The Mission has so far stood on its delivery of the stated objectives. 66% of the 7763 projects worth ₹ 1,81, 575 Cr in 100 Smart Cities have already been completed, stated Kunal Kumar, Mission Director, Smart Cities Mission, Government of India in a conversation with Poulami Chakraborty.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

Kunal Kumar. Mohua

The Mission has so far stood on its delivery of the stated objectives. 66% of the 7763 projects worth ₹ 1,81, 575 Cr in 100 Smart Cities have already been completed, stated Kunal Kumar, Mission Director, Smart Cities Mission, Government of India in a conversation with Poulami Chakraborty.

While 2022 has been a tone-setter for normalcy in the post-covid era, how do you see this period for the progress of the smart cities mission in India? Please appraise us of what landmark progress has been logged for the success of the Smart Cities Mission.

The unique administrative process adopted for the Smart Cities Mission from selecting cities on a competition basis, setting up special purpose vehicles for smart cities, and usage of innovative financing has given encouraging results. 2022 has been the year of accomplishments for the Smart Cities Mission.

The Smart Cities Mission has been focusing on harnessing the power of technology and data for the public good by building citizen-centric technical capacity in cities. Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) developed across the 100 smart cities showcase the promise of India’s urban ecosystem to harmonise technology, governance, and management skills in its journey in Amrit Kaal. These ICCCs have emerged as the physical nerve center of the city with 24*7 situational awareness and response capabilities.

For its innovative approach to urban development, the Smart Cities Mission has been appreciated on various platforms nationally and internationally and emerged as the winner of Platinum Icon in the category of Data Sharing & User Socio-Economic Development at the Digital India Awards- 2022. The Mission was felicitated under the “Data Sharing and Use for Socio–Economic Development by the Hon’ble President Smt. Droupadi Murmu, at the Award ceremony on 7th January 2022.

Recently, the Mission has also been awarded the World Smart City Award under the Innovation category, at Smart City Expo World Congress-2022 in Barcelona for their data initiative- “DataSmart Cities: Empowering Cities through Data”; among 337 proposals received from 60 countries. DataSmart Cities is an initiative under the Smart Cities Mission that is spreading data-driven governance across 100 smart cities in India.

As rightly envisioned by PM Modi, India is building a trillion-dollar economy. How do you envision the Smart Cities Mission 2.0 execution and growth to drive the trillion-dollar economic agenda?

The most important part of solving complex problems related to urban development is diagnosing them accurately in the first place. The need of the hour is to invest in a deeper understanding of the real causes of problems in urban development. Appropriate results are delivered through the correct identification of issues and formulating the solutions accordingly.

Investing in complex technologies without building robust institutional mechanisms is bound to cause unfavourable consequences. The focus of the Smart Cities Mission has been to discover ‘Smart’ solutions for urban issues in a collaborative manner with strong fundamentals. Various innovative approaches have been adopted for the successful implementation of this government program, including, but not limited to, the setting -up of city-level Special Purpose Vehicle and the diversification of funding sources for projects. The Ministry has been encouraging cities to explore innovative financing sources such as PPP-based projects, and municipal bonds for the financing of projects at the city level.

Targeting analytical solutions to the emerging issues of urban India, the Smart Cities Mission has also focused on the utilisation of technology and analysis of data collected through its various projects for socioeconomic growth of the cities. The rapid urbanisation of India must be seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge. We must make both our cities and villages better by using technology.

Would you share with us the newer targets of achievement and retrofitting for transforming the nation’s urban upgradation agenda?

Urban development is an evolutionary process that emerges from the changing needs of the residents of a city. It is of the utmost importance to effectively understand and forecast the pressing issues related to urban development through a continuous feedback mechanism. Further, leveraging the learning from the innovative projects implemented under the mission would also benefit in devising solutions to issues arising around rapid urbanisation.

The focus on urban development should hinge on some of the critical supportive factors to comprehensively improve the quality of life of residents. These include strengthening the core fundamentals of urbanisation, such as improving local governance, ensuring the financial sustainability of ULBs, appropriate infrastructure planning based on evidence-based decision-making, and enhancing the quality of delivery of services such as water and power supply. Striking a balance with equally important factors such as addressing climate change and leveraging technologies as a means, not an end in a way that helps create inclusion and support bottom-up innovation.

What funding strategies have been adopted by the ministry for supporting the projects and mission?
India’s urban infrastructure development will be at the core of the nation’s aspirations of becoming a USD 5 trillion and USD 10 trillion economy by 2025 and 2030, respectively. To fuel the economic ambitions of the country, India will need to further catalyse the economic potential of cities. It is estimated that 11% of the US $ 1.4 trillion investments required in infrastructure in the next 5 years is in the urban sector.

The Smart Cities Mission has promoted and adopted innovative and ‘smart’ funding of various projects under the government’s mission. This includes not only the traditional sources of funding such as grant aid from the government, and debts from financial institutions, but also the participation of the private sector in the growth of the urban sector through PPP-based projects. PPP mode has been widely adopted across 55 Smart Cities spread across the length and breadth of the country, covering not only the big cities but also cities such as Ajmer, Dahod, etc. PPP-based projects worth ₹ 18,000 crores have been grounded. The success of the PPP-based projects in this government’s mission has shown a guidance path for future projects.

The Ministry has also encouraged other innovative financing, including municipal bonds that might be a game changer in urban development. Climate Change has been one of the major focuses of the department in the recent past. What major initiatives are being taken in this direction by the MoHUA?

The threat of climate change has put the existence of the human race at risk. Cities are the prime contributors to the deteriorating urban environment, which is taking a toll on people’s health and productivity and diminishing their quality of life. This needs to be reversed by incorporating climate resilience into urban development.

The Smart Cities Mission is supporting the implementation of several projects leveraging environmental (nature-based) solutions for sustainable infrastructure, climate mitigation, and disaster management in projects related to electric buses, e-bikes, bicycles, renewable energy-based power generation, waste-to-energy projects, projects related to wastewater management and effective water supply, etc. MoHUA has also come up with the River Centric Urban Planning Guidelines to enable cities on riverfronts to undertake a river-centric planning approach.

MoHUA, with the help of the Climate Centre for Cities, has also contributed to the Long Term- Low Emission development strategy. This strategy was officially launched by the Hon’ble Minister of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bhupendra Yadav, at COP 27.

Please share with us your vision of growth and transformation for Smart Cities Mission for 2023.

The prime focus of the Smart Cities Mission has been to provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment through the application of ‘Smart’ solutions. The Smart Cities Mission has already completed 66% of the projects. The fund utilisation has already been around 90%. Considering the timeline of the completion of the mission is June 2023, the need of the hour is the fast completion of the projects at the ground level.

One of the important aspects of the Smart Cities Mission has been a collaborative approach to the projects under the mission. This involves seeking citizens’ feedback on designing and monitoring the projects.

In this regard, as part of the Ease of Living Index, a Citizen Perception Survey 2022 was launched in November’22 across 264 cities with the aim of capturing and reflecting the opinions of citizens across the length and breadth of the country.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members