Fine-tuning the criteria for identifying 100 Indian smart cities is gathering pace and state governments are expected to play a significant role in the consultation process. However, some 4,041 towns and cities across the country will have to first meet some basic parameters to be eligible, before they can compete with each other on several other fronts to make the cut.
Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government announced its smart cities programme, state governments have been lobbying to showcase their cities. Andhra Pradesh, for instance, wanted the Centre to consider 13 cities from the state. In the last week of January, the Ministry of Urban Development organised a two-day workshop in Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan with the states. Initially, the government wanted to choose cities on the basis of population - broadly, cities with a minimum of one lakh people. However, in the workshop, several northeastern states objected as many cities in the region don't have a large population. Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, has a population of 35,022. Sikkim's capital Gangtok has 29,354 and Nagaland's capital Kohima has 77,030. "The project design now has to take into account this suggestion. It cannot just be limited to one lakh," says Jagan Shah, Director of National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), who was among the 250 people who attended the workshop.
At the end of the two-day event, the government announced a city challenge programme. It was decided that the selection process will take into consideration existing infrastructure and civic facilities, and the city under consideration must also have a vision of its own. Other aspects that will be assessed include existing information and grievance redressal mechanisms, functioning of its municipal corporation, and the progress made under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
Linking of the Swachh Bharat Mission with the smart cities programme has been broadly welcomed. The central government will spend Rs 62,000 crore for the first phase of this mission by 2019. "Everybody agreed that cities need to be clean. The states have been getting funding under the mission. By the time the government gets down to the selection of cities, at least one year would have elapsed. The idea is to gauge the commitments of the states towards national priorities," says Shah.
During the discussions, payment of municipal salaries on time evolved as one of the criteria. Most municipalities in India are in bad shape and have limited resources to run the body. But, many believe that municipal salaries are not paid on time because the state does not transfer money to the municipalities. Experts say, this would reflect how important the cities are to the states. Competition will intensify as the government digs deep into issues, such as self-financing abilities of the cities, existing service levels and past track record in implementing reforms.
Some cities have done well when it comes to reforms. For example, Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) has worked on water management and energy efficiency. Last March, SMC completed a Rs 85-crore sewage treatment plant that supplies 40 million litres a day (MLD) industrial-grade water (almost potable-quality) to 125 industrial units in the city. The total potable water requirement for the city is about 1,000 MLD which is sourced from the Tapti river. The supply of industrial-grade water to industries freed up more potable water for citizens. Since the cost of industrial-grade water is less (Rs 17 per kilolitre) compared to potable water (Rs 23 per kilolitre), the industry ended up saving money, too. The corporation is now planning to increase the capacity to 80 MLD. Surat is in the process of making a smart city pitch to the government. "We are making a plan paper that is covering all sectors such as sewage, energy, water, street lighting, social infrastructure," says J.S. Shah, city engineer at SMC.
The first leg of the city challenge programme is expected to be completed in about nine months and the Centre may make some financial commitments to around 20 cities, officials in the know told Business Today. "Once the cities are selected, they would either be guided to redevelop or retrofit," said Shankar Aggarwal, former secretary in the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
Retrofitting, for instance, will be done in areas such as Defence Colony in New Delhi because the locality is in good condition and will require less work and investment. "That locality might require widening of roads, making cycle tracks, improvement in waste management system and wi-fi facilities. In this case, the cost has to be borne by the citizens," says a MoUD official.
Redevelopment, on the other hand, will require large-scale changes. For example, in a congested area, like in Delhi's Darya Ganj, where there's not much scope of improving the current infrastructure, the plan will be to completely demolish, and build vertically. "In such cases, the citizens will be rehabilitated to some other location for a brief period," the official said. An example of this is Kathputli Colony in West Delhi where around 2,800 families will resettle for two years in semi-permanent structures in Anand Parbat as the slum is being redeveloped.