about 2 years ago
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By Ruma Dubey

What is “smart?”

As per the dictionary, it has many meanings but what it means is clean, tidy, well-dressed and it also means smart, witty and intelligent.

And it is a combination of this smart – clean and witty that we mean by Smart Cities. Well, we know cities which are dirty and full of smart and over-smart and not-so-smart people; so what gives the city the adjective of being “smart?”

It basically means cities which are clean (which will be a wonder in itself) and will also be intelligent- modern ways of transacting business. Here, ease of doing business will give it an edge over the other not-so-smart cities. So being tidy alone is not enough, the city has to be clever also.

Take a look at the parameters laid down by the Govt for ‘Smart Cities’: (taken from the Govt’s smartcities website)

  • Advanced infrastructure – IT will be the core of all infra facilities
  • Adequate water supply (notice – not 24/7)
  • Assured electricity supply (again, not uninterrupted)
  • Proper sewage and sanitation facilities
  • Efficient public transport
  • Digitization and robust IT connectivity
  • Affordable housing
  • e-Governance with citizen participation
  • Health and education
  • Sustainable environment
  • Safety and security for citizens, mainly women, children and elderly.

A quick read today and we realise that providing all these is the basic duty of the Govt; what is smart here? Only e-governance and IT connectivity cannot be called “smart.’

The top three smart cities in the world currently and why:

  • Singapore is inarguably the world’s leading smart city right now. Smart technologies within the state include efficient lighting, parking monitors, waste disposal, and elderly care alerts. Sensors are also being used to detect people smoking in unauthorized locations and those throwing litter out of buildings.
  • Barcelona is known world over for its environmentally sustainable projects that make districts incredibly energy-efficient. It too uses sensors to improve traffic, monitor air quality, and analyze the weather. Use of solar energy, water harvesting are a norm, not merely on paper.
  • Oslo is one of the most sustainable cities using 65,000 smart LED Lights that turn bright or dim depending on how much illumination an area needs. It has a license plate recognition technology to calculate congestion charges. It has a high level of private vehicle ownership but they plan to ban cars in the city center by 2019. By 2020, carbon emissions should have reduced by 50% with the help of a transportation grid.

Notice the vast difference in the parameters of what 'we' call smart and what 'they' call smart. Once again it’s that same thing – what we view as clean is untidy for the others. One can argue that India is developing and we will get there soon. But then when we are designing the smart cities now, why aren’t these parameters included?  Amd what about existing metro cities? Why can't we have these "smart" technolgies here? Well, Mumbai does not have even good roads and potable drinking water... traffic woes of residents could run into pages; getting from point A to point B is a nightamre. The metro's ideally should have become smarter, right?

Well, forget this ocean of divide between the perceptions of smart cities; we have really not made much headway after the big talks and huge PR rollout. 2.5 years into this project of Smart Cities, here is the statistics of progress:

  • Only 5.2% of the total identified projects completed, with just 1.4% of the total envisaged investment of Rs 1,35,958 crore.
  • Of the 90 smart cities with 2,864 projects, 148 projects worth Rs 1,872 crore have been completed.
  • Work has begun on another 407 projects.
  • 72% of the identified projects are still at the stage of preparation of detailed project report.
  • Of the total 90 smart cities, only 31 have completed at least one project.
  • New Delhi Municipal Council has done the best with 23 completed projects; Varanasi at 16 and 10 in Raipur.
  • Sadly, 27 cities, which is 30% of the total smart cities, not a single tender for work to be done has been.
  • As per the mission statement, the timeline is given as 2015-16 to 2019-20.

Well, as of now, this entire Smart City thing looks like a huge real estate rollout. The land prices in the identified cities have shot through the roof and haphazard realty projects have taken off.

So was that what Smart City was all about – a realty booster in Tier II and III cities?

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