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This is the framework required to ensure the vision of the smart city translates from innovative engineering, architectural and technological ideas, into reality.
Modern civilizations of the world have witnessed differential growth leading to an increase in the complexities of how cities or towns need to be managed, funded, regulated and designed. Coupled with the fact that burgeoning populations in certain parts of the world are causing a strain on the depleting natural resources and the existing infrastructure, it comes across as no surprise that governments are looking for novel forms of spatial intelligence to mitigate the problems generated by rapid urbanization. The demand for smart cities has increasingly gained momentum through the past decade. While the concept exists in one form or another within India and internationally, the government of India is now making concerted efforts to formally implement the concept throughout the country. Some of the key projects already underway in India such as the Gujarat Infrastructure Tech-City (GIFT) in Prime Minister Modi´s home State to the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) highlight how innovative solutions in infrastructure development, planning, local governance, environmental protection and delivery systems can leverage the collective intelligence of all the stakeholders in a community.
This article aims to discuss the framework required to ensure the vision of the smart city translates from innovative engineering, architectural and technological ideas into reality.
Creation of a blueprint
While cities around the world are aiming to be ´smart´, they don´t necessarily speak the same language. A ´smart city´ involves several initiatives-management and organization, technology, governance, policy, people and communities, economy, physical infra¡structure, and the environment. What the universal cacophony of nomenclatures seems to suggest is that a smart city is merely an efficient integration of sectors and stakeholders, aided by information and communications technology (ICT), acting as its central nervous system.
The foundation of brick and mortar coupled ideally with embedded systems of smart grids, devices, sensors and actuators, cloud computing and future media technologies, Wi-Fi hot spots and information kioks to connect to the Internet would offer real time data streaming to the urban local bodies to improve sustainability and the ecosystem, thereby making the city ´smart´. Perhaps, the present Delhi government´s bid to provide free Wi-Fi throughout Delhi could be seen as a step towards smartening up the city.
However, different challenges are inherent when the government seeks to set up a greenfield project such as GIFT or DMIC vis-a-vis making an existing city smarter. In a greenfield project, the focus is usually on optimising land and real estate values, global connectivity and generation next infrastructure. At the heart of it, the ICT is a multi-layered organism of core infrastructure, services and external connectivity and platform and services. The project is further incentivised through economies of scale in infrastructure, standardization of applications and turnkey solutions for software as a service, private sector investment, public private partnerships (PPP) and suitable regulatory regime. Real estate packages may be offered in the form of shell furnished, plug and play or press and play spaces and site development and infrastructure are contracted out to private players. Special Purpose Vehicles are incorporated in association with private companies for critical utilities such as heating and cooling, water management, sanitation, waste management, power and management of ICT services. Finally, to reduce bureaucratic hurdles and create a one-stop authority for clearances and approvals, a single window area development authority is established. Conversely, in a brownfield project such as an existing city or town, the skeletal structure of urban local bodies and legislative framework is already operational and the market is fragmented. There are different government departments for different sectors; there is often a lack of integration of resources and technical knowhow to implement the smart city initiatives amongst the departments and an absence of a uniform legislative framework.
The Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation (MoUD&PA) has developed model building bye-laws to protect buildings against fire, earthquake, noise, structural failures and other hazards. The building bye-laws, however, do not set out any requirements for installing water harvesting facilities, water recycling, water and wastewater management, use of renewable energy and energy saving technologies. There is a separate code for making buildings energy efficient; the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has published the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) to provide minimum requirements for energy efficient design and construction of buildings and their systems. There are also a variety of certifications available for a building, based on assorted benchmarks, issued by the BEE, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the Indian Green Building Council. None of these policy frameworks envision the adoption of smart technology such as ICT platforms, smart grid and broadband infrastructure, sensors to communicate with the city´s infrastructure and for safety and security. Even the procedure for procuring approvals, consents and licenses can often be tedious. Apart from approvals required from different ministries under multiple legislation, several of these approvals differ from State to State, project to project. The time period applicable to procuring such approvals differs between ministries and departments as well. These lacunae in building codes need serious consideration, and appropriate local and Central legislations are the need of the hour for an adequate framework for smart cities.
Smart energy and the environment
In this country where energy security and independence brings the government much woe, there is a need for identifying new methods of harnessing energy and its storage. Much of India´s energy demand is met with conventional sources of energy, with renewable sources steadily gaining momentum through government initiatives and incentives. While India is interested in smart grid, smart metering, energy storage, reduced carbon emissions and renewable energy technologies, the Electricity Act, 2003 (Electricity Act), has failed to catch up with the development in these novel energy technologies. A significant relook at the Electricity Act to provide for these measures may be required.
Currently, governmental departments within States and the country as a whole, work in silos. The National Policy on Information Technology 2012, inter alia, encourages transparency, accountability, efficiency, reliability and decentralization in the government particularly through e-governance. However, the MoUD&PA´s Model Municipal Law (Municipal Law), while assisting urban local bodies in the areas of accounting reforms, resource mobilization and entry of private sector partnership, makes no mention of incorporation of technologies for e-governance. E-governance refers to the use of electronic technology by the government bodies to ensure accountability and transparency in delivery of services. Nevertheless, some smart initiatives are already underway at the district and State level which include land records computerization programmes, computerized systems to track poaching and other offences against wildlife in State forests, local monitoring systems known as the Computerized Rural Informatics System Project within districts to monitor projects and a communication facility network known as the Vulnerability Self Assessment Software Tool to alert the government officials in the event of a disaster and help them plan responses better.
Additionally, social and mobile applications have also been developed by the government for electronic delivery of public services, thereby making information easily available and encouraging online transactions. E-governance also places an emphasis on open and accessible data. While the Right to Information Act, 2005 allows the applicant to have access to the data, the data is available only to the applicant. The National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy 2012 (Data Policy) makes some of the public data available to the general public; however it is directed mainly at Central government agencies, it only applies to all data and information created, generated, collected and archived using public funds provided by the government of India directly or through authorized agencies by various ministries/ departments/organizations/agencies and autonomous bodies.
Furthermore, the Data Policy does not cover the governance process and the interactions between the government and the citizens. A consolidated legislation would harmonise all these e-governance initiatives.
Smart use of land and mixed use development
The government is proposing to do away with several hurdles that may come up while proposing infrastructure reforms. The amendment to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Land Acquisition Amendment Act), which is currently in ordinance state, seeks to relax the requirement of consent, preparation of social impact assessment, safeguarding food safety for projects concerning, inter alia, rural infrastructure including electrification; affordable housing and housing for poor; industrial corridors; infrastructure and social infrastructure projects including projects under public private partnership where the ownership of the land continues to vest with the government. Further, land may also now be acquired for private hospitals and private educational institutions, which have now been included within the meaning of public purpose. If the amendments are approved, development of smart cities within greenfield projects would definitely be expedited. In addition to the Land Acquisition Amendment Act, cities are also subject to different development control regulations. These regulations set out to control, inter alia, reserve pricing mechanism, reservation of land for public open spaces, land pooling mechanism, cluster redevelopment and transfer of development rights. However, the existing legislation pertaining to development of land do not take into account the comprehensive changes in urban mobility and access and land management for transit oriented and mixed use development. To initiate these changes, the government is required to, inter alia, revisit and revise the existing FAR and integrate ICT, GIS and spatial mapping into such developments.
In addition to the traditional means of public transport (on land) by trains and buses, the government is also promoting other forms of mass transit such as bus rapid transit, Metro-rail systems, monorail transit system and other light rail transit systems. While there exist legislation overseeing the construction, operation and maintenance of metro transit systems enacted by the MoUD&PA, there is no country wide appropriate legislative framework applicable to the other advanced transit systems; the Indian Tramways Act 1902 does not take into account the advancement in rail technologies. Further, these transit systems focus on urban mobility without taking into account holistic development required for a smart city. There is insufficient or poorly maintained pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, lack of public amenities around stations, parking management, public spaces management and adequate measures for safety and security of women. Not only is there no legislation in place encouraging agencies to collect data on traffic and public transport services, traffic monitoring and management, congestion management, emergency response, public information systems, smart parking and integrated traffic light management, the existing legislations do not entail making conscious efforts towards land management, integrating multiple modes of transport and coordination of urban local bodies, State authorities and agencies.
Conditions precedent-an integrative framework
A government cannot innovate without a normative initiative in legislative framework. First and foremost, the government needs to define what a ´smart city´ entails in order to understand what the government intends to put on the centre-stage. This will help the government streamline all the policies and regulations that would be required to cover all the smart city initiatives. One such key development would be a comprehensive legislation governing the construction of energy efficient affordable housings, transit oriented and mixed use development such as housing development near transit routes, safe and secure access to residential, commercial and industrial areas and urban transit systems, etc. The legislation should also include a list of all the approvals required for an infrastructure project, project wise and State wise and ensure that there is a uniform time-limit for grant of such approvals from a single window authority.
The Electricity Act and Municipal Law should also be amended to fill up the loopholes that act as barriers for smart city initiatives. For improving urban governance, the concept of e-governance and the open data needs to be included into the municipal laws. The government should also consider setting up a one-stop shop for all government websites. Such a website would contain a list of all the urban local bodies and authorities and the applicable legislation for the smart city initiatives and the tenders and incentives that are being offered to national and international players. The government should also amend the legislation governing metros to include all forms of mass transit and smart technology initiatives. While the Land Acquisition Amendment Act would expedite land acquisition, it remains to be seen whether it would receive Parliamentary approval.
DISCLAIMER: This article has been authored by Aakanksha Joshi, who is an Associate Partner and Pooja Chatterjee, who is an Associate Manager at Economic Laws Practice (ELP), Advocates & Solicitors. The information provided in the article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal opinion or advice. Readers are requested to seek formal legal advice prior to acting upon any of the information provided herein.