As the global population continues to grow at a steady pace, more and more people are moving to cities every single day. Experts predict the world’s urban population will double by 2050, which means we’re adding the equivalent of seven New Delhi Cities to the planet every single year. In India, 34 crore people were residing in cities in 2008 and this number will reach 59 crore in 2030. Therefore, to provide dwelling and employment to this gargantuan number of people, more and more smart cities will have to be built. Against this backdrop, the Rs 48,000-crore Smart City mission, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, is aimed at applying smart solutions to improve infrastructure and service delivery in proposed smart cities. Here it is noteworthy that people migrate to cities primarily for employment. To support their happy and comfortable living, they also need good quality housing, cost efficient physical and social infrastructure such as water, sanitation, electricity, clean air, education, health care, security, entertainment, etc. Industries also locate in cities because there are agglomeration economies that provide easy access to labour and other factors of production. In this context, smart cities are those that are able to attract investments. Good infrastructure, simple and transparent online processes that make it easy to establish an enterprise and run it efficiently are important features of an investor friendly city. So, it is for the first time in India that a challenge has been floated, in which the citizens of urban India could contribute in the formation of development visions of their cities. Those cities that are able to competitively meet the required parameters would be developed as smart cities. Hence, this competitive mechanism would end the top-down approach and lead to people-centric urban development.
The most important question that comes to mind and needs consideration is the fiscal viability and funding gap. Each of the smart cities in the world that embarked on this change had similar challenges and we may hide behind the obvious stating that they are rich economies. But it is widely known in the globalised world how these very countries have been recession prone and are cash strapped. Yet, they had the vision to take this up for one and only reason–we have the right to quality life and our future generations should inherit a world and proudly state that we gave them a better world. It is to be noted that in India, smart city is primarily a state subject and Centre can provide minimal and indirect help at best. The states, therefore, have suggested that in addition to the PPP model, they should be given the option of EPC [Engineering Procurement Contract] and user fee-based concessions to promote private sector participation. They want to impose impact fee on organisations that benefit from improved infrastructure, government support for making projects viable for private investors, unbundling of services to make projects investment-worthy and creation of a low-cost pooled fund with the support of the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, pension funds and sovereign funds etc. However, a section of our intelligentsia believes the best way is to making our existing cities smart so that automatically they deliver smart things to citizens. By creating another levels of cities will burden financially again to existing citizens and will give another opportunity to our bureaucrats and politicians to generate black money. But making existing cities as smart cities cannot be done for several reasons. The main reason is that a majority of the existing cities have been built in unplanned way, owing to which their mapping is not available. About 70 per cent to 80 per cent population lives in unplanned localities, which are thickly populated, due to which rejuvenation work cannot be undertaken there. Also, the construction of smart cities will reap benefits for metro cities, as they will lessen the burden of migration from villages over the metro cities. Hence, in this perspective, it is better to construct smart cities than undertaking development activities in existing unplanned cities.