IPE Global | News | December 09, 2016 IST
Q: Are there any examples from a city in India that has been able to achieve sustainable, harmonious growth using a methodological planned approach?
AB: Yes, there are multiple examples of different scale and complexity. For example, Auroville – the entire urban form and urban management is environmentally sensitive and resilient. Ahmedabad – a good case to see how development plan has translated into physical projects though local area development planning approach. Lavasa – a world-class township in India. Delhi – Airport and Metro systems in the national capital are among the most efficient transport systems in South Asia. Lastly, Mysore is among the cleanest cities in India houses state-of-the-art Infosys township while Sikkim has set standards in sanitation, cleanliness and tourism sector.
Q: With the announcement of the Smart Cities Mission in June 2015, how has the progress been as of now? How do you foresee the progress shaping up in the next 5-10 years?
AB: The Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission is a transformative urban program of scale, ambition and spirit never seen before in the Indian context. Its unique aspect is that the mission encourages innovation and is evolving every day. So far as progress on mission milestones is concerned, the mission has delivered on its promises of selection of cities and launch of some early bird smart projects. It is expected that by the second anniversary of the Mission, i.e., 25 June 2017, we may see a launch of more than 500 smart projects across the country. Over the next 5-10 years, the Smart Cities Mission would be the only mission which would live its life beyond the mission period in letter and in spirit. The Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) created under it would continue to exist and take up new smart city projects in different parts of the city. The cities shall ensure that they empower these SPVs enough so that they can continue working seamlessly even after mission period.
Q: With the current pace of urbanisation in India putting a strain on resources, do you think the creation of proposed 100 smart cities will help in reducing that strain and improve living conditions? What can be done as a policy initiative to encourage the growth of inclusive cities and enable sustainable economic growth in the country?
AB: Smart cities in India are planned in such a manner that it showcases future urban development model of Indian cities which are inclusive, participatory and world-class. The mission follows the philosophy of ‘doing more with less’ to reduce strain on resources and improve living conditions. For instance, implementation of smart solutions in urban water supply would reduce non-revenue water-related physical and financial losses, in-turn leading to sustainable use of limited resources. In my view, policy reforms shall encourage the following practical and doable aspects, such as the following:
• Creating an enabling framework for incentivising market-led re-development of areas within the city,
• Aligning development control regulations with market growth drivers,
• Enabling markets to consolidate and pool land parcels, and
• Facilitating temporal re-use of spaces.
If the policy-makers are able to develop a strong framework for the above, I am sure the market players would have enough canvas to re-write the growth story of urban India.
Q: In the debate around urban development, besides economic growth, two other elements are deeply embedded – sustainable cities focussing on environmental problems, and inclusive approach focussing on the rising migration problem and providing space and opportunities. What are your recommendations on urban policy initiatives and planning methodologies to help facilitate growth of smart cities in a sustainable and inclusive manner in a country like India?
AB: Environmental problems and population migration have always been among the central topics of debate in planning and development of human settlements. And they should never be seen as threats but as opportunities. Both aspects help you plan better settlements, i.e., cities which are inclusive and resilient. It is recommended that at the planning stage, we must identify all natural resources including water bodies, urban greens, natural plateaus, depressions, marshy areas etc. and plan them in an integrated manner with the rest of the cities. These spaces should not be isolated islands but active and passive recreation areas put to use – so that they don’t deteriorate due to neglect. Further, cities should be able to adapt to fluctuation due to population influx. However, due to limited resources it is difficult for implementing agencies to provide for the entire urban development at such a high magnitude. Therefore, implementing agencies should invest its resources wisely and develop models for leveraging private capital by developing either a marketplace for private players to invest or by developing public-private partnership (PPP) projects.
Q: How do you see technological interventions play a role in improving the management of traffic, solid waste, energy, water,healthcare and citizen services in a smart city?
AB: Traffic systems could be improved by application of intelligent transport systems which includes adaptive traffic light signaling system, live-traffic information system, traffic and safety surveillance through cameras, multi-purpose smart mobility card, bus passenger information system, GPS tracking of vehicles etc. Water supply systems could be improved through leakage detection sensors, automatic metering systems, energy-efficient retrofit of pumps and motors, SCADA based monitoring etc. Energy could be made self-sustainable by use of energy efficient fixtures in buildings and street lights, on-grid supply of energy, solar powered roofs. Other examples of smart solutions include distance learning through e-modules, healthcare ATMs, FIR and municipal services kiosks and apps etc.
Q: The schemes are focussed on public-private partnership model of development. How has the participation been from the private sector? How can they play a more collaborative role?
AB: Participation from private sector in urban sphere has been modest but not exciting so far. Market players still find item-rate works more convenient than PPPs. However, we have seen good responses from private players in PPP projects where structure of project was amenable to the private sector. Ultimately, private players are looking for projects where their investment could yield into returns, revenue streams are assured and geo-political situation is stable. I feel large private players could undertake some demonstration projects to showcase success of their solutions in the Indian context. This investment on part of private players would catalyse markets in the long run and yield investments into the sector.
Q: Do we need more smart cities in the future or do we need to look at creation of smart villages as well?
AB: Smart villages and smart cities are no different from each other. Both are different forms of human settlements at different stages. In fact, some smart cities in India have population lower than many villages. Further, Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA) program in the past and now National RurbanMission (NRuM) is an initiative to make our villages smarter. I feel that as technology penetrates into urban solutions, it will create a domino effect in rural areas as well.
Q: How has replacing JnNURM with schemes like Smart City and AMRUT etc addressed the larger urban infrastructural issues?
AB: JnNURM was the first major breakthrough initiative of such scale in the Indian urban sector. JnNURM experimented witha hybrid holistic planning – cum – project led approach to address infrastructure gaps in urban areas. We have learntfrom both success stories and mistakes of JnNURM and the same has been reflected in our new missions like Smart Cities, AMRUT, SBM, HRIDAY and PMAY. Our biggest learning is a two-pronged approach – area based development approach under smart cities and infrastructure project approach under other missions. This approach would shorten the infrastructure gaps and showcase visible improvement in the quality of life.
Q: An American think tank has recently said policymakers should look at smaller, comparable cities like Medellin in Colombia or Casablanca in Morocco rather than giants such as New York or London while executing its smart-city programme. Your views?
AB: One size fits-all approach is not something suitable in the Indian context. Our urban development paradigm is like “Unity in Diversity”,i.e., all our settlements have some commonalities but at the same time we all are very different from each other. Therefore, our approach should be to learn from global experiences and adapt (not adopt) to our local requirements. And while doing so, we need to regard the unique local character of our cities as well.