Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu answers questions hovering around the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Government’s pet project of smart cities in an e mail interview to Madhurendra Sinha. Excerpts:
Which are the services that a smart city will offer that are not available to ‘normal’ cities? Are we just talking of township level services provided at the level of an entire city, or is there something more that citizens of Smart Cities can look forward to?
The focus of the Smart Cities Mission is to develop compact areas through Area-based development, one-by-one, and cover the entire city over a period of time. During this period, Pan-city Smart Solutions will be applied to citywide services and infrastructure to improve them. At the same time, other forms of infrastructure (physical, social, economic and institutional) will be developed through convergence with other Missions (eg Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT – or Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation). The long term goal is comprehensive development by developing the four pillars of development -- physical, social, economic and institutional. The pathway is incremental and integration is achieved as follows. Core infrastructure is developed to improve quality of life through Convergence of Missions (SBM, AMRUT, HFA – Housing Finance Agency, Digital India etc.). Smart Solutions are deployed to improve infrastructure and services and areas developed one-by-one. Based on the framework, each city has to design its pathway to smartness depending upon the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the people.
In India where majority of projects are late and costs overrun how much time this dream project would take?
The focus of the Smart Cities Mission is to develop compact areas through Area-based development, one-by-one, and cover the entire city over a period of time. During this period, Pan-city Smart Solutions will be applied to citywide services and infrastructure to improve them. At the same time, other forms of infrastructure (physical, social, economic and institutional) will be developed through convergence with other Missions (e.g. Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT). Therefore, in the long term, the Cities will work towards developing the entire eco-system consisting of institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure. It will take 10-15 years for the entire city to become smart which will improve quality of life, create employment and enhance incomes for all, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, leading to inclusive Cities.
In the absence of a stringent land acquisition law how land will be acquired for different facilities?
Out of 20 cities selected under the Mission, the main focus in 18 cities is on retrofitting where no land is required to be acquired. Only two cities have been proposed for redevelopment and in both the cities, land belongs to either Government or municipalities.
In most of the cities there is a multiplicity of authorities, how a single agency will work to prepare smart cities?
According to Mission Guidelines, Implementation of the Smart Cities Mission will be done by Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to be set up at city level in the form of a company registered under Indian Companies Act of which 50 percent shareholding belongs to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). The SPVs are created under the Company Act and the regulatory framework will provide consistency and predictability in project execution and make the ULB/ SPV more accountable during planning and execution.
Will there be overdependence on foreign companies because of technology factor?
There is no over dependence on technology in the 20 Smart City’s Proposal received. Implementation of the Smart Cities Mission will be done by Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to be set up at city level in the form of a company registered under Indian Companies Act.
All the cities mentioned in the list are under different State governments. With State machinery being so slow to act, how centre will have a check or control over them?
Implementation of Smart Cities Mission would be closely monitored by an Apex Committee headed by Secretary, MoUD at national level, which will provide overall guidance and play an advisory role. At State level there will be State level High Powered Steering Committee (HPSC) chaired by the Chief Secretary which would steer the Mission programme in its entirety. At City level, a Smart City Advisory Forum will be established for all Smart Cities to advise and enable collaboration among various stakeholders and will include the District Collector, MP, MLA, Mayor, CEO of SPV, local youths, technical experts etc. Finally, a Special Purpose vehicle (SPV) will be established in each of the winning Smart City. The SPV will have to comply with all the regulatory/monitoring mechanisms set out in the Company Law.
Why some cities of Bihar which were in the original list have not been announced in the new list?
The selection process of the Smart Cities Mission is based on the idea of Competitive and Co-operative Federalism and follows a ‘Challenge’ (competition) approach to select cities. After Stage 1 of the Challenge, 98 potential Smart Cities were shortlisted of which 97 cities including Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur and Biharsharif from Bihar submitted their Smart City Proposals (SCPs) which were evaluated by a Panel of Experts, on the basis of set criteria given in Smart Cities Mission Statement and Guidelines. The scoring was done impartially and 20 top scoring cities have been selected for funding in the current financial year (2015-16). Muzaffarpur, Bhagalpur and Biharsharif in Bihar secured 94th, 65th and 91st (position) respectively in the competition. As such, none of these three cities from Bihar has been included in the list of 20 cities. However, in order to spread the message of urban transformation in all parts of the country, another 23 potential smart cities located in 23 States/UTs have been provided a window of opportunity to submit their upgraded proposals on fast track basis by 15th April, 2016. Bhagalpur from the State of Bihar is included in the list.