The buzzword at the India-UK Tech Summit has been 'Smart Cities'. Not because the British delegation sees this as a new way to recolonise India, but because it leads the way globally and stands to gain commercially if it can partner PM Modi's smart cities initiative. ... The leader of the UK delegation and the very visible Liam Fox, MP and UK's Secretary of State for International Trade, proudly stated that the standards set by British institutions are adopted all over the world and that India's smart cities programme represents business potential in excess of 2 billion pounds for UK.
But he did admit that the scale of involvement will be huge and one wonders if there is accurate realisation of the enormity of the task ahead for, as Rao Inderjit Singh, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Ministry of Planning and Minister of State, Urban Development, reminded the packed hall: "For 1000 years, the village was the nucleus of life in India. We missed the industrial revolution which originated in the UK and which probably makes it the leader in smart city development today...With increasing urban migration, we need to provide a better quality of life in our cities. By 2050, 60% of India will be living in cities."
Though he did add a post-script that this could be an under-estimation. While the Minister seemed to hint that the outcome of the programme could determine the Modi Government's fate in the next parliamentary elections of 2019, other speakers were a lot more grounded.
The Managing Director of IL&FS, Hari Sankaran, was pithy and highlighted three areas that will be the focal points of all smart cities: utilisation of life spaces, productivity and employment generation. This was a thread that Prof Michele Clarke, University of Nottingham, would return to in her comments when she recalled Chennai which has seen both water shortages and surplus leading to floods. Her concern was that if urban planners do not put citizens first, what difference would it make to the community and how would success be measured?
To this, Sanjay Sinhal, CEO Secure Meters, mentioned examples from both Bristol and his home town, Udaipur (which apparently has more tourists than permanent residents) and is dependent on its lakes to remain attractive. While he echoed Sankaran's focal areas, he also stressed upon localising solutions and not just importing them. "If we could make RO systems, inverters and diesel generators history, that would be a start to smart cities," he asserted.