Smart City- hype or a reality?

Smart City- hype or a reality?

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Smart Cities has been one of the most talked about new initiatives by the Modi Government, and I feel it has the potential to touch the life of millions of Indian in a big way. However, with the kind of bureaucracy we are known for and red-tape involved in governance, this initiative could lose steam similar to the much marketed Aakash tablet, or the NUIS project that lay half baked in Government establishment. Let us attempt an objective insight into the challenges it involved, and then it is left to the readers to decide it is a hype or going to be a reality in near future based on their opinion on how government is tackling these challenges.

The Challenges

  • Little emphasis on large scale current geo-processible vector datasets: Large scale spatial data of 1:5000 to 1: 1000 range in my view is the fuel for driving the smart city vehicle and there is little effort so far either for collecting new such datasets of to modify/re-engineer the available large scale data produced under NUIS project. Such data can easily be used as an integrator for the various components talked about under smart city. It is also essential for monitoring and execution of a mammoth project like smart city. In the absence of such datasets, I am afraid we can buy sensors and high end gadgets, create IT infrastructure and even design various processes but it will be very difficult to optimally utilize them and use in a sustainable manner.
  • Standardization and interoperability of various sub system: The success of smart city depends on how well the various subsystems of the smart city integrate with minimum human interference. Adoption of ISO/OGC/BIS standard is a sine qua non.
  • Absence of any Institutional arrangement: Though the Modi government at centre has the vision and the optimism to drive Smart Cities, City governance is a state subject and is generally under an elected Mayor and the governing council. The Central government can only educate and enlighten but cannot enforce. What I felt that there is a requirement of an institutional arrangement for planning, implementing and making it sustainable. The body so created need to have representative from centre, state and municipality in different tier.
  • Minimum governance threshold: One large concern for Indian cities is the lack of established processes and standards that can facilitate the city governance to provide a basic minimum to all its citizen/residents irrespective of who is at the helm of affairs. In the absence of that most city today are a reflection of who is at the helm of affair, and every time there is a change in government, things change, which has resulted in inconsistent growth and long term initiatives take the brunt. What I mean is instead of attempting to develop 100 smart city in an uniform manner let a serious study be made regarding the sustainability of such development and a minimum governance be provided in the first phase as they have to sustain from the revenue a particular city can generate. Highly politicized and a complex political landscape prevailing in a vast country like India in addition to cities being at different stages of growth, and cultural legacy makes it hard to develop all the 100 smart cities in an uniform manner. A Vision needs to be carved out for every city, so as to ensure that no matter who comes or goes, everyone is working towards that singular Vision, much like in an organization.
  • Cost of Implementation vs ROI: As more and more private sector companies come into the foray to sell high end gadgetry with limited lifespan to city government and in-turn make a killing, are not really adding value or creating ROI opportunities. Also with financial constraint and budgets directly related to the size of the urban taxpaying population of a city, implementation costs are prohibitively high with no or little ROI, question the maintenance of such systems.
  • Involvement of Citizen Groups: It is absolutely important to market to and invite Citizen groups from different demographics and geographies of a city to contribute towards planning execution and monitoring of smart city project as they understand it best being the local. With costs of infrastructure for Smart Cities being high, city g government should invite and encourage locals to provide innovative solutions against a problem statement that haunts the city.

So being an optimist, I feel that a Smart City is not too far away and given the will shown by both at the Centre and most States, a Smart City is a very certain reality in the near future provided the challenges mentioned above are addressed and the public stays excited.