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Towards a Smarter India

Towards a Smarter India

Institutional accountability and operational sustainability ingrained in India’s Smart City mission will steer urban local bodies towards more efficient delivery, says Ashish Tandon, MD, Egis in India.

India is unique in many ways. It is one of the oldest surviving civilisations and still promises to drive the world economy for many years to come. It has the potential to power global manufacturing and offer solutions to medical & educational needs of all of Asia – and the world. But for India to really achieve its true potential in the global arena, mere potential will not suffice. There is need for heightened investments and planning to thrive in a highly evolving globalised world.

The problem
As we all know, India has been predominantly an agrarian economy with more than 50 per cent of GDP contribution from agriculture in the 1950s. With passing years, the contribution of agriculture started coming down in GDP. Today it stands below 20 per cent. Industrialisation led to mass migration of rural population into cities and started straining the infrastructure in the urban areas. The cities were ill-equipped to handle this sudden growth, leading to unsystematic and unplanned expansion that caused tremendous problems in offering hygienic potable water, clean roads, easy commute, healthy living spaces, lack of sustainable energy sources and drainage solutions. The unplanned expansion also led to development of industrial and commercial spaces which were not strategically located and it added to the friction. The existing infrastructure – transportation, water, energy, housing ù everything is already stretched to serve the existing population.

Imagine if ‘Make in India’, aimed at promoting manufacturing in India, is a massive success. Imagine if more companies come to India to set up shop. The infrastructure would be stretched even more. The airports, roads and waterways will be insufficient in their present state to manage the additional traffic of goods, raw materials and people. The cities will be inadequate to accommodate more migration from rural areas. This will add to a lot of chaos if not handled properly and hence may not be sustainable in the long run if not addressed now.

Infrastructure constraints
The government’s decision to develop Smart Cities comes as a great relief to the infrastructure domain. This would, for the first time, offer the opportunity to have a bird’s eye view of present and future demands and then plan solutions that can be sustained for generations. A Smart City would be a planned initiative that will enable planned living and workspaces that integrate smart transport, smart energy solutions, smart water solutions and smart living conditions ù all bundled in one.

The European model
Cities in Europe manage the challenge of combining competitiveness and sustainable urban development simultaneously. The Smart Cities globally focus on developing sustainable infrastructure ù by orchestrating urban systems that minimise resource utilisation, reduce waste generation and encourage sustainable practices for operations & maintainance of infrastructure projects .

Beyond pipelines and building shells, the Smart City initiative proposes focusing on integrated development, urban planning, urban transport, water supply, sanitation, waste management, architecture & heritage, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. A Smart City is not just a technology-enabled city. Technology is just a small but integral part of it; it’s a city where essential functions are optimised, modernised and made self-sustainable through the use of smart technology.

India must explore the innovations and technology actively being accepted, adopted and developed in Europe. Spain and France are at the forefront of such initiatives, Barcelona and Paris being exemplary representations. Knowledge sharing is done at various levels and forums. A conference on ôUrban lighting in the era of connected citiesö moderated by LUCI on the 7th of December 2015 brought together the cities of Los Angeles and Paris, as well as companies ù Egis and others ù to discuss how public lighting can become more connected, more energy-saving and more efficient.

The French smart initiatives have long focused on creation of digital infrastructure, and predictive modelling as a basis for augmentation of environmental sustainability and energy optimisation measures. Strong on aesthetics as well as energy conservation, the French model of development focuses on the user at the centre.

A typical example is the Climate Energy Plan of Paris which aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In order to achieve long-term energy goals, the high-rises integrate several energy-production techniques to ensure their constant adherence to sustainable efforts. Within the walls of these high-rises, high density urban structures, natural processes (passive heating and cooling, oxygenation, rainwater retention) are utilised wherever possible to create self-sustaining units. Additionally, the creation of green spaces and suspended gardens, infuse the purifying effects of rural life into the city and encourage residents to involve themselves in cultivating a sustainable lifestyle.

The India Mandate
The Smart City mission of the Government of India is a decisive step in the right direction. The framework for institutional accountability and operational sustainability that are ingrained in the mission will hopefully steer our urban local bodies into more efficient delivery.

However, each city will have to take on the challenge of implementation. The funds allocated to the various mission cities as seed money, in tandem with available convergence and potential public-private partnerships (PPPs), must be gainfully invested by the city stakeholders.

A few essential steps towards achieving inclusive long-term smart goals would be 

  • Creating forums for knowledge sharing;
  • Crafting platforms for extensive citizen participation;
  • Aggregating a digital database with 2D & 3D spatial mapping;
  • Exemplary project management at Ground Zero to implement the projects in brown-field conditions;
  • Interactive portals for city infrastructure mainte-nance and grievance redressal;
  • Greater automation of networks and services in connectivity, safety and welfare (health & education);
  • Encouraging private partnership in bringing citizen friendly initiatives and programmes for greater accessibility;

A mind-set revolution where the urban service provider is seen as an accountable, efficiently run and revenue generating organisation, sensitive to citizen exigencies and expectations.

A Smart City primarily has two major stakeholders – the government and the people.
The process of implementation must be collaborative and participative. Let’s involve our citizens, the primary beneficiaries, in water conservation (harvesting & recycling), in waste management (collection & segregation), in actively producing alternative energy (solar rooftop generation), and, in creating a greener, healthier environment by embracing non-motorised transport solutions.

The Smart City mission aims to take the city to its people. It is just a tool to enhance systems that need the wholehearted support of both the stakeholders. We, the people, will play a pivotal role in the sustenance of a Smart City. We must rise to the challenge as planners, as designers and engineers, as implementation specialists and as citizens of a nation knocking on the doors of global citizenship.

People need to be trained and groomed to adapt to the transparent, apolitical and accountable way of life envisaged by a Smart City. And the government needs to create an environment that facilitates a systematic and smart way of life. Only then, I feel, a Smart City can truly be successful in India and make a positive difference to Indian urbanism.

Technology: The great enabler
As mentioned earlier, a Smart City is more than just a technology enabled city. But technology will play a pivotal role in making any city smart. The government’s ‘Digital India’ initiative will act as a big enabler in this endeavour. Imagine an India where Big Data is available for public welfare. Systems and processes could be developed based on past data on usage and then these could be automated and managed without active human intervention.

Swachh Bharat could be made successful without regular monitoring by automated waste management systems. Pollution could be kept in control by employing technological tools for vigilance and planned automated pre-decided actions. Imagine the amount of manpower that could be made available for more productive and profitable activities for building this great nation if mundane activities could be put in auto-pilot mode using technology. This is the potential of the ‘Digital India’ campaign if deployed well and correctly.

A Smarter Nation
I don’t see ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Swachh Bharat’ and Smart Cities as separate campaigns. I see them as steps of a ladder that leads to a Smarter India. An India that is ready to take on the onus of being the nucleus of global manufacturing and business.

One campaign cannot happen without the other. The success of each of the above initiatives by the government is inter-related.

These are interesting times. And we are at the threshold of enormous economic growth as a nation. I am sure that if we put all our energies into making a smarter India, success will be ours.

About The Author
Ashish Tandon
is MD, Egis in India.

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