January 2015

Participation Key to Smart Cities: Jhanja Tripathy

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As government finances have limitations, the Ministry of Urban Development intends to develop smart cities through partnership with various agencies, reveals Jhanja Tripathy, Joint Secretary and Financial Advisor to three central ministries — Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation and DoNER — in an interview with Gautam Debroy of ENN

Urban DevelopmentTell us about some of the major initiatives of the Ministry of Urban Development?

There are four major initiatives of the Ministry of Urban Development: first is construction of 100 Smart Cities; second, upgradation of country’s heritage cities, under which we will be making our heritage cities tourist friendly and clean, in line with the rest of the world; third initiative is urban renewal of at least 500 cities across the country; and fourth one is undertaking Swachh Bharat Mission in urban areas.

We are paying a lot of attention to creation of 100 smart cities across the country. The aim is to make brownfield satellite towns smarter. We can develop small satellite towns into fully integrated satellite towns, which will be smart, having proper connectivity of the government services with each and every citizen of the country.

In short, I would say, the services would be on a smart platform which everyone would be able to access in an equitable manner. Besides access to the government services, there should be good mass transport facilities in a smart city, for which we have already started talks with all the stakeholders.

Would you be adopting the Private Public Partnership (PPP) model for smart cities?

The government finances are very limited, so the entire project would veer around partnerships. So, we are trying to provide a platform of policies in such a manner that numerous agencies are able to participate instead of just a few. But, I will not call it a PPP exactly. I will call it participation by various agencies. In a PPP model, the fruit of development takes place in a particular place, but by ensuring participation of various agencies, we want to give it a shape of an overall development.

It is projected that urban India will contribute nearly 75 percent of the national GDP in the next 15 years. Cities are, therefore, referred to as the engines of economic growth.

There is accordingly a crying need for the cities to get smarter to be able to handle this largescale urbanisation and finding new ways to manage complexities, increase efficiency, reduce expenses and improve the quality of life. Fruits of development should reach one and all.

How do you intend to deal with the issue of communication?

Our cities are facing the problem of rapid motorisation. This has led to severe congestion, deteriorating air quality, increasing incidence of road accidents and a rapidly increasing energy bill. Walking and cycling have been rendered unsafe due to poor infrastructure, while public transport is simply inadequate. So far, the urban transport planning has focussed on facilitating plying of personal motor vehicles, while the public transport systems have been planned in isolation; as a result a well-integrated multi-modal transport system is missing. This has resulted in high-cost facilities without the desired outcomes.

On the other hand, ease of moving from one place to another is at the core of a smart city. Seoul, Singapore, Yokohama and Barcelona (all considered smart cities) have a sound transport system as the core of their ‘smartness’. The smart transport system emphasises walking, cycling and public transport as the primary means for mobility, with personal motor vehicles being actively discouraged. In fact, smart cities lay considerable emphasis on walkability and cycling in the city. The pedestrian is given a place of prominence as every trip has a leg that involves walking.

But, smart city needs to look into the bottlenecks of road/rail networks also, and wherever required, underpasses, elevated roads and additional rail networks have to be put in place.

Do you think that the GIFT City of Gujarat is going to be the first smart city of India?

I think Gift City is the first smart city having proper residential as well as developed office facilities. But there are several other cities in the country, too, which do have smart connectivity and other well-equipped services similar to a smart city.

What is the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in a smart city?

I think ICT has a very vital role to play in a smart city. We plan our urbanisation strategy in the right direction by taking advantage of the latest developments in technology, especially in ICT. It is this factor on which entire connectivity and services depend. We need take ICT within every citizen’s reach.

What are the challenges on way to smart cities?

There are two-three major challenges that we have to deal with while developing a smart city. Right now, we are talking about smart cities in brownfield areas, where cities have already developed. But we also need to consider those areas where there simply nothing.

In a smart city, we need to create scope for economic activities. But, to bring everything on one platform is a challenge. We have too many legislations, some in the central sector and some in the state sector. But now, we also need to have business-friendly legislations. In one line I would say that we need cooperation of all.

Ease of moving from one place to another is at the core of a smart city. Seoul, Singapore, Yokohama and Barcelona (all considered smart cities) have a sound transport system as the core of their ‘smartness’

How can we bring north-eastern states of India on the smart city platform, where there is lack of communication, transportation and overall development?

Yes, we need to escalate the concept of smart city in the hilly areas, the north-eastern states. There should be total integration…there are places, which are not developed and those can kill the efforts. In fact, northeastern states are rich in resources, such as human and power, so unique development can be brought about in the region. The government is also giving proper attention to the north-eastern states. Just as we are planning to develop satellite towns next to big cities like Delhi and Bangalore, capital cities of Northeast and their satellite towns can also be developed on the same lines.

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