Smart cities for J&K State; a perspective by Sanjay Sapru

The concept of smart cities originated at the time when the entire world was facing one of the worst economic crises. In 2008, IBM began work on a ‘smarter cities’ concept as part of its Smarter Planet initiative. By the beginning of 2009, the concept had captivated the imagination of various nations across the globe.
The Objective of Smart Cities Mission is to promote cities to provide core infrastructure and facilitate a decent quality of life for its citizens. The way to approach it is by providing a clean sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions. The main focus is on sustainable inclusive development by adopting the methodology to look at compact areas and create a replicable model which will act like a light house to other aspiring cities. The mission is meant to set examples that can be replicated both within and outside the smart city, catalysing the creation of similar cities in various other regions of the country.

Success can be achieved by tapping on a range of approaches such as digital, information technology, best practices in urban planning, public-private partnerships, and policy change.

The core infrastructure elements in a smart city would include adequate water supply, uninterrupted power supply, sanitation (including solid waste management), efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing,(especially for the economically challenged) robust IT connectivity and digitalisation, transparency of government, (e-Governance and citizen participation), sustainable environment, safety and security of citizens,( particularly women, children and the elderly,) and health and education. As far as Smart Solutions are concerned, an illustrative list is given below. This is not, however, an exhaustive list, and cities are free to add more applications. Accordingly, the purpose of the Smart Cities Mission is to derive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology and resources that lead to ‘Smart’ outcomes. Area based development will transform existing areas (retrofit and redevelop); including slums, into better planned ones, thereby improving habitability of the whole city. New areas (Greenfield) will be developed around cities in order to accommodate the expanding population in urban areas. Application of Smart Solutions will enable cities to use technology, information and data to improve infrastructure and services. Comprehensive development in this way will work towards improving quality of life, creating employment and enhancing incomes for all by bridging the gap between equality and equity for its citizens, thereby leading to inclusive cities.

In the past, an array of concepts, ideas, perceptions about urban development have frequented the cabinet corridors, however they haven’t been able to evoke the belief and excitement that I feel for ‘100 Smart Cities Initiative’ as proposed by the current Modi Government. This excitement isn’t restricted only to India. Experts are discussing its global impact and many have sharp and contrasting views on the subject.

“Smart city is one that provides everything for the needs of its citizens”, as quoted by our Prime Minister. This is a simple yet revolutionary way of looking at cities. On one hand, it looks at the obvious issues surrounding infrastructure of cities whilst on the other hand it links up all the issues around governance, service delivery, citizens’ aspirations and their quality of life.

Smart cities isn’t the first initiative aimed at addressing urban issues. It is based on the principle of competition wherein cities are competing against each other for access to funds, and to some extent for its prestige.

Minister of Urban Development M Venkaiah Naidu announced the first list of 20 shortlisted cities on January 28 which marked the end of the first phase of competition, wherein 20 out of the 98 cities resurfaced as winners. As per centre there is a mission to develop at least 100 smart cities in next five years. Each state is entitled to a specific number of cities for which it would be funded and supported.

There were many surprises. Major cities like Howrah, Hyderabad Bengaluru, Gurugram and Patna were surprise omissions from this city race. The biggest surprise was Bhubaneswar topping the challenge followed by Pune, Jaipur, Ludhiana, Davanagere, Guwahati, Kakinada, Belagavi outweighing many big cities. The respective state governments deemed these cities more competitive for the national challenge; however the top 20 city list was dominated by tier II and III cities with only Delhi and Chennai representing the metros of the country. Even the second list announced in May 2016 also included majority of tier II and III cities with few exception.

As part of the competition, the cities had to submit area and city-wide development projects that were aimed at improving the quality of life for citizens by engaging with them and addressing their needs. They were asked to encourage the building capacity among city officials by moving towards e-governance and the use of technology. Their root aim was to develop a holistic city development plan with a vision for zero emissions and zero waste. Cities were asked to submit proposals that would not only change but transform them.

India is currently one-third urban. Global trends have shown that urbanisation stabilises at 75-80 percent mark. This means two-third of urban India is yet to be built. By 2050, about 75 per cent of the population will be living in cities, and India is no exception. It will need about 500 new cities to accommodate the influx.

J and K State approach till now was to include both Jammu and Srinagar to develop as smart city under ‘Smart Cities Mission’. The J and K Government sent the proposal for both cities to the Centre. Sensing AIIMS-like agitation if one of the two capital cities-Jammu or Srinagar-was named by the government as smart city, the State Government refused to recommend either of them for inclusion in the list of 100 smart cities. The Centre went ahead without naming any of the cities from Jammu and Kashmir but kept one slot vacant by naming only 99 smart cities. However lately, M Vankaiah Naidu formally announced two smart cities one each for Jammu and Kashmir.

The announcement of two smart cities can be yet another bonanza of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government to the State of Jammu and Kashmir after two All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), two Cancer Institutes and three Medical Colleges recently apart from number of other such initiatives.
The concept of smart cities is not without its challenges. The success of such a city depends on residents, entrepreneurs and of course the implementing agencies. Also, there is a time factor as such cities can eventually take anything between 20 to 30 years. JK State has to start a fast track development plan and get the project approved from Center, I am confident, the way France, Japan, Singapore and Switzerland have adopted other smart cities in India, we can market our smart cities for adoption by the Global First World countries. The faster incitation of the smart city project may bring peace and Prosperity back to the JK State.

[The Author is Secretary, AIKS. Email – sapru1971@gmail.com and Mob. 9810282928]

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