By the government’s definition, a Smart City is “not a destination but a series of small steps in that direction”. The list of 20 Smart Cities and towns shortlisted by the Centre on Thursday, though, appears to be a decisive step in this direction, considering that these cities have already furnished plans to cumulatively mobilise resources to the tune of Rs 50,802 crore over the next five years under the public-private-partnership route and invest these funds for rolling out “smart” interventions across an area spanning 26,735 acres through a mix of redevelopment and greenfield development. These include an integrated urban planning effort with a sharper focus on infrastructure, land use planning, transport, design and architecture.
Special purpose vehicles are likely to be floated for channeling these funds to build these Smart Cities. Given that the urbanisation level in India is still at just around 31 per cent, far lower than China’s 54 per cent, Brazil’s 90 per cent and well over 80 per cent in most developed economies, the NDA government’s policy thrust on upgrading urban infrastructure could see this list of 20 Smart Cities being expanded to 100 urban centres and the upgradation of basic infrastructure — under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) — across 500 cities with outlays of Rs 48,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore, respectively.
The importance of these urban centres as drivers of India’s growth story cannot be underestimated. McKinsey’s report — India’s economic geography in 2025: States, clusters, and cities—had identified 49 metropolitan growth clusters covering 183 districts across India, which it estimated would contribute 77 per cent of India’s incremental GDP, 72 per cent of consuming-class households, and 73 per cent of its incremental income pool in the 2012-25 period. In terms of economic growth policy making in India, the supply of affordable housing and large enough public transportation networks are central to the growth prospects of any large metropolitan area. States need to prioritise the long-term development of these areas, with the Centre stepping in wherever they overlap across states.
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So what is a ‘Smart City’
There is no universally accepted definition of a Smart City, with the conceptualisation varying from city-to-city and country-to-country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the residents. According to the Ministry of Urban Development, the Smart City Mission marks a paradigm shift towards urban development in the country since it is based on ‘bottom up’ approach with the involvement of citizens in formulation of city vision and smart city plans and the urban local bodies and state governments piloting the mission with little say for the Ministry of Urban Development.
The core infrastructure elements in a Smart City would include:
> 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.
Smart City features
Promoting mixed land use in area-based developments — planning for ‘unplanned areas’ containing a range of compatible activities and land uses close to one another in order to make land use more efficient. The states will enable some flexibility in land use and building bye-laws to adapt to change;
> Housing and inclusiveness — expand housing opportunities for all;
> Creating walkable localities — reduce congestion, air pollution and resource depletion, boost local economy, promote interactions and ensure security. The roads are created or refurbished not only for vehicles and public transport, but also for pedestrians and cyclists, and necessary administrative services are offered within walking/cycling distance;
> Preserving and developing open spaces — parks, playgrounds, and recreational spaces in order to enhance the quality of life of citizens, reduce the urban heat effects in areas and generally promote eco-balance;
> Promoting a variety of transport options — Transit Oriented Development (TOD), public transport and last mile para-transport connectivity;
> Making governance citizen-friendly and cost effective — increasingly rely on online services to bring about accountability and transparency, especially using mobiles to reduce cost of services and providing services without having to go to municipal offices; form e-groups to listen to people and obtain feedback and use online monitoring of programs and activities with the aid of cyber tour of worksites
> Giving an identity to the city — based on its main economic activity, such as local cuisine, health, education, culture, sports goods, furniture, hosiery, textile, dairy, etc;
> Applying Smart Solutions to infrastructure and services in area-based development in order to make them better — making areas less vulnerable to disasters, using fewer resources, and providing cheaper services.
What is novel in the selection of these cities, is that the winners from 11 states and the Union Territory of Delhi were selected after a competition between cities. Of these cities accounting for a population of 3.54 crore, five have a population below 5 lakh each, four in the range of 5-10 lakh, six in between 10-25 lakh, four between 25 and 50 lakh and only Ahmedabad having a population above 50 lakh.