With the launch of the 100 Smart Cities and AMRUT schemes by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 25, India has embarked on a journey toward making its cities liveable. The task is daunting but can no-longer be delayed, as evident by the Prime Minister’s call to all stakeholders to participate in this exercise.
Central to these schemes are the Smart City Leaders – the Municipal Commissioners or professional CEOs – who will be in the spotlight in the coming months. In fact, it will be the two leaders’ coherent and integrated drive that will see a city transforming into a “Smart City”. As part of this transformation exercise, these Smart City Leaders will have to think like entrepreneurs who have to innovate at every step of the way to ensure that not only does their city qualify for the upcoming City Challenge but that it also implements the innovations that it envisioned during the planning phase.
The scheme refers to two themes, namely area-based developments and pan-city solutions, besides retrofitting, redevelopment and Greenfield city development. For the Smart City Leaders these are all innovations that will drive the city toward its goals, because a city’s problems cannot be solved by simple solutions today; they need to be isolated in some, and integrated in other, cases to arrive at innovative solutions. Also, the resources available to the City Leaders are sparse and precious, (be it land or funding), much like entrepreneurs with angel investment (seed investment from the central government, in this case). City Leaders will need to identify every single rupee available in central and state government schemes that can be put into use for making the innovation deliver.
Integration of government schemes, therefore, will be driving innovation for cities, including - but not limited to - central schemes like Swachh Bharat Mission, 100 Smart Cities, AMRUT, HRIDAY, Make In India, Digital India, Skill India, National Electric Mobility Mission, Namami Gange (wherever applicable), among others. Collectively, these can address several issues and also increase the pool of funds available to address others. Most city issues are connected but since the departments within the city address them in an isolated way, it gives rise to the myth that they exist in isolation. The funding from a particular scheme is often not sufficient and leads to partial or unsatisfactory redressal.
Let’s take the example of women’s safety in a city. In isolation, it looks either like a law and order issue or one related to the lack of social awareness. The police may look at it in an isolated way via the installation of CCTV infrastructure, setting up women helplines or a women’s safety app. The city corporation would look for initiatives such as awareness programmes and grievance redressal systems. In reality, it is an issue of issues, like poorly-lit streets that give a chance to eve-teasers; poor internet coverage that leads to messages/ alerts not sent on time, among others. Hence, as a Smart City initiative, the City Leader will consider an integrated and holistic approach and not look at it through the prism of one department alone. A checklist may read like this:
Well-lit roads and street lights that work
CCTV infrastructure at places that are prone to harassment or eve-teasing
Wi-Fi hotspots at key locations that can be integrated with online women’s safety cells
A women’s safety app integrating the police, city departments, transport and traffic
Now if we integrate all the above, then we have an intelligent street lighting solution that has LED-mounted street lights, with cameras, emergency call boxes at specific locations and a public Wi-Fi system – all managed via a city command centre that also hosts a women’s safety app. This would definitely make the city safer. This means that the Smart City Leader has identified an innovative solution under the retrofitting category to provide for intelligent street lighting that not only makes the city safe but also consumes less energy. That is just the first step toward innovation; the solution can be enriched by adding solar panels and can be further enhanced by bringing in a partner to manage the street lights, keep the entire corridor clean and make it pedestrian friendly. When the partner is allowed to create a business model based on a combination of right of way, video feeds, advertisements and energy efficiency, such an innovation also becomes sustainable.
This is how, over the next few months, the Smart City Leaders will think to differentiate their innovations from one another and provide for integrated solutions to ‘connected’ issues of the city. Most important of all, it would all depend on how efficiently the various schemes are clubbed together for maximum impact.