Will smart cities go the SEZ way?
The special economic zones started off with a bang, to be reduced a decade later to just 40% of the original 436 SEZs approved in India. If not implemented properly, the smart cities plan too could meet the same fate SEZs versus smart cities
After a head start in 2006, there was a significant decline in the development of special economic zones ( SEZs). Till December 2014, of the 436 approved SEZs across the country, only about 40% were operational even after 10 years of land acquisition. Now with the government planning to set up 100 smart cities – both greenfield and brownfield – it needs to be seen if this initiative too will turn into another “land grabbing real estate venture.”
Even while some real estate experts spell doom for the smart cities initiative, saying it might go the SEZ way, another school of thought believes the scheme’s focus is not on land acquisition. The objective is to primarily upgrade existing service levels and urban amenities by leveraging technology instead of just greenfield development. The mission
does not require or promote land acquisition; it just promotes the ethos of doing more with less.
The 48,000 crore smart cities mission is aimed at applying smart solutions to improve infrastructure and service delivery in select cities across India. The ‘quotas’ or number of smart cities each state will have will depend on its population and the number of its cities and towns. All cities will have to compete with each other to fulfil the parameters drawn up by the government, after which only 20 will be chosen for the first phase of funding in 201516. The remaining cities will have to do a rethink and redo their proposals to qualify for the next round.
The smart city mission enables the comprehensive improvement of the living conditions and quality of life in each city through a strategy for area- based planning and development, resulting from extensive public participation in establishing the vision for the city and guiding the integrated plan-
TOTAL SEZs IN INDIA WORKING SEZs AS ON MARCH 2015
ning of urban areas, and the sustainable development and management of infrastructure and services using big data and smart solutions, says Jagan Shah, director, National Institute of Urban Affairs.
It is radically different from SEZ development as it takes into consideration the holistic needs of existing areas of cities, leveraging economic drivers that define the identity of cities and their citizens.
The disbursement of funds to the special purpose vehicles, which will be set up to manage the transformation of the 100 cities will be linked to the achievement of measurable outcomes and the implementation of reforms.
The refor ms and outcomes are directed towards ensuring the social and financial sustainability of these interventions and to demonstrate the city’s capacity to create broad based change. Land needs to be an efficiently utilised resource through mixed land use and improved spatial and physical planning for achieving public good, expanding housing opportunities, inclusive development through walkable streets and accessible open public spaces,
improving service delivery and ensuring transparency through e-governance. The mission does not require or promote land acquisition; instead, it promotes the ethos of doing more with less, adds Shah.
Amit Bhatt of Embarq India agrees. According to him there are substantive differences between the two. While the SEZs were aimed at reviving manufacturing, were largely services driven and were set up with the intent of promoting exports through service delivery and adding ancillary facilities, smart cities will be areas where people will live and work. There will be several approaches to setting up such cities – greenfield, retrofitting and redevelopment unlike SEZs that were mostly greenfield projects.
Smart cities will be implemented via an SPV and the majority stake will be owned by th tt tF t The SEZ initiative primarily focused on the need for integrated industrial-urban development with a focus on exports
The SEZ policy required a minimum land size of approximately 5,000 acres and this in most cases led to the need for large parcels of land. The acquisition process often delayed implementation of projects cities, the majority stake will be owned by state government and the urban local bodies.
N li ibl t d 15% i SEZs, the residential component in smart cities on the other hand will be at least around 50% t 60%