Today, 70 per cent of our GDP comes from urban areas while the investment for urban development is only 0.70 per cent. Now, according to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, Indias urban population is projected to increase from 34 crore in 2008 to 59 crore in 2030. With already 53 cities having a population of over 1 million-slated to grow to 68 in 2030-the need to plan and manage services to take care of a density of 12,000 people per sq km is daunting. Further, according to a High Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) report in 2012, the estimates for urban infrastructure in the eight core services of water supply, sewerage, solid waste management, storm water drains, urban roads, urban transport, street lighting and traffic support infrastructure amount to Rs 39.2 lakh crore over 20 years. In addition, the HPEC has also estimated Rs 19.9 lakh crore towards operation and maintenance over the 20-year period. A whopping Rs 60 lakh crore or $1 trillion over 20 years just to look after growing population needs!
Further, to meet urban demand, the economy will have to build between 700 million and 900 million square metres of residential and commercial space a year and to support this, we would need to build 350 to 400 kilometres of Metros and subways and between 19,000 and 25,000 kilometres of road lanes every year. With such a high demand on financial resources, planning needs to be brought centre-stage. Hence, the concept of smart cities encourages debate and thought with regard to the planning of future cities in India.
As policymakers put their heads together to come out with a comprehensive framework defining and putting the smart cities agenda in perspective, there is a case of looking back and taking into account the positives of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and the way we plan and implement projects. As noted economist and Chairperson, Board of Governors, the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations Isher Judge Ahluwalia had told Infrastructure Today in an interview a few months back, "At present, planning is in silos. For example, we have a framework of Master Plans, a sanitation policy, an urban transport policy, etc., but we need to bring these together and see how to make it all work within our federal framework. The reason this is extremely important is that cities have to play a very important role as engines of growth as our economy goes through significant structural transformation. There is going to be more migration from rural to urban India; urban GDP accounts for about 2/3rd of the total GDP at present, and by 2031 it is expected to constitute 3/4th of the total."
In her book Transforming our Cities, Ahluwalia has captured the success stories of the JNNURM mission in her book including town planning schemes for urban expansion in Gujarat, how Nagpur has worked towards 24x7 water for all and how Navi Mumbai has taken to treating of wastewater for reuse. Her findings do indicate the presence of a number of smart but scattered initiatives that need to be brought under one comprehensive plan with clear policy initiatives.
If by investing just 0.70 per cent of our GDP we can harness 70 per cent of our GDP, then smarter cities will reap a richer harvest. Going by requirement of building new smart cities, 100 smart cities will cost over $1 trillion and we still need to sustain our existing cities in managing the urban migration taking the total fund requirement to $2 trillion. Now is the time to converge all smart learnings into enabling the creation of smarter, sustainable and livable cities.