M Nagarajan, Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Surat and Chief Executive Officer, Surat Smart City Development
How is Surat Smart City progressing in its endeavour to become India's smartest city?
Our city was ranked fourth in the first smart city challenge. We are also part of the 20 lighthouse cities in round 1. From March 2016, we have started implementing projects. Since then, we have covered a lot of ground and almost 95 per cent of the work order for the projects have been released. Out of 38 projects, we have completed 10 and some of the long-gestation infrastructure projects are going as per schedule. Under the Smart City Mission (SCM), we have been recognised as the largest spender by the Government of India.
So, in terms of expenditure and actual implementation, I can confidently say that the SCM is progressing. In our first tranche, we have so far received a total of Rs 4 billion from the municipal corporation, state and central governments, of which we have already spent Rs 2 billion. Our total project value stands at Rs 29 billion of which public-private participation (PPP) is a major contributor with Rs 19 billion and around Rs 10 billion is the capital outlay for other projects.
Tell us about one of the best projects that you recently implemented?
There is not just one, but a gamut of projects covering the public transit system that I can talk about. Managing public transport is a big challenge in any city. However, Surat has overcome this challenge effectively. We implemented an intelligent transit management system (ITMS) through which the city authority can monitor movement of city and bus rapid transit system (BRTS) buses. This has also helped the city administration to manage bus routes in an efficient way.
In addition, we have also implemented an intelligent traffic control system (ITCS) covering automatic traffic controls, red light violations, automatic number plate detection, speed violation and wrong-side driving. To manage fare collection, the city has implemented an automatic fare collection system. All these three projects have been integrated to improve the transit and public transport scenario of Surat city.
A year and half ago, nearly 25,000 commuters used to travel by our BRTS each day, and the number has now risen to 2 lakh passengers per day. Efficient management of public transport has helped us improve both passenger numbers and revenue. This has further led the city authorities to improve operational efficiency too. The icing on the cake is that Surat has introduced a payment card called Surat Money Card. This is a common city payment card based on an open loop technology, which carries details such as property, library, swimming membership, etc., and can be used in retail shops, malls, public transport or for payment of taxes. Through this, the city introduces the 'one city, one card' concept.
We will be also introducing service points across the city so that the citizen need not travel to civic offices. We already have online services in the virtual civic centre, and this would be an extension of it. This is first of its kind. We have worked with National Payments Corporation of India to create non-transit standards which will have an impact not only in Surat but all over the nation.
Do you see any funding challenges considering the number of projects undertaken by Surat Smart City?
If you see a combination of project proposals for Surat Smart City, funding is required only for 40 per cent of the projects and the remaining 60 per cent is based on publicûprivate partnership (PPP). So we are tapping more private investment.
That said, an in-situ rehabilitation of slum will take place through a PPP housing model where the developer will take care of the project for two years, including construction, shifting of displaced citizens to the project and clearing the available area for which the developer will get the transferable development rights. This is a unique model and we will be having around 5,000 dwelling units built under this scheme.
Apart from this, we are also looking at municipal bonds and working on our rating parameter to hit the market with good credentials. We have seen some improvements and are working on bankable projects, besides improving the economic base of the city. We have a good financial base, but it needs to be brought into
an evaluation criteria.
What is the worth of projects to be sanctioned in this financial year?
In the last financial year, we issued work orders worth Rs 20 billion. We still have a few major projects worth Rs 5 billion in the last tranche that we will be implementing in the current financial year.
Which areas do you think can be made more attractive to the projects in the city?
Some such as water treatment, renewable energy, recycling of water, and other projects of energy generation, such as waste-to-energy segregation projects have good scope in Surat, as the challenge is to work on the waste generated in the city.