India’s cities need to be sustainable, not smart

GS 1 – Population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies

Source : The Indian Express dated 01/07/2021

Context : On June 25, the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) completed six years of its launch. Positioned as a game-changer by the government, the mission promised lighting development of cities and the scheme caught the public’s attention as a novel idea.

What is Smart Cities Mission(SCM)?
  • ‘Smart city’ is a city equipped with basic infrastructure to give a decent quality of life, a clean and sustainable environment through application of some smart solutions. 
  • It includes basic infrastructure like adequate water supply, electricity supply, sustainable sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility, affordable housing and ensuring robust IT connectivity and e-governance.
  • The Mission will cover 100 cities and its duration will be five years from 2015 to 2020.
  • The Mission is implemented by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
  • SCM will be operated as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) where in the central Government proposes to provide financial support up to Rs. 100 crore per city per year. An equal amount, on a matching basis, will have to be contributed by the State/ULB.

In the context of our country, the six fundamental principles on which the concept of Smart Cities is based are:

Why do we need it?
  • According to Census 2011, Cities accommodate nearly 31% of India’s current population and contribute 63% of GDP. Urban areas are expected to house 40% of India’s population and contribute 75% of India’s GDP by 2030. This requires comprehensive development of physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure. All are important in improving the quality of life and attracting people and investment.
  • The strategic components of area-based development in the Smart Cities Mission are city improvement (retrofitting), city renewal (redevelopment) and city extension (greenfield development) plus a Pan-city initiative in which Smart Solutions are applied covering larger parts of the city
  • Area-based development will transform existing areas (retrofit and redevelop), including slums, into better planned ones, thereby improving livability of the whole City. New areas (Greenfield) will be developed around cities in order to accommodate the expanding population in urban areas.
  • The smart city aspirants have been selected through a process of competition called ‘City Challenge Competition’ in an objective manner as hailed by NITI Aayog. It entails effective citizen participation ending the ‘top down’ approach and leading to ‘people centric’ urban development.
  1. SCM selected about 100 cities in batches, covering almost 21 per cent of India’s urban population and major emerging cities. The programme aimed to execute more than 5,924 projects bringing in investments of more than Rs 2,00,000 crore within five years from the date of selection.
    • But the latest government data reveals that
      • 49 per cent of 5,196 projects for which work orders were issued remain unfinished.
      • Among 33 cities that completed their five-year duration this year, 42 per cent of the projects are incomplete.
      •  As of June 23, 2021, Rs 40,622 crore has been released of which Rs 27,862 crore (69 per cent) was utilised, according to utilisation certificates.
    • Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) – created in every city to implement the mission on a PPP model. Operating as limited companies under the Companies Act, 2013, these were meant to corporatise the process of setting up a smart city and cut through the political clutter. 
      • ended up bypassing the democratic process.
      • goes against the 74th Amendment Act, 1992, which gives autonomy to local bodies and encourages decentralisation.
  2. Lack of transparency
    • In sharing information and relevant details of the proposals, projects and so on.
  3. With respect to financial support required by ULBs
    • Schemes come with riders and a “reform” agenda that incentivise ULB’s to focus more on competition, rating them on scheme implementation points, leading to local governments executing them under pressure to get additional resources.
      • This pushes the ULBs to invest in projects that are the lowest priority in their cities and do not suit their context.
    • There are also instances where assets of the ULBs are being sold off at market rates to raise investments for the SCM scheme and to invite other investments.
    • limited benefits to city dwellers
      • 80 per cent of the funds dedicated to area-based developments
      • PUNE – only 0.8 per cent of the population will see results.
  4. Capacities and roles of local agencies.
    • ULBs remain ill-equipped to govern in most urban areas.
    • Most of the functions remain under the control of the state governments and at best, sanitation and basic service provisions are under local bodies’ control
  5. Lack of effective participation?
    • Twitter impressions and Facebook likes are also being projected as public participation.
      • While recognising the spur technology provides to reach out to more netizens, our urban centres cannot do away with physical infrastructure and public outreach programmes.
Way forward, Recent Initiatives
  • CSCAF 2.0:
    • Objective: To provide a clear roadmap for cities towards combating Climate Change while planning and implementing their actions, including investments.
      • CSCAF initiative intends to inculcate a climate-sensitive approach to urban planning and development in India.
    • Framework: It has 28 indicators across five categories namely;
      • Energy and Green Buildings,
      • Urban Planning, Green Cover & Biodiversity,
      • Mobility and Air Quality,
      • Water Management and
      • Waste Management.
    • Implementing Agency: The Climate Centre for Cities under National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) is supporting MoHUA in implementation of CSCAF.
  • Streets for People Challenge:
    • ​Aim: It aims to inspire cities to create walking-friendly and vibrant streets.
    • Eligibility: All cities with a population of over 5 lakh, and capital cities, can apply.
    • It includes:
      • Creating pedestrian-friendly streets in high footfall areas,
      • Re-imagining under-flyover spaces,
      • Re-vitalizing dead neighbourhood spaces, and
      • Creating walking links through parks and institutional areas.
  • India smart cities awards (ISCA) 2020
    • Uttar Pradesh emerged on the top among all states, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. 
    • Indore (Madhya Pradesh) and Surat (Gujarat) won the award jointly for their overall development. 
    • Ahmedabad bagged the ‘Smart Cities Leadership Award’ and Chandigarh, the award for union territories, while Indore won the “Innovative Idea Award”. 

The biggest challenge facing Indian cities is not of “smart” development, but the need for a “sustainable development”, where ecological concerns are addressed, where pollution is controlled, and resources used efficiently.

It is only with the principles of decentralisation, empowerment of urban local bodies through financial support and autonomy, coupled with participation of its citizenry that a new urban environment can emerge.

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