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The Making Of Smart Cities

Monday, February 02, 2015
By Mayura Shanbaug

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of 100 smart cities by 2024, the optimists and naysayers are divided in their opinion. With a few calling it a grand vision while others not doubting the intent, but the execution of such a mammoth project in a country like India where getting a dug up road repaired takes months. However, this initiative has created a huge potential for firms in the areas of water, sustainable energy sources, construction, environment, transport, waste management, security, weather forecasting, healthcare to name a few. And there is every possibility of making it a reality if the government's intent is absolute was the consensus at the first in the Series of seminars on ‘Smart Cities in India: Reality in the Making’ co-hosted by the World Trade Centre Mumbai, AIAI and the Indo French Chamber of Commerce & Industry (IFCCI) in Mumbai last week

Smart cities will require smart investments. According to the government estimate for such an ambitious project, investment requirement would be in the tune of 1.2 trillion USD over the next 20 years. So how do these smart cities of Modi's vision would be …. Smart cities will have smart buildings and these smart buildings would save up to 30% of water usage, 40% of energy usage and save building maintenance costs by 10-30%.   

Shankar Aggarwal, Secretary, Ministry of urban Development, Government of India, said that though 31% population in urban areas contribute to 63% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ,by 2030, 40% population in urban areas will contribute 75% of the GDP. “We will need to build one Chicago city every year,” said Aggarwal.

 Aggarwal said that the initiative of the smart cities started with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, to rejuvenating heritage towns, bringing about urban renewal of 500 towns leading to creation of the 100 smart cities.

“The government is going for retrofitting development of the selected 100 cities which will be chosen by the population and by introducing competition among cities through the Bloomberg Philanthropy whereby funding solution to urban challenges could be reached,” said he. To achieve the desired goal changes like municipal reforms, developing greenfield townships, having citizen government framework establishing safety and security of the citizens would be looked into informed Aggarwal.

As per Aggarwal it is education that would bring about empowerment; “however the quality of education is poor which can be fixed through the right infrastructure such as e-education, imparting good quality skills,” he said.  Each step of the process can be made sustainable and frugal innovation can be introduced in every area which then can be supported by governments and semi-government bodies,” he stated.

Aggarwal advocated that national priorities could be made a reality through technology, innovation, citizen involvement, employment generation through ‘Make in India’ while improving the quality of life. Aggarwal is sure that government would be able to set up 100 cities in a span of 10 years,  Aggarwal was supportive towards adding to the existing strength of the people, providing the necessary hand holding in seeing projects through and being a facilitator in the entire process.

Sanjay Sethi, Additional Metropolitan Commissioner-I, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) while attempting to define the smart city concept said that the right definition would emphasize the process of creating a smart city and not the final product.

Providing a case study on the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) in making it a Brownfield Smart City Project, he said, “We are achieving it through the use of ICT and non ICT initiatives coupled with the right urban design.”

“Besides, the formation is based on foundational, advanced and futuristic initiative which is the way forward,” Sethi added.

Smart BKC was being built around centricity, business and making it environment friendly through the process of continuous innovation. It was being conceptualized in comparison to global cities. In a similar way, Smart Wadala Greenfield project was being conceptualized to include mixed land use, smart transport, pedestrian segregation, green buildings, intelligent buildings and smart physical infrastructure. However, Sethi emphasizes that everything is not a smooth ride. “Problems like integration challenges, vendor driven policies, capacities gap, evolving domain knowledge and productivity measurement need to be tackled,” he added.

Abhishek Lodha, Managing Director, Lodha Group who represents the contribution of private sector in the creation of smart cities said, “Some of the most livable cities across the world have incorporated the various smart elements to improve the quality of life for its citizens.”

“Smart Cities need to become smarter in multiple domains across governance, sustainability while improving overall quality of life of its citizens,” he added.

Citing the example of Palava, a project involving an initial investment of Rs. 30,000 crore, he said that the project was exemplifying the smart city opportunity with numerous initiatives being rolled out.

Dr. Laveesh Bhandari, Founder and Chief Economist, Indicus Analytics Pvt Ltd feels that in the existing set up making a change in overall development of the city is not possible.” We need to have elected mayors like New York to develop smart cities of the future,” he said.

Vijay Kalantri, President, All India Association of Industries and Vice Chairman, MVIRDC World Trade Centre, stressed the need for infrastructure in order to create smart cities. “100 Smart initiatives have opened up a plethora of opportunities as well as challenges necessitating some innovative approaches and measures,” he said. He stressed the need to frame policies for the implementation process while also making the people involved accountable.

What Needs To Be Done...
Sustainable Development: On the question of sustainable development in the project,  Nilesh Purey, Vice President, ICT, Gujarat International Finance Tec-City Co. Ltd ( GIFT)  said that GIFT is a classic example of a public private model  developed by the Government of Gujarat through a joint venture between its undertaking Gujarat Urban Development Company Ltd. (GUDCL) and Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. ( IL&FS).

It is estimated that GIFT would provide 5, 00,000 direct jobs and an equal number of indirect jobs. “Supported by state of the art internal infrastructure, GIFT CITY is being developed as an integrated smart city which will also host social and residential facilities like School, Training Centre, Business Club, Retail Mall, Hotel and Residential Apartments,” said Purey.

Waste Management: Dr. Amiya Kumar Sahu, Founder, National Solid Waste Association of India (NSWAI), pointed out that our country has remained oblivious to the needs of garbage and waste management, a prerequisite for any smart city.

Smart cities must be built in a designated area far away from the existing large metropolises so as to keep these cities insulated from outside waste. This will ensure clean air and clean water,” he said.

According to Sahu a major challenge before the smart cities will be the management of e-waste. “Smart cities will generate and absorb a huge amount of high-tech gadgets resulting in huge quantity of e-waste. This will pose great environmental threat to these cities,” he said.

“Further, modern lifestyle and change in food habits will lead to enormous amount of dry waste which needs to be treated. Therefore the aim of the smart cities should be to promote zero garbage concept by handling waste properly,” he added.  According to Dr. Sahu, waste can be recycled to produce energy and he advocated the setting up of waste – based power plants owned by the public sector.

Co-ordination of Services: Sanjeev Thukral, Country Sales Head and Director, Steria India Pvt. Ltd. emphasized on the need for efficient services  to fulfill  the basic needs of human beings. “All urban services should be synchronized and coordinated in a manner so as to produce the desired benefits for the people living in these smart cities. Services should be seamlessly connected. Therefore, connectivity is the fundamental aspect,” he said.

Every smart city must support a central command and control solution to ensure smooth and intelligent transport and traffic. Thukral highlighted on the Intelligent Transport Solution which integrates different public transport systems. “What we need is the intelligent traffic management which is a basic requirement of any smart city,” said Thukral.

Apurba Dhar, Director, BD RATP Dev Transdev India, said in an urban setting, there are an increasing number of interconnected and even overlapping transportation services.

“The development of information technology has led to a new form of mobility that combines transportation, information, innovation and socializing. To travel better, make the right choices and set preferences, a whole range of Mobility Companies is available for traveler’s use,” he said. Mobility Centers provide each passenger with the necessary information and services to prepare and organize their day to day travel from door to door and from one mode to another, including pedestrian.  

Finance: NDS Chari, Senior Vice President and Head of Key Accounts and Partnerships, SREI Infrastructure Finance Ltd. said that financing and revenue generation mechanisms are the key for success... Chari said that selecting the right funding partner and advocated their involvement right from the start of the project planning is important.  Chari emphasized on the importance of holistic financing since according to him financiers and bankers have a major stake in the project.

People at this stage may have their doubts about the project but as Vijay Kalantri put it correctly, every good idea should be given a chance to be proved or otherwise.

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