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BW Businessworld

Big Smart City Goals: $10 Trillion Economy By 2030

It also wants to do it sustainably with a strong commitment to climate-sensitive development”, asserted an optimistic Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA)and Mission Director, Smart Cities, Government of India in conversation with Poulami Chakraborty of BW Businessworld.

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As the Smart Cities Mission of Government of India completes the sixth Anniversary recently, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) sets for itself a humongous target of building 4000 smart cities in the coming two years. “India aspires to become an economic powerhouse with a USD 10-trillion economy by 2030. It aspires to provide a much-improved quality of life for its citizens. It also wants to do it sustainably with a strong commitment to climate-sensitive development”, asserted an optimistic Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA)and Mission  Director, Smart Cities, Government of India in conversation with Poulami Chakraborty of BW Businessworld. Excerpts below: 

India’s Smart City Mission has not only spread its vista beyond urban retro-fitting, but is boosting scope for research based developmental projects. What inspires you to bring on table the best scope of innovation in the domain?
Thank you for acknowledging that the Smart Cities Mission has carved a scope for itself beyond mere project implementation. The Mission is an unique endeavour of the Government of India, a visionary one at that. It is a platform for innovation - a testbed of sorts for testing and scaling promising ideas which impact citizens’ lives positively. It helps us reimagine the realm of the possible in the field of urban governance.

These ideas have their genesis in the ground realities of urban India. Our cities are a microcosm of India’s diversity, and present different opportunities and challenges to their stakeholders. Deep-rooted in their local contexts, lie the answers to their greatest questions. This treasure hunt requires primacy to be accorded to the voice of the citizen and conduct of an honest and sustained process of stakeholder consultation, which the Mission has championed right from the beginning.  

Let me give an example. Traffic congestion is a common problem. But, its solution will vary from Pune to Namchi and Belagavi to Madurai. Therefore, there is a need for local solutions. This is what you seem to be calling research based projects. It would be better to call them local or community-centric projects, for the ideas around them don’t germinate in libraries and research projects, but in the needs and ideas expressed by local communities in respective cities. The community is the inspiration for these projects.

 Municipal bonds is one unique idea that is coined by you. Would you share with us the idea behind it? How does it enable a ULB to be financially strong? Which other cities are also to come up with similar modules other than the existing ones?
The first Municipal Bond in the world was issued 2 centuries back in the United States. Since then, it has picked up across the world. Even though, our country has a relatively low overall number of MuniBond issuances, it has started to pick up lately. During my stint as Pune Municipal Commissioner, we raised 200 crore INR MuniBond in 2017, which was the first such issuance in over a decade. This inspired other cities and since then,  10 other cities have raised around ₹3,840 crore from the market. 

Now, on the question of how it enables a ULB to become financially strong?   A Bond is an exercise between 3 agencies – the borrower, lender and regulator. In the case of a MuniBond, the ULB is the borrower. The bond does not make a borrower financially strong, rather it needs to be fiscally strong, to be worthy of raising money at financially attractive rates from the market. 
In this context, it needs to have a reliable, buoyant and diversified resource base, built with consistent performance over time. Lenders not only look at their balance sheets but also study the project being financed, it’s payback mechanisms, its sustainability and so on. The regulator creates and monitors adherence to the rules of the game so that prudent decisions are scaled up and imprudent behaviour is discouraged. What we need to do to ensure the MuniBond market works well in our country is to address concerns of all these three stakeholders. As far as the need for MuniBonds is concerned, I would like to take our attention back to the HPEC report of 2011 which highlighted the infrastructure deficits in our cities and hence recommended a manifold increase in investments into the urban sector.  Clearly, if such large investments are to be made, there is no escaping the fact the MuniBonds would have be important sources of finance. 

There are promising signs. Ghaziabad became the second city in Uttar Pradesh to raise MuniBonds, after Lucknow. 6 more cities namely Vadodara, Rajkot, Pimpri Chinchwad, Mangaluru, Mysuru and Faridabad are preparing to tap the market. MoHUA is facilitating these cities with technical assistance from United States Treasury Department. We should hear more good news soon.

Could you share with us about the prime challenges that Smart City Mission faced in the past one year of pandemic and how have your department mitigated these challenges?
When the mission was launched in 2015, we did not know that we will have to face the pandemic someday. We never knew that our cities would have to face challenges like enforcing lockdowns, managing supply chains of essentials like grocery, medicines etc. 

The pandemic has been a true test of the belief India has reposed in its Smart Cities. Smart Cities responded to the COVID-19 crisis through a novel 4-quadrant disaster response framework:

INFORMATION - Collection, Management and Dissemination 

Smart Cities’ war rooms use web and mobile based methods to collect spatial and non-spatial data regarding cases, hotspots, medical infrastructure, movement of goods and services, etc. Here, self-reported citizen data from mobile applications as well as information from health departments and medical laboratories gets integrated on a central city dashboard. Based on this information, respective departments/response teams are notified for action. 

MANAGEMENT - Delivery of Essential Services, Health and Sanitization Infrastructure Management 

Smart cities develop mechanisms to identify those who were in need of food/shelter/ medicines along with their location and collaborated with different citizen groups and donors to ensure delivery of necessary items. Telemedicine, helplines, free tele-counselling, mobile clinics, and door-to-door surveys were some of the ways in which cities ensured that early-stage diagnostics reach citizens. Cities conduct regular sanitization drives including sanitizing vehicles for public use through centralized monitoring

COMMUNICATION - Two-way Communication between City Authorities and Citizens

Smart Cities leverage conventional and non-conventional mediums to raise awareness among citizens and redress grievances. Some of these include messaging on mass media (TV, Radio), bulk SMSs, alerts on city-based COVID-19 Apps, Social Media Campaigns, Banners, Public Address System (PAS) and Variable Sign Boards (VSBs), door-to-door information dissemination by health workers, 24x7 Helplines with Call Centres, and periodic briefings by city authorities. 

PREPAREDNESS – for Future Exigencies using Predictive Analysis

With cases spreading at different speeds across states/cities and cities attempting to open up the economy, preparedness is the key. Data from police, hospitals, and the health department, among others is being deployed to create risk profiles of neighbourhoods and monitor economic activities and movements. 

70 Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) developed under the Smart Cities Mission have been working as war-rooms for COVID management, and along with other smart infrastructure developed under the mission, they have helped cities immensely in their fight against the pandemic. 

While the Smart Cities Mission was undertaken in a bid to make citizen lifestyle better, how crucially has stake-holder played their role in building our cities of future?

Great cities are built around their people. They keep citizens’ aspirations at the center of their plans and projects. This can only happen if they are responsive to their communities. There has been a welcome change in the way India’s cities have started engaging with their communities because of the efforts of the Mission. The most important principle at the core of the Smart Cities mission is citizen engagement. 

Now with 4000 cities under the mandate, would you be able to share with us the strategies of implementing smart cities in this regions? What will be the process of selection of these cities and what will be funding procedure?

India aspires to become an economic powerhouse with a USD 10-trillion economy by 2030. It aspires to provide a much-improved quality of life for its citizens. It also wants to do it sustainably with a strong commitment to climate-sensitive development. 

To realize this vision, the practice of city-making and governance of urban areas can no longer be done in the business-as-usual way. India’s Smart Cities are steered by certain core principles that are critical for others to imbibe. First - Citizens are at the core and second - development is only meaningful if it is inclusive. Third – collaborative and partnership based approaches. Fourth and very importantly  - get more from less. Cities must strive to generate more impact from use of less resources- whether energy, water or finances. Fifth is to build convergences in projects. It is said that ‘if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together’. Sixth, digital technology is to be seen as a means, an important means but not as the goal. Cities must understand the additionality gained from technological interventions and be cautioned against deployment for the sake of it. 

Over the past years, as the Mission has matured, we have received requests from several cities across the country to join the 100 Smart Cities and we are guiding these cities to develop themselves based on these principles. The Mission provides cities a platform to reach out to peers for multi-sectoral, cross-disciplinary ideas and learnings. After all, cities are networks and when they collaborate to problem solve, they really can create a whole new reality for themselves and for the country. 

Going forward, each of the 100 smart cities would act as lighthouses, and learnings from their endeavours would inspire and guide other cities in the country. The document ‘ Making a City Smart’ available on should act as a good guide. The Mission is spreading its wings and transforming into a movement. 

Climate Change Assessment and Data Management Assessment have been the key components considered for analyzing the cities performances. Your thoughts on this.

We have been working on these two aspects for the last two and half years. Both, Data and Climate are critical issues. I am happy that our cities are working on them in right earnest. 

The Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework (CSCAF) 2.0 was launched with an aim to track the climate actions which are taking place in cities and provide an integrated roadmap to build urban climate actions in India. The assessment framework comprises 28 diverse indicators covering 96 data points across five thematic areas including (i) Urban planning green cover and biodiversity (ii) Energy and green buildings (iii) Mobility and Air Quality (iv) Water Management and (v) Waste Management. 126 cities, including 100 Smart Cities and 26 cities which are capital city or cities with over 500,000 population, successfully participated in the 2020 assessment cycle.

The Climate Centre for Cities (C-Cube) at NIUA anchored the  exercise. On 25 June 2021, the results of the assessment were announced. The top 9 cities which have shown progressive climate actions and have been awarded 4-star category in this assessment are Surat, Indore, Ahmedabad, Pune, Vijayawada, Rajkot, Visakhapatnam, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Vadodara.

Data is critical in sensing and building actions in cities and the Smart Cities Mission has been supporting the 100 Smart Cities in setting up the foundations of skilled people, supporting processes and digital platforms to institutionalize this. For closely evaluating progress, the Data Maturity Assessment Framework (DMAF) has been developed.

Results of cycle-2.0 of DMAF released last month shows that all 100 cities have appointed city data officers, 45 cities have drafted/approved city data policies, 32 cities had a dedicated data budget for 2020-21, 12 cities have forged alliances with ecosystem partners for data and technology, and 10 cities have conducted hackathons. Though Surat, Pimpri Chinchwad, Bhopal and Pune have come out on top, Varanasi, Thane, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Agra and Gandhinagar have made significant progress since assessment cycle-1.0.

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