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Smart Cities: The Sad State Of Affairs

As it turns out, 100 smart cities in five years may not happen. So far, of the first 20 cities, only seven to eight have reported decent progess

Photo Credit : Umesh Goswami


When the Modi government launched the Smart Cities Mission— aimed at developing 100 smart cities over five years — in 2015, it was touted as the biggest urban reform in India. Two years later, the project has not moved much. Not even the selection of cities is complete. The lack of preparation and enthusiasm on part of cities has delayed the process. So far, the government has announced only 90 cities out of 100. But with the New Town Kolkata recently pulling out of the competition, the effective total is 89.

Stakeholders fear that at this rate the mission will lose track. But brushing aside all criticism, former secretary of the ministry of urban development Rajiv Gauba says, “The criticism is very unfair. The work that has been done in the last two years needs to be acknowledged. Significant progress has taken place.”

About the delay, he says, “Urbanisation is a complex process and will take its time. In the last three months, we have visited 22 states to take stock of the mission. We are doing things differently this time”.

Despite what the government says, there is no denying that little work has happened on the ground. In the case of the first 20 cities, the progress is uneven and concentrated to seven to eight cities, the rest are just dragging their feet.

Ground Report
The smart cities of Surat, Pune,  Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Jabalpur, Udaipur have been the frontrunners. As on 20 June, Surat Smart City had almost completed projects worth Rs 352 crore and had further initiated projects worth Rs 2,139 crore. Ahmedabad had completed projects worth Rs 296 crore, and allocated new work on projects worth Rs 425 crore. Pune had completed projects worth Rs 269 crore, with work under progress for projects worth Rs 242 crore, while Jabalpur had completed projects worth Rs 252 crore. New Delhi Municipal Council, which is home to the most powerful politicians and bureaucrats in the country, had completed projects worth Rs 43 crore, with work in progress on projects worth Rs 550 crore. Bhubaneswar, which bagged the top slot in the competition, had completed projects worth Rs 19.75 crore, and had allocated projects worth Rs 1,100 crore to various agencies. In Udaipur, work worth Rs 122 crore was completed. These cities are leading by examples for taking projects in a systematic manner and their speed of execution.

Among the group of cities that have shown uneven progress is Bhopal. It had spent a maximum of Rs 720 crore so far, with Rs 690 crore spent on the smart pole project alone. While the city has exceeded its budget by Rs 200 crore, it is yet to start any area-based development projects.

Kakinada has so far completed project worth Rs 24.47 crore and has allocated project worth Rs 352 crore.  Indore has completed projects worth Rs 25.72 crore, out of which Rs 20 crore has been spent on improving roads, which comes under the regular municipal work. Vizag has completed projects worth Rs 16 crore.

Jaipur has completed only projects worth Rs 6.40 crore, while Solapur and Davangere have complete projects worth less than Rs 3 crore. No project has been initiated by Kochi, Belagavi, Coimbatore, Chennai, Guwahati and Ludhiana.

According to experts, one of the reasons for slow progress is that the states have not let go of their control over municipal bodies. Even though special purpose vehicles (SPV) were created to take charge of smart cities and lead their development, the municipal bodies are largely dominated by the bureaucrats.

“Decentralisation is the way forward for cities. It will bring professionalism and help SPVs to function better,” says Jagan Shah, director of the National Institute of Urban Affairs.

Due to the continued tight grip of the state, private participation is low and is concentrated to just top five to six cities. In cities where foreign investors have shown interest in projects, the follow ups and negotiations are caught up in bureaucratic hassles.

“Even when state-level officials are receptive, it is difficult to deal with city-level officials. That is the reason progress is slower on city level,” says Stefan Palskog, President, Scania India.

One example of the laid-back attitude of municipal bodies is that states are not even timely claiming their grants.

“It may be noted that most of the states are yet to submit their claims and UCs (utilisation certificates) for release of basic grants 2017-18. The due date for the first instalment is almost over and the second instalment is to be released in October,” said a letter written to the Urban Development Department of all state governments, dated 16 June.

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