Smart Cities in India: What, Why and How

The buzz about smart cities are catching up. Where 8 years back the people were talking only about smart phones, through a series of parallel technological developments globally the concept of smart cities is rising.

What is a Smart City?

It’s a city outfitted with high-tech communication capabilities. It uses digital technology to enhance performance and well being, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.

The idea of smart city came into formulation owing to the need to accommodate rapid urbanization of the age. Interest in smart cities continues to grow, driven by a range of socioeconomic and technological developments across the globe. It is due to the increasing number of smart cities that established suppliers from energy, transport, buildings, and government sectors are moving into the smart city market, while startups are addressing a range of emerging opportunities in the same field.

According to a recent report from Navigant Research, the global smart city technology market is expected to grow from $8.8 billion annually in 2014 to more than $27.5 billion by 2023. Eric Woods, research director with Navigant Research said, “Cities are seeking partners and suppliers to collaborate on ambitious programs for sustainability, innovation in public services, and economic development that depends on significant technology investments. The leading players in this market not only have the capacity to provide leadership on large-scale projects spanning multiple city requirements, but also delivering smart infrastructure, IT, and communications solutions to cities, supporting cities across multiple operational and infrastructure issues, and have established a global presence.”

The report examines the strategy and execution of 16 leading smart city suppliers with the capacity to provide leadership on large-scale smart city projects spanning over multiple operational and service areas. These smart city suppliers are rated on 10 criteria: vision, go-to-market strategy, partners, product strategy, geographic reach, market share, sales and marketing, product performance and features, product integration, and staying power. IBM and Cisco are some of the top suppliers in the global smart city market. They are ranked the highest in terms of strategy and execution.

What is the Scope of Smart Cities in India?

India is drawing on the development of smart cities at the global level. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision ‘Digital India’, has a plan to build 100 smart cities across the country. Modi in his speech said, “Cities in the past were built on riverbanks. They are now built along highways. But in the future, they will be built based on availability of optical fiber networks and next-generation infrastructure.”

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Digital India envisages making India a leader in digitally delivering services in the health, education, banking sectors. Modi announced an investment of $1.2 billion in smart cities with more funding coming from private sectors and abroad.

Watch the following video, to have a clear understanding of Modi’s Smart City vision:

As reported by CNN, a number of new cities are already under construction, especially, in the corridor between Delhi and Mumbai. Many of the planned cities include Special Investment Regions or Special Economic Zones, which relax regulations, reduce taxes, and generally make it easier for foreign companies to invest. The $100 billion Delhi-Mumbai corridor effort has a 26 percent investment from Japan.

Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam on his visit to India offered to build one smart city. Also, British Chancellor George Osborne extended a 1 billion pound credit line to help U.K. companies invest in Indian infrastructure.

A recent development observed in the smart city project was, the meeting held on 16th February 2015, confirming partnership between the Indian  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg’s Philanthropies with regard to the advancement of the initiative.

As reported by Domain, Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide assistance to the urban development ministry to select cities for smart city mission,funding the latter on a continuous basis.

Although as of now, there are enough foreign funds for the government’s smart city project, there still remains a concern associated with the dream. However hard the government might be trying to execute its ambitious plan, this project seems to be turning into an elitist concept, leaving out or marginalizing the underprivileged section  of society. The percentage of rural population in India is 68 while percentage of urban population is 32. Rural percentage is higher than the urban because India is an agrarian country and majority of its people are into farming practices.

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There are still many sectors in which India needs to catch up before planning for smart cities. Basic requirements in India like healthcare, food, electricity, education etc are at short hand. 88% of class 8 students in rural India are unable to read class 1 text, and 500 million without secondary education or skills training. 300 million people in India still lack electricity, and around 20 million tonnes of grain is lost every year due to bad warehouse facilities. In the healthcare sector, we have ⅓-½ as many doctors per capita as compared to China and Brazil. Unless India fulfills these basic necessities of its people , the ground for development will never be strong.

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PM Modi’s plan to build I-ways is running behind its time, with only 12 percent of the target being  met as of now.

What Needs to be Done?

Given to the aforementioned statistics, the  picture of growth is not as sad as it seems. Basic levels of development are being achieved  like, the number of internet users in India was estimated to be around 190 million in June 2014, and is growing rapidly since then.

India has the third largest Internet population in the world today, after China with 620 million, and the US with 275 million. It took 20 years from the introduction of the Internet to reach 100 million users. The second 100 million reached within three years, and the third in less than a year.

Also Read: The Rise in Internet Penetration and the Changing Face of Digital India

As the Internet population continues to grow from 60 million in 2009 to 190 million in 2014, it is estimated that the potential growth will be over 550 million users by 2018. The number of Internet users in rural areas will touch 210 million by 2018, aiding India’s internet user base to cross 500 million by 2018.

The Internet class of 2018 will be more rural, older, more gender-equal, more mobile, and more vernacular than their counterparts of today. Rural users which will be the Internet population of the future, is expected to rise from 29 percent in 2013 to between 40 and 50 percent in 2018. Thus, the rural area seems to be catching up with digital quiet swiftly. By  2018, the rural population will stand on an equal footing with the urban population in terms of internet usage and accessibility.

Therefore, the smart city project needs to be designed wisely, considering the local population as the key point. Also, it has to be careful as to not widen  the already present gulf between the rural and the urban class. A nation should progress taking all its citizens along, irrespective of class differences, and catering to everyone’s need equally.

As much as the vision of smart cities is incredible and rational, its implementation on India at the given socio-economic condition, might be a tad bit difficult. However, as a fast developing economy, the country needs to keep up with the global standards. Hence, the execution of this plan could make India take a major leap in the race of development.

  • spanny

    “don’t give me fish instead teach me how to fish” is the quote which we have to follow. If you give a person fish for a day, it would be sufficient for 1 day but if you can teach him the technique of fishing it would become his livelyhood. If politicians give all things for free ,it would make people lazy. People need oppurtunities, employement, chances to prove themselves and earn self respect. Smart cities would give people these oppurtunities. I think this is one good idea which would be good for us indians whether poor or rich.

  • anc

    Bullshit, we as Indians don’t need development.. We need the poor or beggers to be at least be at a level of middle class . politicians make promises of making development s so that they get elected next time and we stupid Indians vote them….. Think again what is important making a road which costs crores or elimanating poverty which costs cores. People are fools and politicians make more fool of us and we agree and follow and fight and do riots for them destroying our public property which they have created using our money in the form of taxes. Think and act…stupid indians

    • A Citizen

      Its called trickle down effect novice. Cities in India generate 2/3rd of our GDP, they are the engines of growth. Poverty cannot be eliminated by redistribution of wealth it can be eliminated by generation of wealth which will only be possible if we invest in infrastructure, increase employment and innovation. All this will be possible only when an enabling environment is provided which is what they are talking above.