Smart Cities Mission was started on 25th June, 2015 for promoting 100 cities in the country in four different rounds for core infrastructure giving decent quality of life to the citizens for core issue of livability, economic ability and sustainability through Area Based Development and Pan City Development. When the Government of India introduced its Smart City Mission back in 2015, it was met with widespread approval, fist pumps and the feeling of quantifiable development. An assessment of the programme after five years of launch leaves much to be desired giving rise to ‘Oh not again!’ kind of feeling.
For the success of the city development, project planners need to pay attention to four pillars of city development, that is, Physical Infrastructure, Institutional Infrastructure, Social Infrastructure and Economic Infrastructure. Any one particular pillar should not get precedence over the rest. Just as all four tyres of a vehicles need to be in working condition for it to move forward, a city also should have all these four pillars in good working condition for the proper development of the city.
But that exactly is not happening in case of smart city mission with physical infrastructure being given the most prominence while other aspects are being ignored completely. Even in case of physical infrastructure, there are many instances where local needs are given least importance. For example, in Surat, work of improving footpaths was taken up even when it was not needed. It’s also reported that after the SCM work started in the city traffic jams have increased. In Jaipur, one of the main roads is being closed for upgradation which did not happen for long thus putting locals into lot of problems. In Raipur, funds were spent on constructing cycle tracks which have been thoroughly unutilized. Patna has been facing the problem of floods when the city gets inundated by sewerage and no solutions have been found out for this problem yet. All these instances also indicate that views of locals have not been considered while taking up development works. As a result, projects are being undertaken and funds are being spent with no substantial improvement in ground realities. This type of approach will turn this programme also into any other failed government programmes. Unless the projects are prioritised based on local needs it will just turn into wasteful expenditure which the economy can ill afford at this juncture.
The success of the programme cannot be gauged solely on the basis of ‘Projects Tendered’ ‘Work Orders Issued’ ‘Project Completed; Field visits undertaken to States/UTs, Apex level of conferences of CEOs of Smart Cities organized from time to time. Involvement of the local population in decision making and the ability of the projects to make difference in the life of the people living there are the ultimate tests of the success of the programme in which SCM has not secured much success so far. There are complaints that even the local MPs are not involved in the decision making process of the SCM projects.
Smart city concepts that are in their infancy of development and deployment combine connectivity, large scale data management and analyses, communications, and new approaches to solving old problems such as congestion, safety, and economic vitality to bring new solutions to communities.
We need to learn through our past and present efforts that rather than just “thinking outside the box” we can move the needle much further if we eliminate the box all together, roll up our sleeves, and turn on our collective imagination. We need to encapsulate the “how” as well as justify “why” specific smart city project to achieve the objective specified at the time of its launch.