Tuesday , 11 December 2018

Smart Cities
India’s Journey of Urban Transformation

Spirit of Competition and Mentorship: Starting from selection process to monitoring the progress to measuring the impact of smart city projects, the government has embedded the spirit of competition amongst the cities and its administrators. Parameters were defined, and assessment methods are designed to bring fairness and transparency in the whole process of evaluating the city proposals and progress achieved. After three years into planning and implementation, in 2018 India Smart Cities Awards were launched with an objective to reward cities, projects and innovative ideas, promoting sustainable development in cities.

While the cities which were performing were rewarded, a constant endeavour was also made to understand the difficulties experienced by the city authorities who were unable to progress in their mission. Regular consultation workshops were conducted to detect, diagnose, deliver and sustain the mission objectives. While cities such as Surat, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Indore, Delhi etc., were rewarded for their successful projects, cities in North East which were unable to kick-start the process are being extended technical assistance to design and develop projects.

Clean and Green Focus: Conventionally since days urban centres due to lack of adequate infrastructure and focus on sustainability, remain major contributors to the environmental degradation, poor sanitation. With an objective of making their cities a living habitat, the city administrators and the SPV have drawn specific plans for reduction of pollution, conservation of environment, promoting cleanliness across the city etc., One such notable examples include Green Blue Master Plan prepared for the city of Bhopal with sector specific smart intervention projects. Some of the projects implemented include decentralized Waste Water Treatments Systems (DEWATS), Development of Pedestrian, Cyclist and Transport Infrastructure, e-mobility with operating electric buses for public transport, promoting use of solar energy system for public lighting and household needs etc.,

Similarly, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) treatment plant set-up in Jabalpur is first-of-its-kind in India where 11.5 MW energy is generated from waste which can power 18,000 households. This is resulting in reduction of carbon emissions and saving of land by processing of solid waste by avoiding landfill.

Every city has one or other projects identified to make the city an clean and green habitat for its citizens.

Performance Orientation: Across different stages of the mission and every stakeholder have completely assimilated the fact that “What cannot be measured cannot be managed” and built metrics at every stage to measure the progress and performance. Dashboards are developed and implemented at national level to monitor the progress of overall mission and its implementation at city level.

Technology as an Enabler: Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become the backbone for almost all the Smart Cities. Everything, from governance to public transport, water distribution and waste-disposal systems are using make use of technology for efficient use of resources and bring about social, economic and environmental improvements. Smarter and newer products are now finding large applications and cities are now working towards integrated frameworks to improve service efficiency and delivery. Latest technologies such as AI, Data Analytics and Machine learning are going to pay a key role in fusing the large data generated in the process to extract meaningful trends and alerts for administrators to enable their decision making.

Integrated Command Control Centres are proposed as part of the Pan City solution in all most all the Smart City proposals which shall act as nerve centres of respective Cities. Ten cities have already commissioned, and several others are in different stages of completion. ICCC helps in enhanced quality of services, safety and resilience, inclusiveness in city operations, faster emergency response management, informed decision making and environmental sustainability. In Rajkot, the crime rate has reduced by 18% over the past two quarters as on April 2018. There is also an improvement in traffic challans issuance, indicating behavioural change. Monitoring of cleaning work through CCTV camera has led to reduction in instances of littering, urination in public, and night time burning of garbage.

In Kakinada, environment sensors have been deployed for automatic weather monitoring, air quality monitoring, and lightning detection. Pune has installed flood sensors at key points around the city, which feed data to the SCC, enabling timely warning and response mechanism. Emergency callboxes have been installed at 120 locations to contact the nearest police station with just the press of a button. In Ahmedabad, free Wi-Fi on BRTS corridors has increased ridership by 20,000 in March 2018, compared to Feb 2018. In Vishakhapatnam, CCTV and GPS enabled buses are being tracked online. Bhopal has seen a rise in its property tax collections and is also able to track its transport services online.

Institutional Strengthening: One of the key shifts is also the need for a competent city management team capable of delivering the municipal services through continuous learning. One such unique initiative is Bhubaneshwar Urban Knowledge Centre (BUKC) which is designed to be a common platform between four major city authorities i.e. smart city SPV, Municipal Corporation, Urban Development Authority and City Transport Services Company which provides knowledge-based support and contribute to organisational development and capacity building in initial years and later as a resource centre. Centre also acts as facilitator for exchange of experience and communication at national and international level with urban researchers and civic administrators.

Majority of the cities have planned for implementation of an ERP system to optimise of the resources and improve the efficiency of citizen service delivery.

Innovation: Key areas where innovation found its way include design of urban infrastructure such as streets and public parks, clean and green initiatives, delivery of municipal services etc., Technological innovations have also found its way into creating smart solutions for public transport services management i.e. vehicle tracking and passenger information system, smart street lighting, city waste management using RFID sensors and Video management systems for City surveillance used to detection & prevention of crime.

Challenges

Program of this scale and complexity is bound to have its share of challenges which can be seen as opportunities to innovate and turnaround.

Capacity and Capability: Urban governance is crippled with poor institutional set-up with inadequate capacity and also capability to deliver the municipal services. With deployment of technology including e-governance and ERP, a mammoth effort is required in capability upgrade of city administrators. Lack of buy-in from the administration team to enhance its skillset and latching on to the legacy systems has been and shall continue to be a severe dampener to this transformational journey.

Coordination – National, Regional and Local: Several projects in the mission are successfully deployed and are yielding results at local level, lack of coordination between national, regional and local levels on different aspects of the mission shall be leading to different standards and sub-optimal results in long run.

Integration amongst planners and operators: Traditionally, planners and designers with lack of operational experience are involved in the implementation of projects due to which majority of projects either need re-work or under performance during the O&M phase resulting in very high life-cycle cost. Integration between planners and operators at the design stage shall definitely provide a holistic approach to the asset development.

Public Resistance: It is a common phenomenon these days to note that whether it is a policy or physical infrastructure project everything is going through a thorough public scrutiny and either due to lack of understanding or their inability to take a larger perspective. The reasons could be many ranging from inadequate compensation to political motivation. At times the project conceptualisation may in itself have limitations or short comings. Whatever the reason, these public outrages on developmental projects have been impacting their delivery and in turn increasing their cost and reducing the benefits at large. Hence it is essential to engage the stakeholders through a comprehensive outreach program on all type of projects and at every stage and seek a buy-in and also include caveats discouraging people from going to streets to seek justice or audience.

Funding: Majority of the cities need an infrastructure re-vamp and proposals are also skewed towards the same requiring huge capital for implementation. With limited funding availability and their allocation for implementation leaves none or limited availability of funds for O&M phase. Lack of funding during O&M may lead to inadequate maintenance resulting in early failure of assets. Some of the early projects are experiencing the same in the mission are experiencing the same.

Way Forward

Five guiding principles are proposed which could guide the stakeholders in making this journey truly transformational.

Persistence: The large scale projects will take time to complete especially brownfield cities will would take much more time owing to their pre-existing structures and dynamics above all the mindset of stakeholders.

Resilience and Continuous Learning: Every city is different in its own way and may pose different sets of challenges during different stages of the Project lifecycle. Despite all the efforts,things can still go wrong, however administration shall be resilient and pull themselves and the project out of such crisis. This was clearly demonstrated during the recent flood situation due to heavy rainfall in Bhubaneshwar where entire administration has come together along with the other stakeholders to undertake rescue operations and undertake course correction for a future occurrence.

Entrepreneurial: Smart city management today is different from that has been done conventionally as it throws unprecedented organizational and management challenges to its administrators and managers. Complex combinations of factors such as technological advancements, adaptive policy-making, diverse and multiple stakeholder environment, need for financial innovation etc. may lead to vicious or virtuous cycles in smart city initiatives. This necessitate nurturing and demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit respectively.

Performance Orientation: Majority of the projects have long gestation in terms of achieving projected outcomes which necessitates that all the stakeholders stay focussed and aligned. This also requires that their performance is measured and managed from time to time to ensure success.

Citizen Connect: Most of the smart city projects have demonstrated that having citizen central to the delivery of the municipal services have always assured success. However, sustaining the same needs to ensure the framework and processes are set in place to have a constant and continuous engagement with citizen in a transparent way. While it is important to engage with citizens it is equally important to make them accountable as well.

 

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