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

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Mission Impossible

Defining Indian Smart Cities

In the wake of the global enthusiasm for smart cities, the central government launched the ambitious Smart Cities Mission in 2015. Based on a detailed analysis of proposals of the top 60 cities, the mission is located within the larger urban reform process initiated in the 1990s. An attempt has been made to define smart cities to understand how they envisage questions of urban transformations, inclusion and democracy. The proposals reveal an excessive reliance on consultants, lack of effective participation, a common set of interventions that are accepted as “smart solutions,” and a shift towards greater control of urban local bodies by state governments.

Th e authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for their comments, and Ashwathy Anand and Ajai Sreevatsan for their vital contribution to creating the smart city database.
A previous version of this paper will be published in French in the forthcoming October–December 2018 issue of the journal Flux.

The term “smart cities,” as an idea and a practice, is the new avatar of urban planning and development policies and has permeated into debates within the worlds of academia, policy and trade. Despite the ubiquitousness of the term, there remains great ambiguity, both internationally and in India, regarding its contents. The only consensus refers to the transition to a more efficient urban management that relies on information and communication technologies (ICTs) and digital capabilities as well as the potential of big data. However, there are differences within these definitions as well (Hollands 2008; Meijer and Bolívar 2016; Albino et al 2015). Acknowledging the importance of this debate, the UN Habitat III (2016) conference devoted one of its 22 preparatory texts to smart cities. It highlighted the Indian interpretation of the term, as set out in the 100 Smart Cities Mission (SCM) formally launched in 2015 by the Government of India. The SCM aims to leverage smart solutions to provide high-quality urban infrastructure and services to urban citizens, but it insists on two elements: the importance of offering a decent quality of life to citizens who must participate in defining the content of projects; and the absence of a single definition of the smart city because,

[T]here is no universally accepted definition of a Smart City … The conceptualisation … varies from city to city and country to country … A Smart City would have a different connotation in India than, say, Europe. Even in India, there is no one way of defining a Smart City. (GoI 2015)1

Nevertheless, all Indian smart cities must comply with some common features. Candidate cities must propose two types of interventions in accordance with the programme guidelines. The first one is with a focus on “area-based development” that will transform (retrofit and redevelop) an existing area which should ultimately serve as an example for the entire city. The programme stated that it does not impose conditions, as local authorities have to decide whether to develop a peripheral zone (or even a new city). The second form of intervention
is “pan-city” and includes projects using smart technical solutions—video surveillance systems, integrated road traffic management, etc—that will be rolled out throughout the city (Bhattacharya and Rathi 2015). The idea is to provide adequate infrastructure services like water supply, electricity, sanitation, public transport along with e-governance, IT connectivity and a sustainable environment. As for funding, ₹1,00,000 crore will be available for smart cities development, with the central government contributing ₹48,000 crore over a period of five years, which represents a yearly average of ₹100 crore per city. An equal amount, on a matching basis, will have to be contributed by the state/urban local bodies (ULBs).

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Updated On : 19th Dec, 2018
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