Anveshi Gutta, Director, Smart Cities, PwC India

The smart city mission (SCM) is touted to be unique in its approach, its purpose, and the impact that it will leave on the residents of the city. The purpose of this mission is to enhance the living experience of the average urban citizen through projects that have a direct impact on their lives. The success of these projects will also be determined by the impact they have on the quality of life of the citizens.

There is no doubt that the overall approach of the mission will be different. To start with, the competitive nature of the mission ensured that the cities put their best foot forward as they presented their proposals. The Ministry of Urban Development has released the Livability Indicators that would measure the quality of living in these cities and rank them accordingly. The indicators are progressive and need to be measured over a period of time to show any positive/negative movement. A special purpose vehicle (SPV) has been constituted by each city to closely monitor the work being done. Toward this end, so, will the Indian smart city be able to stand up to the challenge even beyond 5 years? The success of the smart cities project cannot be judged within a timeframe of just 5 years. The project has to last much longer to impact citizens’ lives. This needs collective and cohesive actions of multiple stakeholders within the city to realize the vision of a sustainable urban space. Some necessary actions required are discussed.

Action 1 – Engage Citizens and Drive Participatory Improvement

We have all witnessed numerous government initiatives that have not survived the test of time and one strong reason for this is lack of citizens’ participation in such movements. While it is a known fact that citizens are the final recipients of government services, the truth remains that they are not engaged enough in the planning, shaping, and implementation of projects. The key stakeholders have to be involved to the extent that they feel a sense of attachment to the initiative. They will then do everything in their control to not let it fail. For example, till a few years back Indore was just another Indian city when it came to solid waste management. Today it is tops the Swachh Sarvekshan 2017 ranking. The transformation has only been possible because of the combined effort of both government authorities and citizens of Indore. This co-operation needs to be sustained in the future. The smart cities teams/SPVs have done well to engage citizens at the proposal stage itself and incorporated their inputs in selecting the various projects that have eventually helped them. Since then, citizens have been constantly engaged throughout the mission. This has to be an exercise in continuum to retain and reinforce the connect between government and citizens, government and the city, and more importantly citizens and their city.

Being a deeply citizen-centric initiative, some smart cities have included citizen collaboration e-platforms to ensure that they maintain a two-way communication rather than the traditional one-way diktats. These platforms, if implemented well, will create a citizen engagement channel that can potentially be leveraged for initiatives beyond the smart cities mission too. Some cities are creating open spaces that are citizen-friendly while others have identified the possibility of developing the heritage sites in the cities. The idea is to make people actively participate in the mission and take pride in making their own cities smarter. This will not only keep the momentum going, but also accelerate the pace of implementation, thereby driving higher value for the entire city ecosystem.

Action 2 – Identify Avenues of Revenue Generation from Ongoing Initiatives

A question that has often been asked in various smart cities circles is – the smart cities mission will fund the projects with an outlay of `1000 crore over the 5 years. What happens to the operational expenses that will continue to be incurred simply to keep the machinery running? Who pays the bills?

This needs planning and deep thinking from the city leadership today. This could be about the nature of projects identified for SCM or the business models that the projects are structured under or about converging the SCM initiatives with other ongoing initiatives to ensure long-term gains.

The projects that have the potential for revenue generation or revenue enhancement have to find a prominent place in the SCP portfolio. For example, it is a known fact that most Indian cities perform very poorly when it comes to Property Tax collections. Some cities have taken this as an opportunity to establish a GIS-based property tax collection system that will improve revenue generation by 2–5 times, if it is implemented correctly and backed by a robust Government policy. Some other cities have taken the SCM as an opportunity to enhance the city’s positioning on the tourism map by reviving heritage structures, developing riverfronts, and lakefronts. This has the potential of generating new revenue streams.

Public-private partnership (PPP) projects have caught the attention of smart cities SPVs because they see them as a business model that will ensure longevity of the projects. The city has numerous asset resources at its disposal, but does not have the necessary financial and human resources to tap into the potential of the assets on its own. It is the other way around for the private players. This complementing nature of the partnership makes it attractive and a win-win proposition for both. The city will, in most cases, receive a revenue share from ongoing operations by the private player in a PPP. While there are divergent viewpoints on who benefits the most from PPP models, it cannot be disputed that the PPP models do not leave the city a pauper in this transaction. On the contrary, the revenue shared could be channeled into other city operations driving further growth.

Action 3 – Build Relevant Human Resource Capacities for the Future Smart Cities

It is known that the government today lacks the human capital required to run its operations smoothly. With smart cities coming up, the situation is expected to aggravate. Smart cities will involve state-of-the-art technology to ensure efficient governance. Therefore, the skills required to run a smart city will be different from the skill sets of the workforce available today with the government.  Therefore, there is a need for the city leadership to stand up and address this skill gap. While some cities have already started taking note of the new skill sets required to run the cities of the future, a planned and methodical approach to this is the key. It is not about an action that needs to be taken today. Rather, it is a set of continuous actions that have to be executed over time.

Having the right skills on-board is very crucial to any change implementation. A mega transformation story like the smart cities mission will never be successful without addressing this very key constituent.

Action 4 – Break all Silos and Tap into Volumes of Data to Generate Insights

The smart cities initiative will generate volumes of data that can be used to generate valuable insights. While PAN city ICT initiatives are embedded in the SCM, even the ABD initiatives require ICT interventions to generate higher value to the citizens. As an example, the monitoring of smart roads, smart bus shelters, PBS initiatives, etc. can be done through GPS devices, surveillance cameras, RFID tags etc. It will be helpful to understand trends, predict behaviors, and respond on time. If these disparate datasets created by various devices are co-related and collated over a period of time, it will be of great help to governance.

The smart cities initiative in India needs to be planned well today to ensure sustainability in the long run and to live up to the citizen’s expectations. This requires concerted efforts between various stakeholders –government departments, city leadership, government workforce, and the citizens. Today’s actions will determine the future of the Indian smart city tomorrow.

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