Intro: The grandiose promise of the Modi Government to build ‘smart cities’ in India is step towards ‘acche din’ for India.
The fact that the Narendra Modi government plans to use new technological innovations for improving the living conditions of the people is clear from the thrust that is now being put on developing smart cities across the country. In the speech that he gave in June, Modi said, “If we have to generate employment and change for the better, we have to plan to build 100 smart cities.”
“Cities in the past were built on riverbanks,” Modi added in the speech. “They are now built along highways. But in the future, they will be built based on availability of optical fibre networks and next-generation infrastructure.”
Few days ago, the government approved of an ambitious, $1.2 billion investment in Smart Cities, which will have high-tech communications capabilities. The plans include building new cities and retrofitting existing ones to develop holistic infrastructure for catering to the demands of the country’s rapidly urbanising population. Private and overseas funding is also expected to play a major role in the development of Smart Cities.
While there is no universally acceptable definition for a “smart city”, the concept generally denotes a very high tech urban environment, where there is very good quality connectivity, ready availability of all kinds of e-services, and the management of transportation networks, power, water supply, garbage disposal, etc., is by a “network of sensors, cameras, wireless devices and data centres.” These high tech cities are planned in a way that will keep them clean, fuel-efficient, crime-free and safe.
Different countries can come up with their own versions of the smart city concept, depending on their needs, their budget, and the scope of the project. The essential idea is to create a rather liveable, appealing, and economically viable city that is attractive to citizens and businesses, and can meet the highest expectations for environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
However, high-tech infrastructure and newest solutions from Information Technology (IT) is not the only thing that makes a city “smart.” The government needs to transform the model of the city’s governance for it to become an effective model-It will require power to change hands with the local agencies to create a transparent e-Governance system; and to develop effective procedures to run the administration of the city online so that the citizens are able to access the information at the click of a mouse.
There is no doubt that IT and other high-tech systems can be a key enabler for creation of smart city, where citizens can enjoy a better quality of life, but having these modern marvels of technology in place might be the easy part. The difficult part will be reforming the system of governance. Unless changes are made in the laws by which the cities in the country are administered, the realisation of high tech cities will remain a distant dream.
Information Technology can be of no use, if the government agencies continue to operate under archaic laws and obsolete procedures. While taking forward its plans for developing the physical and technological infrastructure for smart city projects in India, the government should also concentrate on engineering some major reforms.
It is a good thing that the government has placed a new thrust on bringing IT to various departments by earmarking an outlay of Rupees 3,929.10 crore in the Union Budget 2014-15 for the electronics and information technology sector.
This is double the money the IT Ministry spent in 2013-14. According to industry veterans and analysts, the increased budget will not only provide opportunities to the sector, but also to the companies that provide products and services.
With the way technology is advancing, and by acknowledging Modi government’s vision for creating better infrastructure in the country, everything is clearly pointing towards an idea whose time has come. -Anoop Verma