency and promotion of open data in the city. As a result of these initiatives, Stockholm has moved one step forward to next generation e-government services and 90 per cent of communication within the city is via email or the Internet. Multinational ICT giants including Ericsson, Microsoft and IBM have set up their operations in the Science City. A significant reduction of CO2 has already been achieved and the city is also targeting to be CO2 neutral by 2030.
The challenge and approach in India has to be multi-dimensional. It has to internalise solutions for two kinds of development which will be undertaken simultaneously. First, how do we redevelop old cities which have already expanded significantly and as a result need urgent action? For such cities, city-specific solutions will need to be designed and implemented. The launch of the Smart Cities Mission by the Government of India is a bold and imaginative initiative in this direction. It is meant to set examples that can be replicated both within and outside the Smart City, catalysing the creation of similar Smart Cities in various regions and parts of the country.
The core infrastructure elements in a Smart City would include various aspects such as adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, sanitation (including solid waste management), efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing (especially for the poor), robust IT connectivity and digitalisation, good governance, especially e-governance and citizen participation, sustainable environment, safety and security of citizens (particularly women), children and the elderly, and health and education.
Thus, the Smart Cities Mission is expected to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to smart outcomes. Further, application of smart solutions will enable cities to use technology, information and data to improve infrastructure and services.
Area-based development will transform existing areas (with retrofitting and redevelopment), including slums, into better planned ones, thereby improving liveability of the whole city. The Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment project in Mumbai provides an interesting case study in this context.
The first phase covering two out of nine clusters will be redeveloped under this Smart City project in densely populated South Mumbai. The project covering 16.5 acres includes over 250 decrepit buildings with approximately 3,200 families and 1,250 shops being redeveloped with an overall investment of Rs 4,000 crore. The old dilapidated buildings will be replaced with 17 new towers with wide roads, modern infrastructure, more open spaces and highly visible commercial areas. In order to avoid the inconvenience to the residential tenants, temporary accommodation has been provided. The plan is to complete the first phase of the project within three years and the entire project will be completed in eight years. It is expected that the creation of smart infrastructure and availability of technology will infuse growth and open up new avenues for the businesses in the area.
Second, as India urbanises, there will be need for greenfield cities to be developed which will present an opportunity to leapfrog and to test and deploy cutting-edge solutions as constraints of land and prevailing infrastructure will be minimal. Gujarat International Finance Tec-City Company (GIFT) City provides an excellent example of one of the flagship Smart City projects being developed from scratch. Located in the vicinity of Ahmedabad International Airport and Gandhinagar, the project is a joint initiative of Gujarat Urban Development Company and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS). GIFT City aspires to cater to India’s large financial services potential by offering global firms world-class infrastructure and facilities. It aims to attract the top talent in the country by providing the finest quality of life with integrated townships.
GIFT City is estimated to provide an opportunity of over 500,000 direct and an equal number of indirect jobs, which would further create demand for 5.76 million square metres of real estate office and residential space.
Some of the salient and unique features of the GIFT City include integration of GIFT SEZ internal transportation system with external transport linkages to make it a ‘Zero Fatal Accident City’. It will also be ‘water neutral’, by recycling and reusing wastewater and treating water from the Narmada main canal. GIFT will also install an automated waste collection system and develop a data centre to provide common ICT infrastructure services and a central command & control system to respond quickly during emergencies. GIFT will thus become the Ã´best-practiceÃ¶ and represent the frontier which all greenfield cities will aspire to reach and maintain.
The Smart City Mission thus represents a tremendous opportunity for the country. It is a flagship initiative of the government and combined with the Swachh Bharat Mission, will transform the Indian urban landscape. The government needs to be commended for focusing on this long-neglected area and for designing an innovative scheme. The Centre, however, needs support from its counterparts in the State, financing community, developers and most importantly, citizens, for harnessing collective wisdom, energy and focus on delivering on this key initiative.
The future of Indian cities certainly looks brighter and the emerging opportunities are likely to provide employment and entrepreneurship options, particularly for the youth and underprivileged. In this context, I am pleased to mention that IMC Chamber of Commerce and Industry is keen to work and collaborate with both the Central and state governments on this initiative. It has hence established a Smart Cities and Infrastructure Committee under the Chairmanship of Hari Sankaran of IL&FS. It is also organising a flagship event titled Ã´Reimagining Urban Spaces and FinancingÃ¶ in Delhi on January 21, 2017, focused on the theme of Smart Cities. It is expected that the event will bring together various stakeholders to discuss and find solutions to deliver on the Smart Cities Mission. I call on all concerned to join hands with us and the government and contribute actively towards this critical building of the cities and the country.
About The Author
Deepak Premnarayen is President, Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC), and Chairman, FirstRand Bank India.