Friday , 21 February 2020

Smart City Mission – Challenges and Remedies in delivering the promise

For e.g. if we consider the public transport (say city bus) system the quality and reliability of the service is very poor thus resulting in lower ridership leading to lower revenue. Lack of accurate information to the users makes the users to shift to the private modes. Added to this, systemic inefficiencies owing to aged fleet, poor operational planning and accountability amongst staff leads to higher costs ultimately making the proposals unattractive for private investment. Instead if the design of the system is done taking into consideration of the urban form and prevailing travel patterns, fleet sizing is done based on the demand and type of roads, fuel-type and technology adopted with due consideration to environment and sustainability, integration is done with other modes of transport so that they complement instead of competing, flexible pricing policy is adopted, then a win-win situation gets created for Government, Private entity and Citizens. Technology also plays an important role in shifting the commuters towards the public transport modes (e.g. Passenger information system will reduce the waiting time and vehicle tracking system will help in identifying the bottle necks on the road and thus help improve the reliability of the service etc.)

Same is applicable in almost all the citizen utility service projects such as water supply, power, waste management, healthcare, education etc.,

  1. Human Capital Development – Mega projects such as these generate huge demand for skilled workers and professional resources. Quick assessment of situation indicates that there shall be a huge deficit in terms of quantities and quality. Based on the projects adopted under the mission, Human Capital requirements and associated skills shall be assessed along with feasibility of sourcing them locally. Based on the analysis, a “Human Capital Development Plan/Program shall be created in collaboration with local academia and industry to establish Skill Development Centers (SDC), restructure the curriculum at local engineering and professional colleges, introduction of new certificate courses to fulfil the requirements during various stages of the project i.e. implementation, operations and maintenance. Local Skill Development Councils shall be created comprising of distinguished professional, professors, trainers and representatives from authority to monitor the plan/program.”Training and certification programs for continuous development/ learning for existing staff shall be implemented through the local SDC/ colleges and the same shall be linked to their promotions and increments.If this plan is implemented successfully it can help in achieving the overall goal of job creation and sustainability by development and deployment of resources locally.
  1. Create and deploy Standard and Unified Code for Practice – Smart City projects involve diverse fields/ specialization and implementation of these shall engage different technologies and multiple vendors which would need integration and human-interface at various levels. Firms engaged in projects may or may not have their own code of practice and despite having their own if they may not be customized/integrated which may result in confusion and inefficient working and heavy dependency on specific firms and their resources. Appropriate standards shall be adopted across projects/cities and compliance shall be ensured. Also “unified code of practice” for implementation, operation and maintenance of the systems shall be developed centrally and deployed after customization to local needs. This can reduce frequent failures, and response/resolution times along with enhancing the level of service/user experience.
  2. Citizen Engagement – Citizen being central to the whole mission, their participation in the project shall not be played down. They shall be engaged at every stage in terms of adaptation of new processes, willingness to payment of user charges, continuous and fair feedback on services, penalty for non-compliance / violations to rules etc. Agitations and lack of buy-in on any of the initiatives can derail or delay the projects. Citizen engagement program shall be designed taking into account the projects and their requirements, socio-economic and cultural diversity, familiarization to technology and the capitalizing the reach of existing NGO/ citizen forums. This program shall also incorporate the mode, media, systems and resources for implementation of the same.This program shall aim at communicating the facts and progress made, educate them on the policy, regulatory and enforcement measures and seek their feedback. This shall ensure moderation of citizen expectations and avoid pessimism.
  3. Sustain the Momentum and Competitive Spirit – Smart City Mission got off to a great start due to inclusive and a competitive approach. Sustaining the same at every stage of the mission is essential to achieve the goals. Possible dampeners to this momentum shall be assessment and mitigated from time to time.Special review of extraordinary situations shall be conducted on need-basis which result in loss of momentum such as those man-made or natural calamities. Such events can pose a serious threat to timely completion of projects and achievement of the goals. Specific interventions with additional financial or personnel assistance shall be designed to facilitate re-gaining the lost momentum. For e.g. recent floods in the some of the states have put in jeopardy the smart city projects owing to the shift in focus of the entire administrative machinery for management of the crisis.Also, disputes between contractors and authorities were found to have a major impact on the progress of the projects. A local cross functional tribunal shall be set-up for quick resolution of disputes along with formulation of guidelines for escalation and quick resolution. Such measure will also enhance the interests of private investors.A common framework for evaluation and scoring of these projects at different stages based on their adherence to mission goals shall be designed and implemented. The same shall be used to “give a score to each City on monthly/ quarterly basis which shall ensure the competitive spirit is sustained throughout. Government/Ministry shall also undertake an annual event to reconcile the progress made, reward achievers and discuss challenges and way forward.”
  4. Promote Innovation – Initiatives such as these also throw open the opportunities at us and bring out the innovative minds amongst us to catalyze through development of alternative systems or methods to take the mission to its intended goal with optimal resources. There has to be a process for evaluation, recognition and adaptation of such innovations. These innovators shall be encouraged and rewarded.

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