Sixty cities have made the cut so far after the programme was launched in June 2015.
The chosen cities will have to develop smart infrastructure — 24x7 power and water supply; sewage disposal system, IT-backed efficient public transport, and e-governance facilities.
But work began at a snail’s pace with just 3.3 % of the 731 approved projects completed so far.
Building physical infrastructure will be the easier part of the government’s ambitious smart city mission.
Urban sector experts said the real challenge will be to put institutional mechanisms in place to improve municipal governance and ensure efficient service delivery, if our cities have to become smart.
Currently, a majority of Indian cities have abysmal service delivery standards with decrepit infrastructure, largely on account of lack of capacity of municipalities — the closest governance system to citizens — to undertake reforms and garner resources.
A Brookings India study to show the minimum amenities a city needed to be turned into a smart city, compared three smart-city picks — Vizag, Ajmer and Allahabad — with nine metropolises across Asia, Africa and Latin America having similar demographic and economic traits.
The report released last year found the cities lagging behind on almost all counts — personal wealth, access to basic amenities such as piped water, toilets and electricity.
“The common view of smart cities is narrow and limited to IT, digital solutions. But if we are to take lessons from the previous federally driven city efforts, the smart city mission can only reach its objective if it focuses on specific technologies and more on economic goals, governance reforms and sustainable capital flow,” said Dr Shamika Ravi, senior fellow, governance studies programme, Brookings Institution. She is the lead author of the report.
Junaid Kamal Ahmad, the World Bank’s country director, said the challenge for India is to design the SPV.
“If you design an SPV to be a parallel system, it will be a parallel system, if you design it to actually be a service-delivery arm that feeds the municipality, or that supports the municipality, than it’s an altogether different story.”
Ahmad cited Johannesburg to illustrate his point. The South African city’s mayor runs six or seven SPVs, and each one acts as a corporate-delivery machine. So water, electricity, solid waste, IT, almost everything has been put in SPVs.
“They are run under company laws with a full governing board and they have both the responsibilities for investment as well as running operations and they are able to manage operations directly but they are accountable to the city. And there is an MoU between the city and the SPV,” he said.
Ravi of Brookings Institution agrees. She said the big challenges are the creation of SPVs with clear terms and conditions.