The Centre would like us to believe that the Smart Cities Mission will transform urban life in the agglomerations that enter the elite club. With the latest inclusions, there are 90 cities in the list, each of which proposes to turn ‘smart’, utilising core funding from the Centre and other resources.
By all accounts, the provision of basic services in urban India has been worsening, and this is clearly reflected in the winning city proposals: 81 of the selected plans seek funds for affordable housing, new schools and hospitals, and redesign of roads. This is at best a partial list, and there are many more aspects to achieving inclusivity.
There is a high-visibility campaign around the Smart Cities Mission, but there is little evidence to suggest that State and local governments have either the fine-grained data or the capability to analyse them in order to understand the evolving needs of their communities.
The Centre has apparently decided to skirt such a fundamental problem by adopting a ‘managed urbanisation’ approach in the chosen cities, with the powers of municipal councils delegated to a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), under the Companies Act, that will act in its own wisdom.
Given that this is the model adopted by the two-year-old Mission, the Centre must present a status report on what the SPVs have achieved so far.
ALSO READ : 30 more cities added to Smart Cities Mission
Any serious attempt at improving the quality of life in cities would depend on how governments approach data. It would be smart, for instance, to use sensors to estimate the flow of vehicles and pedestrians, and create smartphone applications for the public to report on a variety of parameters.
Making such data open would enable citizens’ groups to themselves come up with analyses to help city administrators make decisions, boost transparency and make officials accountable.
There are several international examples now, such as the Array of Things sensors being installed on Chicago streets, which let people download the raw data on air quality, transport, pedestrian movement and standing water.
Although India’s Smart Cities Mission has identified more than 20 priority areas, interventions by the respective agencies are weak.
Access to special funding should make it mandatory for all public transport providers — city bus corporations, Metro Rail and suburban trains — to provide real-time passenger information in the form of open data, an inexpensive global standard that raises both access and efficiency through smartphone applications.
What is needed to be Smart about Smart City Mission :
Making street-level waste management data public would lead to a heat map of the worst sites, compelling managers to solve the problem. Clearly, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit on the road to smartness, and a nimble policy approach can tap this quickly.
More importantly, the ideology that guides the plan should recognise that the vibrant life of cities depends on variety and enabling environments, rather than a mere technology-led vision. Pollution-free commons, walkability and easy mobility, with a base of reliable civic services, is the smart way to go.
Source : The Hindu