CEOSPEAK: In quest of smart ci­ties

Har­shavard­han Neo­tia*

FICCI Business Digest - - Contents - Har­shavard­han Neo­tia is Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of FICCI and Chair­man of Am­buja Neo­tia Group.

The fo­cus on man­ag­ing ur­ban­i­sa­tion is sig­nif­i­cant. Af­ter China, In­dia ac­counts for the largest ur­ban pop­u­la­tion in the world. And In­dia will dis­place China and con­trib­ute the most to the pro­jected in­crease in the global ur­ban pop­u­la­tion be­tween 2014 and 2050, ac­cord­ing to World Ur­ban­iza­tion Prospects: The 2014

Re­vi­sion, a re­port re­leased by the United Na­tions a few months ago.

One of the points the re­port makes in the con­text of the global ur­ban­i­sa­tion trend is that gov­ern­ments should try to achieve a bal­anced dis­tri­bu­tion of ur­ban growth, which means that poli­cies should be aimed at pro­mot­ing the de­vel­op­ment of in­ter­me­di­ate sized ci­ties. Th­ese should en­sure that the ben­e­fits of ur­ban­i­sa­tion are shared eq­ui­tably. Mi­gra­tion can­not be re­stricted, but sus­tain­abil­ity is a key word.

The In­dian gov­ern­ment has rightly an­tic­i­pated the emer­gence of the “neo mid­dle class” which has as­pi­ra­tion of bet­ter liv­ing stan­dards. Tak­ing a ma­jor step in its bid to re­cast the coun­try's ur­ban land­scape, the gov­ern­ment has taken up a pro­gres­sive plan to de­velop 100 smart ci­ties and trans­form its ex­ist­ing ci­ties. Un­de­ni­ably, the smart city is an al­lur­ing vi­sion of the fu­ture which is likely to make ci­ties more liv­able and in­clu­sive and drive eco­nomic growth. The Union Cabi­net ap­proved Cen­tral gov­ern­ment spend­ing worth Rs. 98,000 crore un­der two new ur­ban mis­sions over the next five years - the Smart Ci­ties Mis­sion un­der which 100 smart ci­ties would be built and the Atal Mis­sion for Re­ju­ve­na­tion and Ur­ban Trans­for­ma­tion (AM­RUT) for 500 ci­ties with out­lays of Rs. 48,000 crore and Rs. 50,000 crore, re­spec­tively.

In­creased de­mand for in­fras­truc­ture, hous­ing, trans­porta­tion, jobs, en­ergy, food and wa­ter are all strain­ing city ad­min­is­tra­tions and in­fras­truc­ture, as peo­ple around the world flock to ur­ban cen­ters in hopes of a bet­ter life and more op­por­tu­nity. Mak­ing ci­ties more in­stru­mented, in­ter­con­nected and in­tel­li­gent isn't only about over­com­ing the chal­lenges ci­ties face. It is about rec­og­niz­ing that many of the chal­lenges we face in mak­ing a smarter planet are cen­tered on cre­at­ing sus­tain­able ci­ties. That said if there were ever a time to fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing so­lu­tions for sus­tain­able ci­ties, that time is now.

In In­dia, as the di­a­logue on smart ci­ties gath­ered sig­nif­i­cant mo­men­tum over the last sev­eral months, it in­cluded a set of bench­marks. From health, ed­u­ca­tion, elec­tric­ity to trans­port, wa­ter sup­ply, san­i­ta­tion to solid waste, telecom etc.

As the union ur­ban de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter has been re­peat­edly em­pha­sis­ing, smart

ci­ties would es­sen­tially mean smart peo­ple on the one hand and smart gov­er­nance on the other. The ques­tion is whether our city gov­er­nance sys­tem is ready for the big chal­lenge.

The sin­gle ma­jor chal­lenge fac­ing the coun­try's ur­ban re­newal and de­vel­op­ment is the lack of skilled work­force. An as­sess­ment by the In­dian Ur­ban Space Foundation stated that In­dia re­quires about 40,000 ur­ban plan­ners com­pared to ap­prox­i­mately 3,000 reg­is­tered with the In­sti­tute of Town Plan­ners, In­dia. Few in­sti­tutes in In­dia have new-age pro­grammes that in­te­grate ar­chi­tec­ture, en­gi­neer­ing, man­age­ment, geo­graphic in­for­ma­tion sys­tems, en­vi­ron­ment, eco­nom­ics, so­ci­ol­ogy, ge­og­ra­phy and ur­ban gov­er­nance.

At present, In­dian ci­ties strug­gle to pro­vide even ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties such as wa­ter, trans­porta­tion, solid waste man­age­ment and sewage treat­ment to res­i­dents. McKin­sey re­ports that the qual­ity of ur­ban ser­vices will de­te­ri­o­rate sharply by 2030, if present trends per­sist. For ex­am­ple, while ci­ties re­quired 83 bil­lion litres of wa­ter per day in 2007, the sup­ply was only 56 bil­lion litres. By 2030, the sup­ply will be 95 bil­lion litres while the de­mand will rise to 189 bil­lion litres. Sim­i­larly, while the sup­ply of af­ford­able hous­ing in 2007 was five mil­lion units, the de­mand was 30 mil­lion units. In 2030, the sup­ply will be 12 mil­lion units ver­sus de­mand for 50 mil­lion units. The gap in other ser­vice sec­tors, that is solid waste man­age­ment, sewage and trans­porta­tion will be sim­i­lar. To man­age this, In­dia will re­quire an ad­di­tional in­vest­ment of $1.2 tril­lion, McKin­sey es­ti­mates. Smart ci­ties pro­pose to man­age th­ese and other ur­ban is­sues through tech­nol­ogy in­ter­ven­tions at dif­fer­ent lev­els.

Nass­com in its re­cent re­port re­gard­ing smart city mis­sion said ICT frame­work sug­gested by it will ad­dress the unique chal­lenges faced by In­dian ci­ties and pro­vide an in­te­grated per­spec­tive across the key pil­lars of phys­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture, so­cial in­fras­truc­ture, en­vi­ron­men­tal and in­sti­tu­tional (gov­er­nance). While Nass­com per­spec­tive is ap­pre­ci­ated, we should be care­ful as ci­ties be­come more con­nected; their sys­tems - from traf­fic lights to util­i­ties me­ters are in­creas­ingly open to hack­ers. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent The Guardian ar­ti­cle, a lead­ing in­ter­net se­cu­rity re­searcher has warned that the smart ci­ties of the fu­ture could be more vul­ner­a­ble to hack­ers than the com­put­ers and smart­phones of to­day. Last year, Ce­sar Cer­rudo, an Ar­gen­tine se­cu­rity re­searcher, pointed out crit­i­cal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in Amer­ica's so-called smart ci­ties, where wire­less sen­sors con­trol a grow­ing por­tion of city in­fras­truc­ture from traf­fic lights to wa­ter and waste man­age­ment sys­tems.

The smart city con­cept holds an ar­ray of op­por­tu­ni­ties for fu­ture of ci­ties and city mak­ing in In­dia. Smart ci­ties is a process rather than as a static out­come, in which in­creased cit­i­zen en­gage­ment, hard in­fras­truc­ture, so­cial cap­i­tal and dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies make ci­ties more liv­able, re­silient and bet­ter able to re­spond to chal­lenges. The con­cept of live and work has al­ready been en­grained in the phi­los­o­phy of smart ci­ties. In­cu­ba­tion and startup ecosys­tems are still at a very nascent stage in In­dia and the sus­tain­abil­ity model is still be­ing fig­ured out. In­dian ci­ties need ur­ban so­lu­tions which are af­ford­able by cit­i­zens. There­fore, we need fru­gal in­no­va­tion suit­able to In­dian con­di­tions, life­style and af­ford­abil­ity.

We are at the thresh­old of an ex­cit­ing new In­dia where 'Smart City' is a sig­nif­i­cant phe­nom­e­non. It is a ral­ly­ing con­cept for all of us to work to­gether to trans­form our fu­ture. *

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