If there is one arena of governance where private sector does a lot of work for the government in India, it’s to build smarter cities. However, the results we’ve achieved so far are constrained to the tier I & II cities and the degree of our achievement is modest compared to other countries. Singapore is known to be one of the best examples of smart cities. Usage of technology in building a citizen experience as well as making it worth it for taxpayers to cede with cess, can be improved tremendously by government expenditure on making their cities smart ones. According to TWI Global, approximately 54% of the global population lives in cities which is expected to rise to 66% by 2050. According to Statista.com in 2019, approximately 34.47% of the population of India lived in urbanized parts of India, rest live in rural areas. Migration is accelerating and cities need to invest in harnessing Indian human potential by giving the people optimal use of resources that governments can offer.
What are smart cities after all? First of all, the cities that are planned in terms of their roads and public transportation, with adequate amount of transportation infrastructure planning such as metros, signage, automated signals, security cameras, speed detectors, online traffic payments and the works, do qualify as cities that are on their way to becoming smart, but that is not all that needs to be done. Today, private sector globally can be availed to monitor the power usage, water usage, waste disposable systems, sewage disposable system. Cities need accurate weather forecasts, by the hour. Floods, storms, earthquakes and other natural calamities need to be predictable and accurate. Green and cities that use clean energy, are adding to their smart city quotient. Early emergence of some of these technologies are visible in India now, in cities such as Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi, but they are far behind global standards of fully smart cities.
Creating smart cities and towns in India can be the solution we are looking for, in terms of accelerated economic growth. State of the art public and social infrastructure can improve the quality of lives of Indians tremendously. Pollution and noise levels can be monitored through appropriate data accumulation and dissemination. There needs to be greater area-wise date available. Wi-fi hotspots, GPS, apps and web - based solutions can add to the ease of living and ease of doing business. Aadhar verification system can be a key for citizens to avail locked features or authenticate for security. It is, after all, connected to our cellphone numbers.
Creating some of the solutions for smart cities can be complex and costly. In such cases, public private partnerships (PPP) can help where private sector companies share revenues of certain government projects. The other model could be simply outsourcing the projects by respective state governments to private sector for a fee share for the government. The difference between the two is the management changes to private sector in the second case and they have autonomy. Advertising and sponsorships can take care of aspects of the plan but the bulk of the money required for converting our cities into smart cities, and efforts have been ongoing since some time now and strides have been made, but nailing it to the coffin, will require budget expenditure from taxation money but it is an investment that will pay in the long run.
Once these cities and towns are converted to smart cities, they will contribute back in innumerable ways, that will lead to the sustainability factor being very high, resulting in a dream growth for our nation. Smart usage of energy and clean energy, waste free streets and slums, clean drinking tap water, quality regulated services, electronically connected transportation system are things in smart city planning that can all be fulfilled with the help of technology and getting the private sector involved. World class cities, planned for expansion and future, secured of carbon footprint are something our country has been working on since the tech revolution but speed is of essence. London, Dubai, New York, Melbourne, Tokyo, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Toronto, Reykjavik, Vienna, Kansas City and Columbus are en-route to become fully smart cities.
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
The author is Managing Director of Enso Group. He resides in Mumbai. He holds an undergraduate degree in business from Carnegie Mellon University and a postgraduate diploma in global business from Oxford University.