India has been on a digitization curve with Smart City, Digital India initiatives and citizen engagement through government-to-citizen (G2C) services. COVID-19 has highlighted that smart and safe cities are indispensable and great enablers of sustainability, socio-economic prosperity and security. We have seen many examples of smart cities delivering immense value to citizens through a score of digital services. . In the critical year of 2020, cities like Agra and Kakinada have rapidly collaborated with internet service providers to boost capacity for individuals as well as COVID response task-forces, set up centralised control rooms to monitor activities within the city and coordinate appropriate response between the city administration and local police force. They have also leveraged digital platforms to integrate one-stop-shop healthcare via teleconsultation and telemedicine.
Safe and smart cities - crucial socio-economic driver for India
After battling the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, the Indian economy is poised to expand at a good clip in 2021. Leading international economists and experts predict a faster growth rate in 2021. The World Bank's report states that India's growth will accelerate to 5.4 percent in fiscal 2021-22. Smart and safe cities have a pivotal role to play:
Smart and safe cities can support India to carry on business as usual through strong connectivity infrastructure.
Technology-led interventions to ensure the safety and security of citizens in crises.
Critical social parameters like crime reduction, women's safety, road safety, congestion-free cities – are all directly related to the implementation of smart and safe cities in India.
Apart from physical and citizen security, information and cybersecurity are also enabled by a smart and safe city ecosystem.
Smart and safe city infrastructure can enable efficient ways to tackle air pollution, waste management, and energy efficiency in Indian cities.
Most Indian cities are ill-equipped to provide platforms for inter-agency collaboration, such as between healthcare & law enforcement at a local level, fire and rescue & command and control centre, etc. smart cities can solve this problem.
Fragmented coverage of smart surveillance tools over urban centres can be addressed through smart and safe city programs.
For India to truly build its smart and safe cities, we need to take inspiration from countries like South Korea and Taiwan and invest in building robust digital networks, an open-source application ecosystem and a futuristic smart city infrastructure
Pandemic shifted priorities towards smart buildings
The pandemic has caused us to rethink our way of living. While many of us have turned to technology to stay connected professionally and personally during the lockdown, few are aware of how connected buildings can be used to ensure the safety of residents and monitor the spread of the virus. Without question, connected buildings are the simplest way to incorporate a digital upgrade that can have a positive effect on all the fundamental components in which our societies are structured. As a result, policymakers at both the local and national levels must prepare their connected building strategies.
Role of Government, Public and Private sector in achieving digitally enabled smart and safe Cities
For India to fully reap the benefits of a smart and safe city and fast-track the path to a digital economy, government, public sector, and private sector need to collaborate and play distinct roles in developing, sustainable, resilient and inclusive urban infrastructure. Government bodies and officials must partner with the industry to put technology at the core of their operations and rapidly develop capabilities to implement digital transformation projects to deliver ease and convenience to the lives of the end consumers.
With India's digital economy targeted to reach 20% by 2024, the future of India's socio-economic growth is dependent on the Internet and an enabled ecosystem that connects the value chain partners across different sectors with end users.
The best time to prioritize smart and safe city investments and operationalise projects is now
With cities like Agra, Kota, Gandhinagar, Jaipur, Kakinada, etc., having adopted smart technologies on a city-wide scale, it empowered them to control COVID-19 crisis. Smart and safe city projects will also enable local startups to team with national and state authorities to develop targeted digital solutions for the urban populace that will continue to generate great economic value.
Given the critically enabling role a smart and safe city can play in India today and the future, focusing on the projects from the beginning until completion is very important. Losing the focus on the initiative can lead to:
Inability to keep crime in check, especially in established volatile pockets of a city
Billions of dollars of opportunities lost in a growing global digital economy
Development of unhygienic conditions across cities exposing urban citizens to various seasonal infections and ailments such as dengue, malaria, etc.
Inability to deliver and monitor critical services such as healthcare to the needy.
Indian government should make an effort to ensure that resources are made available for planning and implementing smart city projects on a scale, and treat them at par with critical services such as food, water and shelter. Currently, smart city projects are being explored in Indian cities, including Bangalore, Chennai and Ahmedabad. In my view, these projects should be recognised as projects of national importance.
Based on the critical role that smart and safe city plays in the urban India context, we would like to recommend the following:
Standardization of RFPs: MHA shall centrally issue the template for releasing of RFPs to the State/Districts. At the moment, all cities are coming up with their version (and understanding) of the program.
Mission mode prioritisation of RFPs: Finalisation of Phase-I RFPs is taking a very long time, strict timelines to be stipulated for finalization of the contract. Phase-II cities should be rolled out in tandem for the overall achievement.
Rapidly scale up implementation of advanced technologies such as IPMPLS, IoT, GPS tracking, Video surveillance, big data, and predictive analytics to enable future use cases.
As elaborated above, the need for a smart and safe city cannot be under-prioritized. While India is aggressively focusing on stimulus packages for public safety and welfare, we need to invest, plan and execute these projects in mission mode. We also need to think for the long term and build infrastructure to enable India to get at par with advanced nations. In this context, urban digitisation is one of the most critical objectives. It can only be achieved if we immediately fast-track the various Smart City and Safe City projects across the country.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house