India’s Smart Cities Mission – One Project, Two Views

One for the intelligentsia, the world of technology, and one for populist mileage!

A Smart City is one that harnesses technology to give its citizens a connected, high-quality life with a mostly positive impact on the way they live, learn, work and play.

Living in Singapore has made me experience the benefits a Smart City dispenses. An evolving technological environment, however, simply means that enhancement is a continuous process.

Where the Smart Cities are! Graphic from: http://www.smartcitiesindia.com/

Where the Smart Cities are!
Graphic from: http://www.smartcitiesindia.com/

This is precisely why it embarked on a mission two years ago to become the world’s first Smart Nation by 2025. Development will be a non-stop goal and will not end with crystallisation of its vision.

India’s Interesting Definition: But India has an interesting view of what a smart city is. The Indian government has defined a smart city as one that offers “adequate water and electricity supplies, good sanitation, efficient public transport, Internet connectivity and affordable housing, and are safe for women and children to live in”, according to report in The Straits Times yesterday.

They are basic facilities, with less focus on an intelligent infrastructure, that should be available in all cities and villages of the country and not be confined to just 100 smart cities planned to be built across the country.

Urban challenges can vary from country to country, so India’s priorities need not be put under the scanner. Provision of basic facilities alone, though, cannot make a city Smart.

Smart Solutions EoI: Nonetheless, the Request for Expression of interest (EoI) document available at the Ministry of Urban Development site makes it clear that the Indian Smart Cities mission does include “Smart Solutions involving the use of technology, information and data to make infrastructure and services better and using smart technologies for the development of the poor and marginalized.”

A rendering of the planned 'smart city' Dholera, in southern Gujarat, India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to build 100 smart cities across the country.

A rendering of the planned ‘smart city’ Dholera, in southern Gujarat, India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to build 100 smart cities across the country.

The use of the verbiage, “development of the poor and marginalized”, is obviously aimed at populism that the government can use to deal with political detractors.  A democratic country is bound to have people who frown upon excessive spending on lofty ideals even as millions languish in poverty and squalor.

The EoI document is emphatic that Smart Solutions will have to be an important part of the proposal from bidders. The Urban Ministry says that ICT is the key driver for Smart City Services.

Smart Sectors: One site even lists out the sectors that the mission will target – http://www.smartcitiesindia.com/

They include: Smart Energy, Smart Transportation, Smart Building, Smart Education and Smart Environment. There is thus no ambiguity over what India’s smart city plans are.

The bottom-line is is that the Smart Cities Mission is One Project with Two Views – one for the intelligentsia and one for populist mileage!

Plagiarism?: As I was trying to gather further detail of India’s plans, I got to check out the site of the Ministry of Urban Development which appeared to have some wording that I had seen in another site of a US-based company – verbatim.

From the Indian Ministry of Urban Development Site From the site of Streetline, a U.S.-based smart parking company Notes
“As the global population continues to grow at a steady pace, more and more people are moving to cities every single day.” “As the global population continues to grow at a steady pace, more and more people are moving to cities every single day.” Word-for-word plagiarism
“Experts predict the world’s urban population will double by 2050 – which means we’re adding the equivalent of seven New Delhi Cities to the planet every single year.” “Experts predict the world’s urban population will double by 2050 – which means we’re adding the equivalent of seven New York Cities to the planet every single year.” The Indian Ministry site just replaced “New York” with “New Delhi”
I do not want to pay too much attention to the above copy-paste effort. Perhaps Streetline itself had relied on a third-party research report that Indian Ministry may have purchased. I am just speculating but I think this lifting could have been avoided.

What goes without saying is that for overpopulated countries like India, bursting at their seams with a decrepit infrastructure, a Smart Cities drive is an imperative they cannot walk away from. It is no surprise then that a Forbes report points out that Smart Cities represent a US$1.5-trillion opportunity.

As a report in The Washington Post yesterday points out, “the government wants 100 smart cities, but residents want just want water and electricity.”

SmartCity_logo_May-2014

A smart city image from Indian Express - http://images.indianexpress.com/2015/05/smart.jpg

A smart city image from Indian Express – http://images.indianexpress.com/2015/05/smart.jpg

India has been talking to technology companies such as IBM, Cisco, Hitachi, BMC, SAP and Oracle.

That is another indication the country is exploring the technology-enabled option.

It is possibly to avoid any public backlash that India is underplaying the mission as one aimed at equipping the 100 cities with basic facilities.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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