The World had become urban more than any time in history. Today more than 50% of the population live in cities and this is a trend which is expected to continue. By 2050, it is expected that the urban population will more than double the current size and nearly 7 of 10 people in the world will live in cities. The cities have also become the economic powerhouses with more than 80% of the global GDP being generated in cities.
India has also seen a similar trend with increased urbanisation. More than 30 percent of the country now live in urban areas. It is estimated that India’s urban population will increase from about 380 million people to 600 million by 2030. The growth is not matched by increase in infrastructure in urban areas including public housing, basic services including water and sanitation and the need for mass public transport. India’s cities are growing rapidly though in
ways that largely appear unplanned and haphazard. Most large cities are sprawling beyond their municipal boundaries, and many once-rural areas are becoming denser and acquiring urban characteristics.
The speed and scale of urbanization brings challenges, including demand for affordable housing, well-connected transport systems, and other infrastructure, basic services, as well as jobs, particularly for the urban poor who live in informal settlements many of them work in informal sector often people who are also displaced from traditional livelihood from rural hinterlands.
The Government of India (GoI) launched the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) in June 2015. The idea of a smart city is a global concept but there is no one definition to it being used as an umbrella term with varied features being used as a projection of the smartness of the city. The mission objective is described as promoting “cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions.” It also imagined “driving economic growth and improving the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology
that leads to Smart outcomes.”
What may define ‘Smart’ in various ways is the introduction of technology, especially smart technologies for solving the issues around city planning and management. Smart cities collect lots of data through instrumentation, bring these data together through integration, and then analyze the integrated data for better service delivery to the citizens. Though this could also lead to a lot of data into the hands of the private corporate entities which can be used both for surveillance of the population and for monetising the data for business ends.
The Smart City Mission has
invited large scale criticism from urban poor groups, civil society groups and
city planners. These include issues of exclusion of people and their needs,
especially the urban poor communities from the decision making process as the
SPV will take over from municipal bodies in administration of the smart cities.
The Smart Cities Mission mandates that each city creates a Special Purpose
Vehicle (SPV) under the Companies Act 2013, which is a limited company which
will manage the implementation of the projects under the Mission. This SPV
plans, appraises, approves and releases funds to implement further, manage,
operate, monitor and evaluate the smart city developmental projects in the
concerned city. What is missing in the new formulation are the questions of
urban governance, universal
public service delivery, urban commons and the ‘rights’ of citizens. The rights of people in the city, for affordable housing, public services, basic services etc. It is also not clear how the new formulations will tackle rising inequalities and impacts of the climate crisis in the city or will it lead to wasteful investments in fancy technology over less exciting and more important basic and foundational investments.
The financing of Smart city mission is linked with a great deal of privatisation and corporatisation of the urban spaces and services. The mission guidelines promises it as a centrally sponsored scheme and the central government promised a financial support of Rs 48,000 crore over five years with an overage Rs 100 crore per city per year. However, till July 2019, of the promised 48,000 Cr, only Rs 17,114 Cr has been released by the Central Government and only Rs 6160 Cr has been utilized by the cities – a mere 3% of the total estimated costs of the projects as conceived in 2015.
The influence of International finance and financial institutions are visible from the start of the program as MoHUP partnered with both the World Bank and ADB in the implementation of the project. It was understood that the resources needed to build smart cities would come from private players and the international financial institutions will facilitate such an investment into the mission. The World Bank estimates that there is a global infrastructure gap of about $5.4 trillion per year and positions itself to expand access to finance from multiple sources,including private finance and strengthen fiscal capacities and systems. Similarly, ADB estimates that as per the baseline estimates the cost to address India’s infrastructure deficit is around USD 230 billion per year. This infrastructure deficit is also looked upon as a huge investment opportunity by others for the private investors into sectors like renewable energy, transportation, smart water and energy supply systems, solid waste management, green buildings, etc. These institutions are financing several projects which complement the smart cities mission in India.
On the ground, however, the promise of smart solutions are getting exclusionary leaving the majority of its poor, marginalised and informal working class population who lack access to housing, clean drinking water, affordable public transportation, and legal entitlement in government policies and programs, out of the solutions. The excessive focus on digital technology based solutions rather than participatory governance will leave people out of the solutions.
The present course introduces to understand smart cities mission in the country, its financing mechanisms, governance structure, technology, critiques, case studies from selected cities and alternatives to develop a perspective to study and critically look at your own city.