India’s Smart Cities

By: Amrapali Mukherjee and Anuradha Banerjee
The concept of smart cities is gaining ground with the government’s resolve to set up 100 new smart cities all over the country. To be smart, each such city should be able to deliver basic and infrastructure services quickly and efficiently, while providing safety and security to its residents.
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Across the globe, countries are trying to make their cities smart by using a mix of existing and new technologies to achieve diverse objectives more efficiently. Some cities are being designed to be smart right at the outset, so that they can provide citizens cost effective services and be environment friendly, economically vibrant and attractive. These cities have social infrastructure, information systems and equipment compatible to receive, process and act upon a huge amount of real time data. In this respect, a smart city can also be defined as comprising a network of complex IT and electronic systems. The main objective of a smart city is to achieve the so called triple bottom line catering to people, profit and planet. Thus a smart city must meet the following criteria:

  • Efficient delivery of basic services such as energy, health care, water, education, waste disposal and communications;
  • Providing opportunities for economic growth of the city;
  • Ensuring safety and security for its residents;
  • Creating sustainable, intelligent and multimodal transport systems;
  • Creating sustainable social and residential infrastructure;
  • Nurturing creative and cultural space.

Meeting all these objectives at one go may not be possible, in a country like India. Therefore, city-specific priorities need to be overlaid upon the ones mentioned above.


Difficulty in the Indian Scenario

It is estimated that by 2050, around 843 million people will inhabit Indian cities. This massive urbanisation requires India to find smarter ways to improve the quality of life. Experts (Report of Confederation of Indian Industries and Jones Lang LaSalle titled ‘Indian Realty: Through the Looking Glass’, pegging urban population at 843 million) predict that about ~25-30 people will migrate every minute to major Indian cities from rural areas in search of better livelihood and lifestyles.

India hence, needs to have twin goals for its cities. Firstly, model new cities should end up as citadels of economic growth, high living standards and environmental sustainability. Secondly, older cities should become smarter, efficient, and sustainable in stages. Financial and managerial capacity constraints may make meeting both these goals difficult. The feasible alternative would be to create a couple of templates of smart cities that meet both these goals, and follow up.

Major roadblocks to developing smart cities are our huge population, unregistered residents, ad-hoc tenements and extra-legal consumers. No smart city can ever be effective unless everyone is integrated into it, as Prof Sachidanand Sinha, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, opines. “I would like to see as to how the city and the region get more effectively integrated in the vision of the smart city; or would it just provide spaces built for some at the cost of millions. Are we in India equipped or have a vision to equip our medium and small towns with ‘smart cities’?”


Prioritising Objectives

An ideal situation would be prioritising objectives in keeping with the Indian scenario. India plans to build 100 new smart cities and modern satellite towns around existing cities under its smart city programme. The Indian government has allocated Rs 70.6 billion (USD 1.2 billion) for smart cities in the 2014-15 budget. A further USD 83 million has been set aside for the Digital India Initiative.

The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Ltd. (DMICDC) will set up seven ‘smart cities’ along the 1,500 km industrial corridor across six states at USD 100 billion. The Ministry of Urban Development plans to develop two smart cities in each of India’s 29 states, and generate 10-15 per cent more jobs. The model new cities are to meet the following criteria (in order of priority):

  • Provide opportunities for economic growth;
  • Efficiently deliver energy, healthcare, water, education, waste disposal and other services;
  • Create sustainable social and residential infrastructure; and
  • Ensure safety and security.

For this, new model cities (such as Dholera in Gujarat) should be built afresh, and away from existing cities. This will enable them build an economy that harnesses local products and skills using green initiatives. Herein, ‘transport systems’ should be looked into later, since they are constantly evolving in any city. However, the ‘security aspects’ of a smart city should be in consonance with the National Security Grid. For older cities, the objectives should be as follows:

  • Ensuring safety and security for the citizenry;
  • Creating sustainable, intelligent and multimodal transport systems;
  • Efficient delivery of services such as energy, healthcare, water and communications; and
  • Substituting existing social and residential infrastructure with sustainable ones.

Given the economic importance of older cities, safeguarding them should be prioritised by the administration. Since these cities already have thriving economies, the issue of economic growth can be taken up later.


Main Components

The first two components of ‘new’ and ‘old’ smart cities are briefed below:

Providing economic growth: Opening a company, branch or shifting offices is currently a bureaucratic nightmare. To have businesses thrive, the smart city ought to reduce the effort needed for legal documentation and approvals. This could be achieved through single window clearance, and tackling the gap between demand and supply of skills, goods and services through interfacing with universities, polytechnics and suppliers on an IT platform.

Delivering safety and security: A two-layered IT structure to deliver the safety and security of residents, wherein the top layer is connected to the national grid, that contains all information related to disaster management, crime records, terrorism, and military intelligence, and a bottom layer of local information pertaining to CCTV cameras in public places, bank and hospital management systems should characterise the ideal smart city. This can streamline all responses in the case of any natural or man-made disaster, and help take necessary preventive action on the basis of available information. The Union Ministry proposes to spend USD 333 million under the flagship ‘Safe City’ project to make India’s seven big cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Hyderabad) safe using advanced technology rather than manpower.

Delivering basic services: A smart city should be able to detect the energy requirement of one sector (cluster of residential or commercial blocks) and dynamically draw from other sectors, in keeping with the basic activity levels and seasonal variations. A single identification ought to suffice for healthcare services, and seamless flow of patient data from primary health centres and general practitioners to nursing homes and referral hospitals has to be the norm in a smart city.

Aiming to provide electricity for at least 8 hours a day by 2017, the government plans to implement eight smart-grid pilot projects at an investment of USD 10 million. To this end, 130 million smart meters will be put up by 2021.

Creating sustainable multi-modal transport

Limited road space, encroachments and a large number of fast and slow-moving vehicles cause traffic snarls in our cities. An IT enabled platform, linked to individual modes of transport, with updated city maps and GPS can provide the solution here. Traffic can then be controlled on the basis of real time information on jams, repair work, and accidents, with warnings being issued well in advance. To free road space, higher road taxes imposed on private vehicles on certain days of a week can encourage the use of public transport. Vehicles like autorickshaws, minibuses and taxis can pick up passengers from pre-scheduled locations, with pre-booking over the internet through hand held devices.


Partnerships Required

A project of this size can never be completed without the right kind of involvement of all concerned. Hence, key stakeholders will need to be won over for building the smart ecosystem. Government agencies, political parties, hawkers, shopkeepers, taxi and auto unions, and urban residents’ associations need to jointly discuss the issues involved and arrive at a consensus before implementation.

A robust IT platform needs to be developed by system integrators, platform developers, utility companies, and service providers to facilitate interoperability of a plethora of subsystems onto it.

Fig. 1: Capital Expenditure Estimates by Sector
Fig. 1: Capital Expenditure Estimates by Sector

The High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure (HPEC 2011) estimates an investment of Rs 39.2 lakh crores in the 2012-2031 period on urban development at a per capita investment of Rs 43,386 and an annual maintenance cost of Rs 1,806 taken at 2009-10 prices. Fig 1. indicates where investments will need to be made. Even if only the Class IA and IB metropolitan cities (Class IA and IB cities) are considered, it will mean a capital investment of Rs 14.5 lakh crores. The budget outlay of municipal corporations will certainly not be able to handle such a huge investment. The Government is hence considering issuing various kinds of municipal and infrastructure bonds to cover capital costs. Major service providers are also being invited to subsidise the capital investment and recover through operating charges.



The smart city concept can certainly work in India provided it is adapted to Indian conditions and implemented in phases based on city-specific priorities. Herein, a couple of templates should prove ideal for all future developments and improvisation.

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