DELHI, (Smart Cities News): COVID-19 has hit hard in Several nations specially developing countries like India, Pakistan etc. and affecting human lives. It has also impacted some of the government’s big projects one of them is Smart City Mission.
On 25th June 2015, the government launched the ambitious Smart Cities Mission. The main objective is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure, a clean and sustainable environment, and decent quality of life to its citizens by applying ‘smart solutions.’ The Mission aims to drive economic growth and improve quality of life through comprehensive work on social, economic, physical and institutional pillars of the city. The focus is on sustainable and inclusive development by creation of replicable models which act as lighthouses to other aspiring cities. 100 cities have been selected to be developed as Smart Cities through a two-stage competition.
Since the Smart City Mission is project-based, it does not offer an integrated urban development paradigm. In its area-based development, cities undertake the redevelopment of existing business districts, develop new commercial hubs and public spaces, and upgrade infrastructure like water supply and sewage lines. Due to the pandemic plaguing the country, there has been a delay in executing the projects.
In pan-city development, which employs ‘smart’ solutions essentially, using technology across the entire state such as CCTV-monitored central command systems, electronic tracking of government service delivery, online grievance and redressal procedures SCADA for underground infrastructure.
In the last five years, projects worth Rs 1.73 lakh crore have been tendered, and about Rs 40 thousand crore have been completed, which is about 20 percent of target. The Central government has allocated Rs 48,000 crore to the Mission over five years. Sadly, citizens of these Smart Cities could not receive support from the ‘Smart Solutions’ for their hospitalization woes even though health was a parameter basis on which smart cities were rated.
It was envisaged that out of 2 lakh crore of investment, approximately 20 percent or about Rs 41,000 crore should come from the private sector in PPP projects. However, only about Rs 20,000 crore could be mobilized from the private sector, primarily related to real estate. We can say that private sector investment in smart cities is not of much significance.
According to ministry report, it will spend 80 percent of the Mission’s funding on area-based development, which on average benefits less than 5 percent of a city’s population. In 34 out of 100 chosen cities, not one project has been completed since 2016, and the pandemic has further hampered the progress globally. However, hundreds of new cities have been sprouting up across Asia and Africa since the early 2000s. The likes of Songdo, Tianfu Park City, Liuzhou Forest City, King Abdullah Economic City, Grace field Island, Tbilisi Sea New City, Port City Colombo, Waterfall City, and so on are coming up in over 40 countries in which billions are being invested.
New cities are not require urban expansion or sprawl; they are metropolitan entities themselves. China is, without a doubt, the global epicenter for new city buildings, having established more than 600 new cities since 1949. Urban China has been built from scratch over the past 30 years.
Countries building these new cities are those that have a rapidly growing middle and are witnessing dramatic improvements in infrastructure, skyrocketing GDP, and newfound economic stability.
This has been a strategy to keep home grown talent from migrating abroad, attract foreign investors and companies, rebrand the country as ‘modern,’ as well as kick start a real estate development to promote job growth, particularly in the ‘unskilled’ or ‘semi-skilled’ segment.
It is often highly beneficial for governments to build new cities from scratch. In 2000, land sales, on average, made up 9.3 percent of China’s municipal government revenue. In 2011, it was up to 74.1 percent.
In many cases, new cities amount to ‘city 2.0-style’ upgrades over the historic urban core. Rather than demolishing and reworking the often-existing outdated town, the idea is to start on a blank canvas of land nearby.
They are meant to improve upon, promising better infrastructure, strategies for sustainable resource utilization, and cleaner living environments. The New Smart Cities have the technology and management systems that can respond to any crisis in much better ways; this could be an answer to any future pandemic or natural disasters.
India is expected to have an urban population of about 810 million by 2050 from the current level of 410 million.
At present, the total metropolitan area in India is estimated at 2.2 lakh square km. Doubling of population would amount to 74 trillion sq mt of construction to provide shelters, offices, factories, shopping, hospitality, and other social amenities.
India cannot achieve this by stretching the peripheries of existing cities and adding to cancerous urban agglomerations. It will only multiply the present chaos and confusion forever, irrespective of any amount of ‘smart interventions.
Therefore, the need is to promote intelligent new towns in the vicinity of existing urban areas, with private sector participation. If the government envisages a funding structure for 20-30 years tenure, at a nominal or ‘zero-coupon rate,’ it could easily fetch global investments and help to grow the corpus multi fold.
There are also massive benefits from the job creation perspective. Every 100,000 square mt of construction generates about 50,000 Man-Day jobs. This means that future urbanization can generate 35-40 trillion Man-Days of jobs over the next four decades which is enough to take the excess labour force out of agriculture and provide better opportunities for future generations in the cities. With the Smart Cities Mission nearing its target date, it is time to think about an alternative approaches.