Building India’s smart cities of tomorrow

Ajit Gulabchand
Chairman, HCC
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Come 2030, 40% of India’s population will be living in urban areas and contributing 75% of GDP. An estimated 400 million people are expected to migrate to cities over this period. In fact, the great rural-to-urban migration has already begun.

To meet the challenges these changes will raise – the pressure it will put on basic services, utilities and an already crumbling infrastructure – India needs to build new cities and create new jobs over the next two decades. This will, however, require well-planned development of physical, social, economic and institutional infrastructure.

India’s government is already making a start. Recognizing that urban centres are engines of growth and employment, it has launched two strategic initiatives – the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT).

Building the cities of tomorrow

Under the Smart Cities Mission, the government will virtually rebuild 100 cities with basic infrastructure, including transportation and ICT, that will link nearly every aspect of city life. The government’s strategy for urban rejuvenation is going in the right direction.

With the selection of 98 cities as “candidates” under the Smart Cities Mission of the Ministry of Urban Development, we have now entered the next phase of this critical urban initiative. The focus has shifted to the “Smart City Challenge Proposal” of each of these chosen cities. As many as 88 smart cities have already identified consulting firms to develop city-wise action plans. These plans will be prepared under the supervision of urban local bodies and state governments, based on reviews of previous plans and interventions.

These action plans will contain details on area development and financing for the complete lifecycle of the proposal. They will all be evaluated in the second stage of the city challenge competition to identify the top-ranking 20 cities for financing.

The goal of AMRUT is to achieve universal coverage of water supply and sewerage network services/ This will then be followed by storm water drains, urban transport, and green and open spaces. The central government has made a provision of Rs 50,000 crore towards AMRUT for five years. State governments and urban local bodies are required to put up an equal amount. The states will make a minimum contribution of 20% towards the cost of the project.

As I see it, the biggest challenge for the Smart Cities Mission and AMRUT will come from the bureaucracy’s rural mindset. Bureaucrats need to understand that cities are engines of future growth – and urbanization is an inevitable necessity. Major reforms in contract enforcement, environmental clearances, land acquisition and permit and procurement processes are required at the state and city levels to accelerate the implementation of the two initiatives through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

What makes a city smart?

The Smart Cities Mission is clearly defined. A smart city is one where city management is always two steps ahead to meet the expectations of its citizens and any exigencies that may arise. We at Lavasa have used a similar approach for developing a community that meets the twin goals of innovation and sustainability. A smart city is one that finds innovative and proactive ways to deliver enhanced services in a better and faster manner and at a reasonable cost to its citizens. A smart city strives to invest in human and social capital, and traditional (transport) and modern (information and communication) infrastructure in a way that fuels sustainable economic development and offers a high quality of life.

Every smart city will have six main characteristics – a smart economy, smart mobility, a smart environment, smart living, smart citizens and smart governance.

The projects planned under AMRUT – water supply, urban waste management (including solid waste and sewerage), urban transport, social sectors like healthcare and education, and affordable housing – will provide many project opportunities under the PPP model. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Urban Development and Services Initiative is already engaging with specific states in India – Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana – with a view to advising on the specific reforms required at state and city level to accelerate the creation of smart cities.

The Urban Water Alliance Initiative proposed by the World Economic Forum under the Global Water Initiative and supported by South Africa is one such PPP model to collaborate and accelerate the implementation of a water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goal for G-77 nations. It is a public-private-civil society initiative on water resources to help governments accelerate water reforms to ensure sustainable water resource management for long-term development and economic growth.

With rapid urbanization, these smart cities must continue attracting foreign and domestic investment, draw and retain top talent in the workforce, and ensure economic competitiveness. Urban infrastructure development must also keep pace with growth. A key sector where such innovation in large-scale project design and blended financing models are urgently required is in the development of wastewater infrastructure.

With the progress of these initiatives, we are now ready for cities that meet the environmental, economic and social aspirations of their citizens.

Author: Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman and Managing Director, Hindustan Construction Company

Image: A metro train travels over a flyover at a residential area in Mumbai June 9, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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