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

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Platformisation, Infrastructuring, and Datafication

Regional Variations in the Digitalisation of Indian Cities

The existing research on smart cities in India is situated either in the discursive understanding of the Indian idea of smart or analysis of selected cities’ experiments. Breaking from this dichotomy, it is argued that rolling out of smart cities should be read along a longer history of neo-liberal municipal reforms, which has led to institutional rescaling through the special purpose vehicles and entrenched networks of consultants that drive contemporary urban interventions.

This paper is part of the Review of Urban Affairs, 2023.

This paper was supported by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement ARTS programme and by the Agence française de développement project “Urban governance in India through the prism of the 100 Smart Cities Mission.” Apart from the authors, fieldwork was conducted by Kanchan Gandhi and Barathi Nakkeeran, and supporting research was contributed by Sushmita Rai.

India’s Smart Cities Mission (SCM) was launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) in 2015 to improve infrastructure, enhance service delivery, increase citizen engagement, and meet sustainability and inclusivity goals through institutional and technological innovations. The SCM has been gradually implemented in more than 100 cities, with varied experiences and trajectories. The core policy has substantially evolved in its push for cities to ensure digitalisation of municipal services and infrastructures, and use data to improve services (MOHUA 2018; Parkar and Purandare 2023). In this paper, while we attempt to understand disruptions (Stiegler 2019) that digitalisation brings to urban governance, we also pay attention to the historical institutional trajectories (North 1990) of state-led urban and e-governance reforms that shape paths of cities towards digital futures.

Existing research on Indian smart cities either understands country-specific discourses of “smartness” or analyses of highlighted selected cities’ experiments. Early work emphasised institutional restructuring and rescaling through the special purpose vehicles (SPVs) (Taraporevala 2018), discursive work unravelled the multiple interpretations of smartness in policy (Praharaj and Han 2019), suggested postcolonial imagination of “speed” or “fast urbanism” (Datta 2018), or perceived it as a technological fix to urban problems (Khan et al 2018). Analytical work has evaluated various trajectories of city-level implementation (Prasad et al 2021), illustrated digital infrastructures such as integrated command and control centres (ICCCs) (Praharaj 2020), located smart city responses to the Covid-19 pandemic (Datta et al 2021), and suggested that SCM drives fragmented place-making projects (Prasad et al 2021) while making substantial investment in classic infrastructure (Khan et al 2018).

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Updated On : 10th Apr, 2023
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