Strength­en­ing ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies to build smart cities

The am­bi­tious mis­sion re­quires large-scale ca­pac­ity build­ing of civic of­fi­cials

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Radha Kr­ishna Tri­pa­thy

With an out­lay of ₹50,000 crore for the 100 Smart cities ini­tia­tive and ₹48,000 crore for 500 cities un­der the atal mis­sion For Re­ju­ve­na­tion and ur­ban Trans­for­ma­tion (AM­RUT), the gov­ern­ment is tar­get­ing to ad­dress the grow­ing chal­lenges of rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion in a sus­tain­able man­ner. am­rut aims to pro­vide in cities ba­sic ser­vices and ameni­ties re­lat­ing to wa­ter sup­ply, sew­er­age, sep­tage man­age­ment, storm wa­ter drains, trans­port and de­vel­op­ment of green spa­ces and parks with special pro­vi­sion for meet­ing the needs of chil­dren. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of this scheme will be linked to ur­ban re­forms like egov­er­nance, de­vel­op­ment of man­age­ment sys­tems and con­sti­tu­tion of pro­fes­sional mu­nic­i­pal cadre.

The Smart cities pro­gramme tar­gets retrofitting, re­de­vel­op­ment of spe­cific theme-based area de­vel­op­ment in the iden­ti­fied city and over­all pan-city ini­tia­tives. it would tar­get core in­fras­truc­ture ser­vices like ad­e­quate and clean wa­ter sup­ply, san­i­ta­tion and solid waste man­age­ment, ef­fi­cient ur­ban mo­bil­ity and pub­lic trans­porta­tion, af­ford­able hous­ing for the poor, power sup­ply, ro­bust it con­nec­tiv­ity, gov­er­nance – es­pe­cially e-gov­er­nance and cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion, safety and se­cu­rity of cit­i­zens, health and ed­u­ca­tion and sus­tain­able ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment. Smart city ac­tion Plans will be im­ple­mented by special pur­pose ve­hi­cles (SPV) to be cre­ated for each city and state gov­ern­ments will en­sure a steady stream of re­sources for SPVS.

un­der the Smart cities mis­sion, a cen­tral as­sis­tance of ₹100 crore per year for five years is linked to all se­lected cities based on a ‘city chal­lenge com­pe­ti­tion’. Sev­eral cities have been awarded the se­lec­tion tag un­der these ini­tia­tives. While the award of smart cities has pro­gressed in a smooth way, the real chal­lenges will be in ex­e­cut­ing the projects in a timely man­ner. un­der this scheme, the im­ple­men­ta­tion will be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the city ad­min­is­tra­tion or ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies (ULBS).

The suc­cess of these plans would be based on cities’ own re­sources, hu­man ca­pac­i­ties, abil­ity to gen­er­ate funds and pre­pared­ness to im­ple­ment the pro­grammes at ground level. This will not be pos­si­ble with­out sen­si­tis­ing and train­ing city of­fi­cials about the com­plex­ity of the project as well as its cross-sec­toral dy­nam­ics linked to sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals (SDGS). The cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tives need to be matched by state gov­ern­ments and ulbs’ pre­pared­ness to ex­e­cute the same with an equal zeal and vigour.

Given the cross-func­tional re­quire­ments of the schemes and con­ver­gence with other par­al­lel schemes and projects, all func­tional units un­der city ad­min­is­tra­tion in­clud­ing engi­neers, ur­ban plan­ners, architects and de­sign­ers will have to come on a com­mon plat­form to raise their lev­els of un­der­stand­ing through a cul­ture of learn­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence shar­ing among one an­other.

Cur­rent pre­pared­ness of ULBS

ulbs face sev­eral chal­lenges such as low bud­getary sup­port, lack of tech­ni­cal and man­age­rial staffs, au­ton­omy to plan and ex­e­cute key projects, lack of in­ter­nal in­sti­tu­tional struc­tures to carry out such a pro­gramme on large scale and lack of pro­fes­sional struc­ture to drive schemes of such stature. They have never been ex­posed to this scale and size of the pro­grammes and face a gi­gan­tic task now. There is also a fear about the abil­ity to carry on these tasks smoothly. Though the cen­tral and state gov­ern­ments are try­ing their best to aug­ment the skill sets, these are not enough.

as of now, ca­pac­ity build­ing has been ac­corded a low pri­or­ity un­der city ad­min­is­tra­tion func­tions and there is hardly any bud­get to run these pro­grammes. The tra­di­tional way is to fol­low or­ders, float ten­ders on some ex­ist­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tion and award projects un­der tra­di­tional bid­ding pro­ce­dures.

Ur­ban bod­ies face sev­eral chal­lenges such as low bud­getary sup­port, lack of tech­ni­cal and man­age­rial staffs, au­ton­omy to plan and ex­e­cute key projects, lack of in­ter­nal in­sti­tu­tional struc­tures to carry out such a pro­gramme on large scale and lack of pro­fes­sional struc­ture to drive schemes of such stature.

There is hardly any mech­a­nism for qual­ity checks and mon­i­tor­ing of the projects on a con­tin­u­ous ba­sis. The level of in­volve­ment re­quired for putting things in per­spec­tive for the pro­grammes un­der am­rut and Smart city re­quires a higher level of un­der­stand­ing from the city of­fi­cials which at this stage is abysmally low.

To start with ulbs may be sen­si­tised to ac­quire skills in ba­sic com­puter op­er­a­tion to man­age phone-based griev­ance sys­tems and a ded­i­cated unit to han­dle it. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, they may en­gage with the com­mu­nity to help them un­der­stand the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments in ad­dress­ing city-based griev­ance and use of smart me­ters in wa­ter and elec­tric­ity. This may be a good be­gin­ning be­fore adopt­ing a com­pre­hen­sive, com­plex skill sets on var­i­ous tools and mod­els.

Chal­lenges in learn­ing new skills

old meth­ods would not work as this re­quires a com­pletely new set of skills. These projects are con­tin­u­ously shift­ing to­wards pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship (PPP) mod­els and in­no­va­tive fi­nanc­ing mech­a­nisms, al­ter­nate fi­nanc­ing and so on. This is largely due to the fi­nan­cial dis­tress of the states wherein state gov­ern­ments are strug­gling to put in mone­tary as­sis­tance for these projects. in this sce­nario, the level of un­der­stand­ing of these sub­jects re­quires con­stant hand-hold­ing of ex­perts in these fields to drive it.

although the core com­po­nent of the train­ing will re­main the same through­out the cities, it would dif­fer on cityspe­cific train­ing mod­ule for which there will be cus­tomi­sa­tion of some train­ing mod­ules. also, there might be chal­lenges in terms of adop­tion of the lan­guage, skill lev­els of city of­fi­cials, ex­ist­ing in­fras­truc­ture to sup­port the train­ing and the na­ture of pre­sen­ta­tion in terms of con­tent de­sign and du­ra­tion of the pro­grammes.

Though there are cen­tral level in­sti­tutes and state level ad­min­is­tra­tive train­ing in­sti­tutes which are man­dated to pre­pare an ex­ten­sive plan by es­tab­lish­ing ur­ban man­age­ment cen­tres, these may fall short with the ab­sence of the re­quired level of ex­perts in these spe­cialised fields. The ca­pac­ity de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes will be based on out­come-based re­sults which are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tional train­ing pro­grammes. The link­ing of out­puts to dif­fer­ent goals un­der sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and in­te­grat­ing to other ar­eas for a com­pre­hen­sive out­come would be dif­fi­cult chal­lenges be­fore the city ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Cur­rently, very few ULB of­fi­cials are be­ing trained in a con­tin­u­ous man­ner and that too on the ba­sic struc­ture of the cen­tral pro­grammes and schemes. There are no spe­cialised train­ing cour­ses for them on the emerg­ing is­sues of PPP and in­no­va­tive fi­nanc­ing. With­out knowl­edge of these key as­pects, it seems that ulbs are di­rec­tion­less in im­ple­ment­ing the schemes. Thus, it is nec­es­sary that state gov­ern­ments take ini­tia­tive to for­mu­late strate­gies to part­ner with bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral agen­cies to im­part this core train­ing with the help of pro­fes­sional agen­cies in this do­main.

The way for­ward

While many work­shops, con­sul­ta­tions are un­der­way to un­der­stand the Smart city con­cept and how that can be achieved, the ground level re­al­ity is rarely dis­cussed. in many of the pro­grammes, the crit­i­cal link, that is, the ulb ad­min­is­tra­tion, is miss­ing. This de­mands a com­plete over­haul in terms of de­sign­ing the new sys­tem. Skill de­vel­op­ment and ca­pac­ity build­ing should be a par­al­lel ac­tiv­ity run­ning si­mul­ta­ne­ously with aware­ness de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes so that once all nec­es­sary back­ground works are in place, field level ac­tiv­i­ties can be started with­out spend­ing any fur­ther time on the ca­pac­ity build­ing of the ulb per­son­nel.

The new con­cepts like PPP re­quire hand-hold­ing of ex­perts from the con­cep­tual level and it de­mands con­sid­er­able time to un­der­stand the nu­ances of the tools. The right frame­work for nega­tion un­der PPP, con­tract man­age­ment, laws and reg­u­la­tions re­lated to PPP, ne­go­ti­a­tion skills, and al­ter­na­tive ways of gen­er­at­ing rev­enues for any project are cru­cial as­pects of these con­cepts. un­til and un­less ex­pert in­sti­tu­tions in these fields in­clud­ing con­sult­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, re­search in­sti­tutes, ngos and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions are taken into con­fi­dence and given the man­date to work with ULB of­fi­cials un­der proper pol­icy frame­works to carry out nec­es­sary train­ing and ca­pac­ity build­ing from the con­cep­tual level, the suc­cess can only be half guar­an­teed.

Tri­pa­thy is se­nior fel­low at CUTS In­sti­tute for Reg­u­la­tion and Com­pe­ti­tion.

ashish asthana

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