Top 5 implementation challenges in smart city

Seoul, Singapore, Yokohama and Barcelona are all smart cities as they deliver services to businesses and citizens in an integrated manner by efficient use of ICT to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance quality of life.

All these cities have smart (intelligent) physical, social, institutional and economic infrastructure which improves quality of life by providing safety and security, inclusiveness, entertainment, ease of seeking and obtaining public services, cost efficient healthcare and quality education.

India’s urban population is currently around 31 percent of the total population and it contributes over 60 percent of India’s GDP. Urban India is projected to contribute nearly 75 percent of the national GDP in the next 15 years. To match this, India is planning to develop 100 smart cities as satellite towns of larger cities and by modernizing the existing mid-sized cities.

The government has plans to have different categories of smart cities depending upon population. As per the proposed plan, focus is on  State/UT capitals, even if they have a population of less than one million, cities of tourist and religious importance, cities in 0.5 to 1 million population, cities in the population range of 1 – 4 million people, cities with a population of 4 million people or more.

Institutional infrastructure, physical infrastructure and social infrastructure constitute three pillars on which smart city rests. Institutional infrastructure refers to the activities that relate to the planning and management systems. Physical infrastructure refers to urban mobility system, the housing stock, the energy system, the water supply system, sewage system, sanitation facilities, solid waste management system and drainage system which are all integrated through the use of technology.

Physical infrastructure should focus on three aspects. Improvements in public transport – metro rail, BRT, LRT, Monorail, etc. Improvements in infrastructure of other motor vehicles – ring roads, bypasses, elevated roads, improvements in the existing road ways. Improvements in infrastructure for walking, cycling and waterways.

Social infrastructure helps in improving human capital index so lot of emphasis should be on education, healthcare and entertainment systems. Quality education for school and higher education, quality healthcare facilities and good entertainment facilities like sport facilities, cultural centers, open spaces and plazas are essential ingredients for quality life.

1. Providing clearances in a time bound manner
For timely completion of project, all clearances should use online processes and should be cleared in a time bound manner. Free right of way for laying optic fiber networks, water supply lines, sewerage systems, draining systems and other utilities should be given as per the timeline and cost decided by the government. A regulatory body should be set up for all utility services so that level playing field is made available to the private sector and tariffs are set in a manner that balances financial sustainability with quality.

2. Financing smart cities
The High Power Expert Committee (HPEC) on Investment Estimates in Urban Infrastructure has assessed a Per Capita Investment Cost (PCIC) of Rs 43,386 for a 20 year period. Using an average figure of 1 million people in each of the 100 smart cities, the total estimate of investment requirements for the smart city comes to Rs 7 lakh crore over 20 years (with an annual escalation of 10 percent from 2009-20 to 2014-15). This translates into an annual requirement of Rs 35,000 crore.

One needs to be see how these projects need to be financed as majority of project would move through complete private investment or through PPPs (public private partnership). Both the central government as well as state governments would be interested only in Viability Gap Fund (VGF).

To fully realize the potential of a smart city, investments will be required in housing, electricity, ICT, education, health, recreation, cultural facilities, sports facilities, environmental facilities and others. Contributions from the ministry of urban development and will be supplemented by other ministries, such as housing and urban poverty alleviation, health, education, power, ICT, culture and sports.

Initial investment of Rs 5,000 crore may be required to prepare the city development plan and project reports to ensure successful implementation of the scheme and setting up of project management unit at state.

3. Capacity building program
Building capacity for 100 smart cities is not an easy task and most of the ambitious projects get delayed due to lack of quality manpower both at the center as well as states. In terms of fund around 5 percent of the total central allocation may be allocated for capacity building programs which focuses on training, education, contextual research, knowledge exchange and a rich database. Investments in capacity building programs have a multiplier effect as it helps in time bound completion of projects and also helps in designing programs, developing faculty, building databases as well as designing tool kits and decision support systems. And all these have a lag time so capacity building needs to be strengthened right at the beginning.

4. Reliability of utility services
For any smart city in the world, focus is on reliability of utility services be it electricity, water, telephone and broadband services. Smart cities should have universal access to electricity 24X7 and this is not possible with existing supply and distribution system. The cities need to shift towards renewable sources and focus should be on green buildings and green transport to reduce the need for electricity. A minimum of 100 Mbps of Internet bandwidth per family and wide availability of Wi-Fi is a must for any smart city. Fiber optic connectivity to each home, Wi-Fi in all public places and educational institutions are essential features of smart city. Similarly, municipal services such as water supply, drainage, solid waste management need to be of high quality and should be available 24X7.

5. Extensive usage of ICT
An extensive use of ICT enabled services will need a sound communications backbone and the best example for this is Singapore. Cities to become smart, it is essential that the governance structure is also smart. Therefore, urban local bodies would need to make effective use of ICTs in public administration to connect and coordinate between various departments.

This will mean the ability to seek and obtain services in real time through online systems and with rigorous service level agreements with service providers. Electronic/online delivery of all public services, so that visits to the local offices are rendered gradually redundant in a city. More specifically, smart cities would have municipal offices fully automated so that citizens have the ability to seek and the municipal offices the ability to deliver services in real time, through IT based facilities.

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