News & Analysis

Are We Prepared To Embrace Smart City Mission 2.0?

Smart city mission

A recent report published in the Economic Times, quoting officials of the ministry of housing and urban affairs, the nodal department for Smart City Mission, claimed that India is all set to launch smart city 2.0 mission in 2020 with initiatives covering the length and breadth of the country.

The is also reportedly looking at alternative funding mechanisms such as pool finance, fund of fund approach, bonds, fiscal money, monetisation of unused land and tapping foreign capital.

The article quoted Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary & Director of Smart Cities Mission to suggest that government would be infusing lots of private participation to “infuse capital and plan for upcoming cities, which would be tasked with improving their fiscal strength through major participation of central government grants.

The government is also looking at increasing public private participation in the smart cities through incentives mechanism,” said Kumar. Having spoken about the government commitments, are we prepared enough to embrace the second version of the initiative? Let’s explore some more…

Sneak-Peak into the Smart City Mission 1.0

The Smart Cities project was a major urban development initiative launched with the objective of improving the living conditions and achieve higher economic growth in 100 cities across the country.

Public Policy thinktank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) was quoted by, to suggest that urbanization comes at a cost and an appraisal of some sectors at the city level highlight the magnitude of the crisis. Citing Greater Mumbai which has a population of over 18 million, ORF says there is a huge challenge to offer more humane living conditions to slum households which are growing in numbers and at present account for more than 40 per cent of the total households.

The foundation mentioned the issues of the national capital as well which include traffic congestion, hazardous levels of vehicular emissions and increasing pressure on the roads amongst many others.

Clearly, Indian cities have a very lengthy list of problems which starts with the basic ones like lack of housing to inefficient and inadequate means of transport to service unavailability. The cities have economic potential but it remains grossly underutilized plagued with high social and economic inequalities.

Compared to other cities across the world on various urban development parameters, India’s cities lag behind. This is a result of poor urban planning, governance and huge deficit in civic sense accompanied by corruption in civic bodies. Though urban development is in control of the state governments, the ORF highlights that only few state governments have been able to take sufficient steps towards development of their cities.

Undoubtedly, like many other initiatives, the Smart Cities Mission was indeed a novel initiative. However, its execution and implementation couldn’t prove to be that novel.

Lessons from the Past & For The Future

The failure of the mission in not being able to take off could be attributed to poor governance, collaboration, clash of party ideologies, lack of funds, increasing population, and lack of policy making.

According to Developing and Cooperation (DC), the local authorities need autonomy and scope for decision-making. The urban governance in India is not well organized and described as overly complex. There are three levels to the institutional framework.

First, the central government’s role is supervisory and it supports policy making. Second, state governments, key to urban governance, has to provide basic amenities and services through various state departments, state-level boards, statutory and non-statutory bodies at the city level and financial support in planning and implementing infrastructure projects. Third, the municipal governments oversee the operation and maintenance of basic services as well as implementation of ad-hoc infrastructure projects.

As the government targets to expand the Smart Cities Mission to all 4,000 cities in the country in its 2nd version, the government must look behind to learn a thing or two from the version 1.0 of the initiative and focus immensely on strengthening the key decision-makers.

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