ULB Role Crucial in Smart Cities: Jagan Shah

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Jagan Shah, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA)

There are innovative and smart ways in which ULBs can become part of the development of Smart Cities without taking the entire burden, points out Jagan Shah, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), in an interview with Garima Pant of Elets News Network (ENN).

The Government of India has initiated the ambitious ‘100 Smart Cities’ programme to change the urban landscape and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) have been given importance in the scheme of things. What is your opinion on this?

The urban sector in our country has to rely on the strengthening of the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and this focus cannot be diluted. There is a relationship between the devolution of powers and the performance of the urban economy. It is actually untenable that the management of a city should be in the hands of an agency which is not answerable to the public. Even from that perspective, ULBs have to play an important role.

We must remember that the Smart City mission requires that ULBs and State Governments collaborate together in the creations of SPVs, and SPVs have professional CEOs. ULBs are presently constrained for various reasons, but on the other side, there are innovative and smart ways in which ULBs can become part of the development of Smart Cities without taking the entire burden. There are capacity constraints, but that is a common problem cutting across the government and private sector. On the other hand, ULBs have been given substantial responsibilities only since 2005-06. Two things have to be ensured— powers and funds—to be provided effectively to ensure that ULBs perform well.

What initiatives can be taken to empower ULBs in a smarter manner and make them actively involved in the Smart City initiative?

There has to be fairly extensive capacity building efforts, which are going to benefit all the Smart City initiatives as well as they are sub-sets of the 500 cities, which are covered under AMRUT programme. NIUA will be given the strategic responsibility of coordinating all the capacitybuilding initiatives under the AMRUT guidelines. There is focus on four different areas including Urban Planning; Managing Finance & Revenues; Public Health & Engineering; and Administration with a focus on eGovernance. While talking about smart ways for ULBs, eGovernance factor is going to play an important role. We also have to keep in mind that eGovernance is part of the ‘Digital India’ programme. eGovernance allows the same workforce of a ULB to be more professional and effective.

How important will be the factor of citizen involvement for creating Smart Cities?

The Smart Cities guideline do emphasise quite clearly that the participation of the citizens in the process of creating a vision for their city and defining the roadmap for achieving that vision is important. But public participation needs to be from a perspective that the public has a responsibility to play and not merely a question of a consumer and service provider. The Smart City mission has to leverage the People-Public- Private Partnership.

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