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Covid 19: Leveraging Smart Cities for Crisis Management, Tech Implementation, Economic Growth

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic has set in India, a lot has undergone sea-change including our city administrations, livelihood and citizen-centric services. Urban Administration Landscape is no exception. 100 smart cities targeted under the aegis of Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), Government of India, utilised to monitor and tackle the crisis opening ahead sea of opportunities for digital innovation and adoption. Poulami Chakraborty investigates, excerpts as under:

Photo Credit :

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In 2014, when the Central Government announced their pet Smart cities mission, little did the nation had an idea that it would turn out to be such an inevitable component for urban livelihood What has taken a severe toll on livelihood and life in a major way, has also rendered major take away goals for us as a community, especially for urban city administration and smart city components rolled out, which are utilized to optimum scale for monitoring and mitigating Covid-19 situation across the country.  

Moreover, the central Government’s rating concept for best cities also enabled the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to utilize allocated funds for the mission mandate to the optimum level and support healthy competition in exchange for best and next practices. Needless to mention the mandate and criteria of ranking smart cities is re-designated on multiple dimensions including usage of land resources, skilful usage of smart city components and local people. 

Covid 19: Monitoring And Management 

Early last year when the newbie disease set-in to make multi-faceted disaster to the community, claiming huge number of human lives exposing a not strong enough healthcare infrastructure primarily, little did anyone guess the power of the central government’s smart city mandate that has been adopted vividly by the Government for monitoring and management of the pandemic situation and its micro-management.  

Durga Shankar Mishra, Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs clearly stated that smart cities played a pivotal role in combatting the covid-19 crisis across cities in the nation. Smart city component as Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCC) which has been implemented by many cities, has been effectively put to use for city operation management and converted in to covid war-rooms for analysing city-specific data, co-ordination with states, city agencies and connecting with the citizens. He further asserted, “Earlier last year there were 49 working Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCC),which has now been upgraded to 53 and 30 more to be included in the upcoming months. The ICCC are powerhouse of latest technologies used to monitor city administrations besides how technology is impacting the citizen livelihood, which is making the difference at large”. 

Mishra mentioned of their mandate at large for Smart Cities 2.0 to convert 4372 cities besides other cities as light-house cities so that their unique learnings can be further propagated to other cities with employability, liveability and sustainability be the core component. According to him, cities where the infection was spread rapidly, the ICCCs helped micro-monitor every patient, tracing their contacts, supplying things to their homes, ensuring cleanliness and besides predicting requirement of number of beds, masks, sanitizers etc.”  

What further impacted and connected human lives and smart cities in a single thread is how the pandemic has transformed India’s urban development strategy as the country has prioritized sustainable urbanization which has been critical to COVID-19 recovery. India is moving towards creating sustainable urbanization by the formation of multiple well-planned, managed, and financed cities and towns to create economic, social, environmental, and other unquantifiable values that can vastly improve the quality of life of its citizen. In another instance, Harit Shukla, Managing Director, Dholera Industrial City Development Ltd (DICDL), a Gujarat State Undertaking, highlighted Smart city components like social housing and inclusive zoning can restore economic growth and incorporate future city development making smart cities more sustainable in environmental, social, and economic terms. Smart sustainable cities are harnessing the full potential of information and communication technologies and policies to tackle challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Shukla further said, “The New Gujarat Industrial Policy (GIP) 2020 is designed to strengthen Gujarat's manufacturing ecosystem as well as provide a thrust to the upcoming sectors of India's dynamic business ecosystem even when pandemic like situations hit the economy hard. The policy objectives include employment generation, new generation manufacturing, the advancement of thrust sectors, technology adoption, support to Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), and balanced development of industry and infrastructure. Gujarat Industrial Policy 2020 is indeed a game-changer and includes remarkable features like offering land on lease, de-linking of incentives from tax structure, and replacing it with capital subsidy without any upper ceiling will attract investment within the state. The vibrant industrial policy spearheads balanced regional development and is the torchbearer for inclusive growth.” 

In a nutshell, even though the pandemic took its share of toll in human life and economy, the show must go on for the economy to be on incremental trend, to which cause our bureaucracy has been strategizing to coin in new effective theories relentlessly. 

The Digital Disrupt

With the set-in of the pandemic, what’s made mandatory is social distancing which has kind of set in as a new normal for every domain of operation and government set up is no exception. Work from home culture been set up for almost all major incorporations has won employee trust of being safe inspite of having the thrust beyond work hours. Thanks to Digital disruption and adoption of technology in a massive scale across society. 

The MOHUA secretary stated that whether it be IoT, ML, AI and other technological advancements, including the smart cities as an organic lot, the MoHUA is focussing on deploying all sensors to analyse through ICCCs thereby sharing instructions on how to use it in a best possible manner. 

Durga Shankar Mishra, Secretary MoHUA commented on to say: “We have witnessed a tremendous shift towards the adoption of digital technologies across sectors, over the last five years. The Indian IT sector has always maintained resilience and the disruption brought about by the pandemic has only fast tracked the adoption of digital technologies across all sectors and business functions. Digital technologies and platforms have been central to government’s COVID response strategy, and also for the recovery of economic activities across various sectors. 

He further asserted that the impact of the sudden lockdown reduced the reliance on physical service delivery channels and gave a boost to the IT sector. This accelerated transformation would be driven by the investments being made across multiple areas including hardware manufacturing in the country, artificial intelligence, developments in language technology, cloud adoption, IoT etc. All of these, together have the potential to create economic value worth $1 trillion in next 4-5 years. 

As innovation continues to present new solutions in the Post-COVID era as IoT, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning plays pivotal role for technological advancements smart cities the covid 19 pandemic has accelerated adoption and innovation in the tech-implementation space. 

Harit Shukla, Managing Director, Dholera Industrial City Development Ltd (DICDL) confirmed: “As economies have accelerated digitization, digital adoption has taken a quantum leap at both the organizational and industry levels. Rapid migration to digital technologies driven by the pandemic will continue post-pandemic. Industries from healthcare to education to finance to manufacturing, the pandemic has forced companies to use in every facet of their operations Technological advancement at Dholera is at its peak as it offers one of its kind inducements like the lowest power tariff within the country, availability of power and water from day 1 of land allotment, etc. 

Economic Growth and Policies

Emphasizing the prominence of three primary goals for Smart Cities Mission, Mishra asserted that in the Mission 2.0 of the said mandate it is more about improving liveability, economic ability and sustainability, for which the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs is organising all sorts of new experiments in the mission, including basic infrastructure leveraging tech-implementation to indicated to provide better facilities and sustainable solutions to people. 

With the 15th Finance Commission granting INR 8000 crore to the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry to gestate eight new cities to address the challenge of growing urbanisation, as per Mishra. He further asserted that most of the existing smart cities have become saturated owing to the growing urban population. Focussing on how important are Industrial Smart Cities for economic growth, Mishra further commented, “Though green-field Industrial Smart Cities are in a very nascent phase as of the current situation, but their contribution for economic growth is replicable for other cities. Creating jobs, industries, manufacturing is one of the prime source of economic gains for not only cities but also for the nation at large. India has less scope for Greenfield cities coming up as our existing smart cities still has a lot of ground work that can be done.” 

Dholera Industrial City and Development Limited being one that fits the criteria to be India’s industrial smart cities ensures that initiatives in this area will play a key role in economic revival. The cutting-edge technological innovations which make smart cities will be crucial in accelerating the economy of the country. Key initiatives and exclusiveness within the smart city make it an investment-friendly affair attracting more business within the state. “Dholera with its plug & play model has infrastructure-ready plots supported by an ICT command center making it a lucrative and business-friendly industrial smart city where business and industries can be relied upon” asserted Hareet Shukla of DICDL. 

He further confirmed, Industrial smart cities are drivers for the country's economic growth as its economies, technological development, and sustainability are essential for a thriving country. It thereby includes the services offered for its stakeholders. Likewise, the transport network planned at Dholera is imperative to support the economic activities that are expected to increase exponentially over time and make the Greenfield industrial smart city capable of propelling India's overall economic growth. Its proximity to Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad has led to devising a metro route between the cities. The high-speed metro rail shall also connect Dholera to the upcoming international airport and important urban centres within the city. Similarly, Dholera shall be connected to Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar by a six-lane expressway and Mumbai via Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar through National Highway 8. 


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