“Smart Cities need to be inclusive in all aspects of sustenance.”

One of the country’s reputed business groups, Pacific India is a notable name in the realty and infrastructure space in India with considerable presence in real estate, hospitality and education sector. With infrastructure being an indispensable part of our Government’s agenda especially Smart Cities Mission, Abhishek Bansal, Executive Director, Pacific India talks to Manali Jaggi of BW Smart Cities about the important aspects of Smart Cities and the need for them to be inclusive with respect to sustenance.

What do you make of the Smart Cities Mission? Do you think India needs smart cities?

We surely need smart cities, as India is fast spearheading towards that phase of development where the growth needs to come from the smaller cities that have the potential to grow and become economically viable. A 'smart city' is essentially a highly advanced urban region where in the important aspects are planning, infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. These coupled with information technology and platforms, automated sensor networks, data centres, smart Solutions towards infrastructure and services in area-based development helps promote the comprehensive development of the city that is dynamic and sustainable.

What kind of progress do you see on ground and how do you foresee the future shaping up in the next decade?

A smart city isn't only about a set of buildings, but also about how it interacts with nature, about availability of social amenities like healthcare, education, security and sanitation. Also, it must be frugal in the way it consumes natural resources, given their scarcity. Keeping India's context in mind, if we only talk about information and communication technology as a major component of a smart city, it will be a little misleading. We have to think in terms of what smartness means to us and our people rather than focus on what being smart means in the Western world. This is particularly important keeping in mind the government's vision to develop 100 smart cities that would touch a significant portion of the urban Indian landscape. Quality of life, sustainability and employment opportunities should be the three main pillars of smart cities in India. We believe multiple smart townships would be required to make a smart city. These projects should also incorporate amenities other than housing - like social amenities, retail centres, cultural centres - for a healthy social life.

What according to you are the model smart cities in India for other cities to emulate?

I would say none at this point in time. 

Do you think there should be right kind of synergies between the Government and private stakeholders in realising the smart city projects? Do you think the PPP model is a paradigm shift in how the urban infrastructure is financed?

The most important and imperative agenda for any developing country is the sustained growth in its economic status. This development is fuelled by advancement in sectors like infrastructure, energy, manufacturing and services. However, this is not possible without the active and incessant participation of the private sector. Public private partnerships, in recent past, have emerged as critical driving force behind large scale infrastructure projects. They epitomise strategic relationships where private sector capital and technology, coupled with favourable government regulatory mechanism and machinery work hand in hand to deliver large and complex projects. PPP projects are vital tools to enable the creation of national assets for the country. Consequently, the role of stakeholders is a key component of the success of such projects. PPP projects are seen in the education and health sector as well, but the focus of this study is on the infrastructure sector. 

Do you think safety should be an important aspect while ensuring sustainability of our smart cities?

Since smart cities are going to be cities of the future, these need to be inclusive in all aspects of sustenance. The intrinsic design of smart cities should ensure that these cities not be treated as a one-time investment to be developed. The central and the state governments should be made responsible for the standards followed while building smart cities are consistently applied and adhered to in order to measure the smart city's effectiveness. Adoption of these new standards will facilitate cutting-edge investments and will help to grow the size of the marketplace. Technology is important but infrastructure lies at the core of the city and needs to be particularly focused on to make the cities will be last long. The development of these cities must be an ongoing process, much like its maintenance.

What more can be done on the policy initiatives by our Government to ensure an inclusive infrastructural growth in a complex country like India?

PPP model should be implemented for all categories as well as service sectors like schools and hospitals. There is a need to facilitate the ease of doing business so for this we need to decrease the barrier and some incentives should be given to established players. Since Real Estate is an important aspect for infrastructural growth there is a need to get an industry status for it to accordingly progress.