According to the Government of India, cities accommodate nearly 31 per cent of India’s current population and contribute 63 per cent of GDP. Urban areas are expected to house 40% of India’s population and contribute 75 per cent of India’s GDP by 2030. This requires comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure. Development of Smart Cities is a step in that direction.
Here are some of the challenges in developing and implementing smart cities according to Yash Mehta from IoT worm:
Channeling finance to smart cities: The total estimate of investment in smart city totals up to 7 lakh crore within a span of 20 years, which translates to an annual requirement of Rs. 35,000 crore. This is the case, assuming there’s a population of 1 million people in each smart city. Arranging for this is a huge challenge for the Government. One alternative is to go for public private partnership such that the local government bodies and private institutions can invest in the programme.
Quick approval and clearance: Any investment worth its salt is profitable only when made during the right time frame. Government institutions have conventionally been known to take undue amount of time in making approvals and clearances. This would work against the smart cities mission. One way is to speed up the process and other is to take the business online – a board can be set up to manage approvals for services like water, sewage, drainage systems, telecommunication lines, electrical lines, etc.
Coordination amongst stakeholders: The central government, local government, private bodies and regulatory institutions need to work together in bringing the smart cities mission to fruition. That is easier said than done as each of these has its own style of working. The mission can be successful only if they act in cognizance of the deadlines to be met and the investment involved.
Retrofitting existing cities: Not all cities selected for the smart cities mission are at the same level of development. Some cities are already have better infrastructure, service model and investment model. To make the most out of the investment eked out for smart cities mission, the new plan must be retrofitted with the existing plan. Unfortunately, the master plan for existing cities is unavailable for 80% of the cities.
Availability of human workforce: Smart cities mission is a mission of gigantic proportions that takes decades to be implemented. It not only needs to hire workforce for that but also needs skilled and trained workforce. Going by the 5% of budget allocated for training and upskilling the workforce, it must be said that it is woefully inadequate. The proof is always in the pudding and the results of the mission will be below par if the government does not intervene and improve the skill by notches.
Availability of utility services: Utility services like electricity and water are the bedrock of smart cities. The energy needs are only going to increase with increasing urbanization and movement of people from villages, towns and mid-sized cities to smart cities. Reliance on traditional sources of energy may set up the mission for failure. The government must ride the wave of clean and renewable energy initiatives and rope them into its smart cities mission.
The state of Urban Local Bodies (ULB): ULBs are not financially self-sustaining because they follow a low tariff and inadequate cost recovery model. Besides, they employ multitudes with a little or no skills required to man smart cities. So, there is a huge skill gap that must be addressed by allocating the time and money needed to train them.
It will be years before we can tell if the smart cities mission is a successful one. Every penny must be accounted for an every minute be utilised by those behind this mission to make the most of the available resources. And yet, there could be many a slip between the cup and the lip.