Interview

‘Rural Migration an Opportunity for Smart Cities’

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Ameya Abhyankar
District Magistrate, New Delhi

As people from all directions head for urban areas in search of job opportunities, education, healthcare, better civic amenities and thus a better quality of life, smart cities seem the way forward, insists Ameya Abhyankar in a tete-a-tete with Gautam Debroy of ENN

What is your idea of a smart city?

Today’s urban landscape has a very diverse demographic profile. It is composed of people from different religions, cultures, professions and languages, coexisting and cohabiting in the same space. Besides, the density of population is quite high.

If contextualised for a country like India – which is midway through the process of development – one finds that the aspiration and expectation level of the population is on a swing vis-à-vis- the available resources of the nation. Although we do not have resources at par with the European and the Western countries, people compare things with China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. There is a huge gap between the aspirations and expectations, and the ground reality.
If contextualised for a country like India – And, it is in this backdrop that the concept of smart city comes into play. I would define a smart city as one where decision making is based on sound information made available in an easy and intelligent manner to the decision makers. This helps in freeing up the process of decision making, and making it more objective and rational. We will be able to justify projects in terms of necessity and also define the outcome. I think this is where a smart city fits in.

Do you think the concept will work in India – a country plagued by poverty and booming population?

Actually, it’s the booming population that necessitates creation of smart cities. Such cities give the right tools to the decision makers to identify gaps in infrastructure and services, and identify patterns of public behaviour and that of public requirements, so as to rationalise the resources accordingly. It helps one in taking intelligent decisions. Patterns also help one simulate what a city would be like in the future. In that way, you have an organic conception of growth. In that sense, smart cities will definitely help.

For instance, let’s talk about poverty alleviation schemes. If an anti-poverty scheme targets a mobile group of people in an urban area, actual assessment becomes difficult. But in a smart city, things are relatively more accurate. Even if it is an intra-city or inter-city movement, or a movement across the borders of a state, a tab is kept on those people. So, it becomes easier to provide them the benefits of the poverty alleviation programme.

Is it imperative for smart cities to operate on a high techno- friendly concept?

Definitely! That is the way the future of governance is headed in. There is an increasing use of electronic and IT process in governance… and this is how it would go in the days to come. We have to bring it into our process and system as best as we can.

Can Delhi become a smart city?

Delhi as a city has all the potential to become a smart city. The problem with Delhi is that it has a multiplicity of authorities on account of coexistence of two separate governments, Central and state, within the same territory. So, smart city concept would in a way help bridge the multiplicity of authorities. I feel in any capital region, you must have a chain of command, where the buck finally stops with a single person or a single agency. I think the concept would help the decision makers identify the problems areas better.

Traffic department, for example, has staff crunch. If you have a system which gives you patterns about movement of people from one location to another, volume of that movement and the time spent over the movement, it would help planners deploy their resources suitably.
Delhi has all the ingredients for making a smart city — information technology infrastructure, stable power and the key decision makers staying close by. So, no wonder that it has always led by example in the e-governance domain.

Smart cities are also about better connectivity and better environment. Does Delhi have all that?

If we compare Delhi with other metros in India, it will score high on all counts. As for connectivity, Delhi Metro is the only metro rail that has seen continuous expansion. It’s a huge success. Now it is moving out to the NCR region and satellite towns. We have a world class airport that is comparable with airports globally. In terms of transport infrastructure like roads, Delhi is the best compared to other metros cities of the country. As for availability of power, we are well placed. We have a population which is not only aware but also has upward expectations.

Then, the population here is an aspiring one… whoever comes here becomes a Delhite, and compares the facilities available with the best in the world. Being the capital of this country, Delhi has the presence of several diplomatic offices. Also, lots of student exchange programme keep happening between the SAARC and Asian countries…lots of foreign delegations visiting the city. In this way, the exposure level of an average Delhite is much higher than his counterparts in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, or other metro cities. If you look at these aspects, you find that Delhi is already emerging as a smart city.

Delhi is also struggling with problems like water and power shortage as well as security of women. How will you cope up with these?

Let’s take one thing at a time. All urban areas across the world are facing numerous problems. Beijing, for example, has huge traffic problems. Total number of cars there is over 50-60 lakh and parking spaces are being sold for thousands of dollars…in fact, urban areas across the world are under stress.

Water problem, for example, is there due to a gap between its demand and supply. If we have smart water meters, the exact amount of water required in a particular area can be determined as also the usage pattern. Such high-tech devices not just help regulate water supply, but also plug the wastage. The same applies to electricity, transportation and security issues in a smart city. And, Delhi would be no exception.

Don’t you think such huge migration volume in Delhi will affect its transformation into a smart city?

This is something that every smart city project will have to factor in. Migration is not going to stop. People come to the cities, because they don’t get in rural areas what they aspire for, be it better job opportunities, better education for their kids, better medical treatment, etc. They come with a hope for a better life. But no scheme can give results overnight. It takes time to build schools, roads and hospitals, and more importantly, it takes time to instil confidence in public that things will work correctly. Urban planners have to factor in migration for an inclusive development, and it should be converted into an asset, rather than a liability. If the migrants are coming for jobs, they are also contributing to the economy.

Can an ordinary citizen contribute to the making of a smart city?

Yes, of course. Citizens can, in fact, contribute immensely to good governance. Governance is not one-way. Each action of a resident impacts the efficiency of the government. If, as a citizen one takes part in civic programmes, one can help manage the city better. There’s an effective partnership between people and government. The reason for most of the discontent today lies in the fact that people do not know the results of an individual’s action on the entire system, as there’s an information gap. But a smart city has the tools to bridge that info gap, as people know that they are part of the system.

How does the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model relate to the smart city concept?

PPP is the way to forward. It accommodates stance of the government while giving space to the private sector. We require private sector today…we require private sector for investment, for example. PPP model gives access to the best technologies, more flexible thinking, and the ability to deliver on time. Public sector and private sector interactions are happening in most of the developing countries, as it is the demand of the time.

“Smart cities give the right tools to decision makers to identify gaps in infrastructure and services, and identify patterns of public behaviour and their requirements, so as to rationalise the resources accordingly”

Elets Technomedia is organisaing a national event on the smart city concept. Any message?

This kind of an event is very much necessary. The concept of smart city needs to be crystallised thoroughly today. And, this crystallisation can happen only when there is a forum for discussion, a forum for sharing ideas and a forum for professionals from different areas to interact with each others. Since smart cities require integration of diverse knowledge, and I think the initiative taken by eGov magazine is a right step in the right direction. It will provide the necessary platform and help consolidate the ideas for being translated into action at the earliest.

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