ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The 'Smart City' Card

The "smart city" idea is extremely attractive, especially to the middle and upper classes who experience Indian cities as being anything but smart. It is a concept frequently thrown about but lacking a clear definition - though at heart it has emerged mainly as an instrument to make cities more competitive in economic terms. With real estate and urban infrastructure offering a great opportunity to global capital, it is a card waiting to be played right in India.

The union budget for 2014-15 announced the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s commitment to create a hundred new “smart cities” as satellites of existing cities. The drama of this statement was met with much enthusiasm and some scepticism in the press. Many commentators from industry and civil society welcomed the idea, though some also pointed out that it came with an inadequate financial allocation in relation to its promise, and that smartness might mean more than just technology.

Meanwhile, industry has sensed a big new market opening up. Cement manufacturers are reported to be enlarging production capacities while information technology firms gird up for bidding battles over the new market in India, scaling up from experiments in smaller projects with private developers, including in new faux “cities” like Lavasa and Palava near Mumbai. Of course, they might only have been waiting for a signal that the new government would persist with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s concept. The smart city idea is not the NDA government’s policy innovation, except for the magic number of 100. The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) had smart cities in its plans at least since 2011. Moreover, Kamal Nath, the urban development minister in the UPA government had already announced in 2012 (Mint 2012) that smart cities would be a feature of the proposed second phase of the now buried Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). That is also perhaps why the smart cities provision is being read as the new government’s extension of the JNNURM in spite of the much smaller financial allocation compared to the earlier more comprehensive, if poorly performing, programme.1

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