Interview with Jagan Shah, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs.
The Smart City Challenge takes a unique approach to tech funding. Most governments prescribe areas where money should be allocated, but this has a broader definition of any project using tech to “improve the quality of life and delivery of government services”, Shah says.
“Every city was required to come up with a vision of their city becoming smart,” he adds, allowing cities to play to their strengths. “Some might be religious towns where there’s a lot of pilgrimage, while others might be tourist or industrial towns, or administrative capitals,” he explains.
The competition received over 11,000 proposals from hundreds of cities that took part. 90 cities have been selected so far, and ten more will be selected in an ongoing complimentary round, Shah adds.
Around 2,300 proposals are now full-fledged projects, on course to be implemented on the ground, according to Shah. The total cost of the projects is 189,256 Cr (~US$29.1 million), and will impact the lives of almost 96 million citizens.
There is a broad set of problems which are “almost generic to all the smart cities”, says Shah. A low level of service delivery is at the top of the list, with many cities lacking water supply and sanitation, parking and traffic management, streetlights, surveillance systems, and the like. “If there is a disaster or fire, there are no alert systems,” he notes.
One major requirement, Shah points out, is that cities develop integrated solutions, and “bundle” their projects. Ideally, smart lighting and parking management on a particular street could be implemented together and announced as one project. “If you need to upgrade a street, then you do everything that is required on that street in one go, and not have separate projects for different parts of it”.
Cities could integrate their public transport systems by introducing a common fare card, Shah suggests. They could also set up command and control centres that would be a boon for city managers.
A few years down the road, India’s cities could look very different, Shah believes. There will be proper lighting, pedestrian spaces, and parking meters on the streets. Historical buildings will be spruced up and given new life. Solar panels and other types of renewables will feed backup power supply into the grid. And citizens will be safe under the watchful eyes of surveillance cameras, he hopes.
Citizen engagement is the key, Shah adds. In the early days of the smart city challenge, estimates show that up to seven million people participated in online polls and meetings to contribute to their city’s proposal. This needs to be an ongoing conversation, Shah says.