The objective of the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a descent quality of life to its citizen, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ solutions. Under Smart Cities Mission, Central Government plans to give financial support to the Mission to the extent of Rs.48,000 crores over the Mission Period i.e. on an average of Rs.100 crores per city per year. An equal amount on matching basis will have to be contributed by the State Government or the concerned urban local body. According to the government, since the launch of the Mission in 2015, Rs.13846.20 crore have been released to State Government/UTs for development of cities selected as Smart Cities. Further, the government data shows that the 100 cities have proposed 5151 projects worth Rs. 2,05,018 crore. As on 30th November, 2018, 2342 projects worth Rs.90929 crore have been tendered, of which 1675 projects worth Rs. 51866 crore have been taken up for implementation. 525 projects worth Rs. 10079 crore have been completed.
If the statistics have to be believed, the government deserves an applaud for the pace of implementation of the Smart City projects. However, ground realities give altogether different picture. On the ground, numerous instances have come to the light where one agency undoing the work done by another agency and lack of coordination between implementing agencies is a major reason why the intended benefits of SCM are still not visible to public. There may be some coordination between various government agencies at the planning stage but the same is not visible at the implementation level which in turn has led to delay in project execution and also wastage of resources. There is urgent need for proper convergence with other schemes of the Ministry like AMRUT, Swachh Bharat Mission, etc. to make smaller towns and villages also ‘smart’ avoiding creation of uneven development and digital divide by the new/ retrofitted smart cities.
There are also issues relating to reported false claim of work done under SCM. This clearly indicates that monitoring mechanism presently deployed is weak and it need to be ramped up at district, state and national level and be made more efficient. Questions are also raised about the quality of work done under SCM which again points at imperfect monitoring mechanism and corruption at the ground level.
One of the biggest hurdles faced by the SCM is shortage of urban planners in the country. There seems to be also issues regarding the quality and experience of the urban planners in the country. By any standard 5,500 urban planners who are working under the Mission with ULBs is too less and it will not only increase the work load on existing planners but also will impact the quality of work done by them. Just by issuing a directive to all state governments the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs cannot shrug off its responsibility of ensuring sufficient number of urban and town planners in the country. In next three decades, the pace of urbanisation is going to pick up further which in turn will need more urban planners in the country. According to one estimation, the country will need more than 300,000 urban planners by 2030 and considering the present educational infrastructure, producing that many urban planners is highly unlikely. Further, global experts and several study groups have indicated that urbanisation will be a global phenomenon at least for next three decades. Thus, demand for urban planners will not be restricted to local level but will be extended to global arena. In other words, there will be intense competition to attract talented urban planners at the international level. MOHUA should coordinate with Department of Higher Education to chalk out ways and means to bring out talented urban planners from our universities.
Before launching a smart cities project, it is important to set up the right framework for success. The key for success in SCM is to strategically pick up the projects that will bring the most impact to a city and result in the most good. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in front of the planners is to decide where to begin the smart-city journey. Simple answer to that big challenge is to start with basics. The four big pillars for smart cities are urban mobility, energy, telecommunications and public safety and the SCM has to ensure that. It’s important to get the basics right before attempting higher profile projects. Cities should be concentrating on what they need to do and what they can do best and they have concentrate on doing that. They have to leave rest aside, including glamour part.