Cities with Brains

The smart city dream is a humungous one because of the scope and scale of its ambition.
 Prosenjit Datta        Print Edition: March 15, 2015
Business Today Editor Prosenjit Datta
Business Today Editor Prosenjit Datta

Prime Minister Narendra Modi would like India to have at least 100 smart cities in 20 years time. Some of these will be spanking new cities, built from the ground up. In other cases, old towns and cities will be upgraded into smart or, at least, smarter cities. One of the earliest smart cities - which is being built in Gujarat, and work on which started when Modi was chief minister of the state - will be ready within a few years. It is a Greenfield city, coming up just outside Ahmedabad and has been dubbed as the Gujarat International Financial Tec-City (GIFT).

The smart city dream is a humungous one because of the scope and scale of its ambition. It will cost over Rs 40 lakh crore of investment - at the very minimum - over the 20-year period. Earlier prime ministers and urban development ministers in India have only talked of planned cities and better urban development and facilities. No one had articulated a vision of creating smart cities that could match up to the best of global cities.

Even globally, smart cities are of a fairly recent vintage. They are also relatively rare. There would only be about 26 cities around the world that have earned the title of smart cities. Barcelona is one. Amsterdam is another. Most of the well-known smart cities are in Europe, North America or Australia.

COVER STORY:What lies ahead for the govt's 100 smart cities dream

In fact, there is also considerable debate about what constitutes a smart city. The IT firms think that technology defines a smart city. Green advocates define it in terms of being sustainable in its architecture and running. Others put infrastructure first. And that is why the concept is still nebulous even in the minds of many urban planners. Even in India, several cities in the making are trying to earn the tag of smart cities. The Ajit Gulabchand-promoted Lavasa is trying to position itself as one, while a lot of town planners, consultants and urban development experts feel that Vizag will be one of the first cities in India to earn that title.

What businessmen agree on is that the scope of the opportunity in building new smart cities and retrofitting old ones is huge. There are opportunities for IT consultants and services, for infrastructure companies, for sensor makers and for dozens of others. Very different companies land up before the urban development ministry every day to make presentations on smart cities.

So far, nine months after Modi took charge, the government is still struggling to put a framework over the smart cities dream, and to clear any concrete proposals. Senior Associate Editor Goutam Das and Assistant Editor Manu Kaushik travelled across the country to put together our cover story on what constitutes a smart city and the hurdles the government needs to cross to make the dream come true.

This issue also contains our special report on India's Hottest Young Executives, an annual survey we had started in 2002. It has been anchored by Senior Editor Shamni Pande and Deputy Editor Alokesh Bhattacharyya. Read about the executives who are creating a lot of buzz in some of India's best-known companies.

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