Citizens Key In India’s Tryst With Smart Cities: Dr Sameer Sharma

Dr Sameer Sharma, currently the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), will soon take chage as the Director General of the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs. In an exclusive conversation with Arpit Gupta of Elets News Network (ENN), he shares his learning from MoHUA and his vision forward.

You have spent four years with the Smart Cities Mission, a favourite project of Prime Minister Modi. What message do you have for city administrators as you move on from the ministry?

It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream. I was just a small part of this dream. All the Smart City Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) should focus on the implementation of the projects. Policies should be implemented throughout the city in a systematic manner.

How many Smart Cities have really realised the aim of the Smart Cities Mission till now?

We should access the cities on the basis of the implementation of the Smart City projects. At this juncture, 66 cities have started the implementation of the 99 cities selected under the Mission. Out of these 66, 20-25 are in very advanced stage. Each city started its journey of becoming smart at a different place and time, with different resources and different plans. So naturally, there will be different speeds of implementation. Today, I would like to see a Smart City Centre in every city where all the services are integrated. There should be no gap between the foot soldiers and the Commissioner. Everything should be open to public. Streets should be swept, bins should be cleaned, streets should be made walkable. A common man should not be made to wish visiting Barcelona or Europe to walk in the streets, proper water supply should be ensured , sewage treatment should be completed. Basically, a Smart City should provide the ultimate ease of living.

Should we adopt the concept of Smart Cities from European cities like Barcelona, or should we develop our own solutions to conserve the rich heritage of each city?

In the West, cities follow different trajectory. India has a history of 5,000 years. So the difference between urban system of these two worlds is huge. Suppose, India is having seven versions of iPhone. In Europe, we have only the seventh version. We have to upgrade the six versions of iPhone in India to seventh because the seventh is soon going to become the eighth. But in Europe, it is much easier to convert the seventh version to eighth since only one version is available. So our pathways are completely different. And unless it is embedded with our culture and civilisations, we will never be able to reach version seventh or eighth.

What have been your key learnings from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in the last four years?

Number one learning is that post-modern (have u ever read such a word – postmodern) theory of the West work. Number two — any plan or policy should be firmly grounded on the Indian reality; and number three — citizen participation is of utmost importance. Without them, no city can become smart.

Is citizen participation actually happening in Indian cities? Do you think they are aware of what is happening in their city?

There is a ladder of public participation and the ultimate participation is where you are building inspection reports in the horizontal system. We have gone three or four notches up, especially in the planning part of the Smart Cities Mission. However, in the implementation, we have to ensure more citizen involvement. In the implementation process, there are two parts. One is the general part, which anybody can copy and second is the unique part, which has to be copied after adapting to the needs of the city.

Having a very rich experience of 18 years in urban reforms, how are you planning to contribute to the Smart Cities Mission after moving out of the Ministry?

Now I will contribute through my writing. I will write a book on my experiences and enjoy that. My first book was on leadership and it was how one can become a leader in uncertain environment. In unfavourable setup, leadership is like being in an hourglass. It is applicable in bureaucracy, in politics, etc. The second book is-Smart Cities-Simply Explained . In the beginning, we didn’t even have any definition of Smart Cities. It is a book written very simply for the common man.

What is your message for Elets Technomedia since we are also organising conferences in the Smart Cities space across the country?

Dr Ravi Gupta did the first conference in Hyderabad when I was the Principal Secretary, Information and Technology Department. I put a condition in front of him to do it only in Hyderabad, but then he started doing it all over India and I am very happy to see that. So Elets and I started together in 2010. Elets has grown and expanded so much. Keep on doing the great work! Your conferences across the country are very useful because they serve the same purpose as what we are doing it here..

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