'A City Can Be Called Smart Only If It Is Also Sustainable'

The US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) is a nodal agency of US government that provides funding to partnering countries in the areas of infrastructural development. The agency had been very active in the field of aviation and energy and has also extended their support to the ambitious Smart Cities Mission Project, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. Mehnaz Ansari, Country representative, South Asia, USTDA, talks to Chahat Jain of BW SmartCities about the progress of smart city project in these cities and about the future focus areas of the agency in India. Edited excerpts.

Mehnaz Ansari, Country Representative, South Asia, USTDA

Vizag is the first smart city to be developed in collaboration with USTDA, can you share the progress of the project?

Before answering, I will like to tell you little bit about US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). We are an agency of US government which provides catalytic funding in terms of grand assistance for feasibility projects, pilot projects and technical assistance in the areas of infrastructural development. Also, we help connect US businesses to the emerging market and India is one of our largest portfolios.

In 2015, during US President’s visit to India to celebrate India’s Republic Day. Apart from other business engagements, one engagement was for the US to sign three partner cities for development under the aegis of smart city program, which was launched by the Government of India. And these partner cities were Vizag or Vishakhapatnam, Allahabad and Ajmer.

We have the MoUs with all these three states and we have been working extensively in all of them, especially, there has been a lot of progress in Vizag or Vishakhapatnam. Not only for the fact that there has been a very collaborative interest from the city’s stake holders, but US businesses have also shown a very promising economic development and partnership opportunity in the state. Nevertheless, we are also exploring Ajmer and Allahabad and have been doing workshops.

Now, coming to answering your question, where we are and what we are doing? So in 2015, taking the chief minister Chandbabu Naidu’s thought vision forward and India launching its smart city program, Vizag was one of the fewest cities to qualify in the top 20 cities. And we have launched the master planning program for the entire Vizag. 

This program was in partnership with the state government of Andhra Pradesh, the ministry of Urban De-velopment of Andhra Pradesh and under this program we are looking at the entire master planning, and also rolling out of the actual projects to be implemented. Considering the nature of this program, the task was big, It included the vision of setting up Vizag as a Smart City which can be evolved as a clean commerce capital in India in the coming years.

We have been working through our US companies IBM and KPMG, which are world leaders in terms of planning, consulting and internet or ICT world. They have been working very extensively with the Vizag stakeholders to develop a master plan and will help the city roll out its master plan for implementation. We are currently in the third phase of the master plan and very soon the program will come to a final conclusion where a big presentation is being planned for the state and the federal government stakeholders along with all the citizens. One thing I must add that in Vizag development story, citizens have been a very important element of the entire engagement. All their inputs, their intake and their desire on how they want to see their smart city Vizag by 2030 to become a clean commerce capital has been kept in the preview.

Given the current infrastructure, do you think these three cities, Ajmer, Allahabad and Vizag, are doing well in terms of project planning and implementation and what more can be done?

I would say that, these cities have really taken a challenge on themselves not only for the fact that they have been qualified now under the India 100 smart cities challenge program but also because they were pre-identified by Government of India and US Government at the highest levels to be US partner cities.

The city and state stakeholders have done tremendous efforts on their sides to make sure that the city is planning well, planning ahead and also in retrospect, what has happened till now and where they want to go next. Next not only in terms of their own city development but also how they can model themselves as the best city for other cities in the country to follow. So they are working on how to get the best of the US examples to be incorporated into their city development plan, which, the other cities including these 100 cities or beyond can adapt.

As you mentioned the collaboration could be the best model for the development of the smart city, so how do you think public private partnership is also crucial for building a smart city?

Public private partnership is currently the most important element of how this will finally roll out and how this will sustain as a model. The Ministry of Urban Development, very strategically, under the government of India, has launched the smart cities program, which also has element from the earlier JNNURM, under which there was a lot of urban and infrastructural planning. But now under the smart city program, a very focused mission has been laid out for the city’s stakeholders and the state’s stakeholders to start thinking ahead. And apart from this, after the government has laid out a program, they can only help you, give a direction and the indication in the current.

As I mentioned earlier, the most important or critical element of any city development is the citizen, who lives in the city, who likes to live in the city, who loves to live in the city, who has a job, has a way of earning and has a way of nurturing a happy family, a happy lifestyle, a happy livelihood, where he wants to own and adapt to what he belongs to. So, citizens have been the most crucial in this and their work in the private sector as well as in the government sector. Also, there are other stakeholders who look at such progressive development aspect and want to come and invest in your development efforts. So, in public private partnership, there is a complete amalgamation of the private sector, owning, not only as a part of the corporate social responsibility, but beyond this. It is only then it becomes a truly successful model.

Other big challenge for Smart City Mission is finance. You cannot 100 per cent finance on behalf of any part of government at any level. And, certainly financing has to come through a partnership, again from the public sector, from the stakeholders of the city, which includes the citizens and the citizens who have probably moved abroad through the bonds or through banks. All these financing models are very crucial for the development of the city.

There is a very thin line between building a smart city and building a sustainable city. How can we, according to you, keep the word sustainability in mind while building a smart city?

I think, any city can be called smart only if it is also sustainable. I do not know and I do not see a line, I see that it is actually complementary to each other. In some people’s understanding, Smart probably means only technology and Internet of Things, but that is not true. A city can be called sustainable, when you have 24X7 basic amenity supply, followed by a smart model, where I know, what time my bus is arriving, where am I landing and how can I get a cab to get to my home, how is my child doing in school or has he left from school for home. All these secondary parameters can only come once I have built a sustainable framework for it. So, a sustainable framework will first identify my necessities and then come up with my requirements.

In India, USTDA has been really active in the field of aviation, which are the key areas in which the agency would like to partner in future?

USTDA in India, as I mentioned earlier, maintains a very active portfolio in the areas of civil aviation where we host US India aviation program. We have US India energy cooperation program with US members in the Niti Aayog and now we are looking at smart cities. USTDA is an infrastructural planning agency and is engaged in the sectors of civil aviation, including where we have found synergies now. Our planners for Vizag are also looking at a new airport which is coming up at Bhugapuram and are also looking at the modernization of Kishangad Airport. 

In the areas of distribution utility modernization, we have worked in smart grids. We have also worked in the traditionalist sector. Also we continue to work in the refining sector. So, we are actually present in all the infrastructural planning elements of Indian development. We have worked with Indian private sector as well as the Indian Government with equal comfort. I think we really nurture this partnership and enjoy working together here.