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Smart cities: Good conceptualization, not-so-good on the ground

Smart cities: Good conceptualization, not-so-good on the ground

It is official now. India’s top cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru have witnessed a drop in their ranking in the Smart City Index prepared by the Institute for Management Development (IMD), in collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design (SUTD).

Singapore topped the list.

While the report said that the Indian cities have suffered a drop in ranking due to the “detrimental effect that the pandemic has had where the technological advancement was not up to date,” this could deal a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-hyped Smart Cities Mission.

New Delhi is now placed at the 85th position, down from 67 in 2019 while Mumbai, considered the financial capital of India slid to 93rd from 78th. Similarly, Hyderabad was placed at the 85th position, a drop from 67 and Bengaluru dropped to 95th from 79th in 2019.

You don’t need an expert to tell you what a smart city means.

It simply refers to a city built with modern technology to ensure that comfort of citizens in transportation and living while catering to their rising aspirations. In short, they would be cities with world class infrastructure for living comfort.

The Modi government in June 2015 launched the mission with an allocation of just a little less than Rs 98,000 crore.

One of the main reasons to develop smart cities was to draw investments—foreign and domestic.

Five years down, where are we?

The conceptualization of smart cities was a welcome move and it did raise hopes of having cities with world class infrastructure. But little progress has been made on the ground.

Though this mission is focused on developing many smaller cities as smart cities, the government must also upgrade existing infrastructure in many of the financial hubs.

Forget smart cities. With two days of heavy rains, millennium city Gurgaon or Gurugram—developed in recent years—and home to several Fortune 500 companies, gets flooded despite constant endeavor to plug the existing holes.

The Mumbai story is the same every year. “We know it will rain and we will be trapped indoor. Commuting becomes a nightmare. The drainage system is faulty. Everyone knows that but no one can correct that,” says a senior executive engaged with an American multinational company.

Until infrastructure issues including related to waterlogging, transport and overall living conditions in these cities are not improved, there will be little faith on the Smart Cities Mission.

<strong>Right focus</strong>

While the Modi government has rightly been underlining the need to focus on building world-class cities, it has not been able to deliver it has been promising.

The government has also released a report card on the status of smart cities but insiders say there has been little progress on the ground to holistically address this problem.

At this juncture, especially as several multinationals are looking to set up manufacturing facilities outside China—in India, as also in Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan—it will be important for India to spruce up its city infrastructure at the earliest.

It is no secret that China was able to offer cities and towns having state of the art technology for investors to put in money. India must not waste time.

It needs to focus on fixing the current infrastructure gaps in its main cities. Also in others which are being touted as sweet investment destinations while building the new smart cities..