Smart Cities Mission (SCM) that was launched on 25 June, 2015 for a period of 5 years for promoting cities by selecting 100 cities in four Rounds in the country with core of infrastructure, giving decent quality of life to its citizens through initiative like Area Based Development (ABD) involving city improvement (retrofitting city renewal (redevelopment) and city development (Greenfield development) and Pan city development covering a larger part of the city. SCM is the most ambitious programme of the Modi government and is aimed at providing ‘ease of living’ for the urban people whose number is going to swell alarmingly in the next 10-20 years.
Although Smart City Mission was launched in June 2015, the selection of cities was completed only in June 2018. As a result, completion date of most of the projects undertaken would fall between January, 2019 and May 2023. Thus, most of the progress under this programme has to be gauged in terms of ‘Projects Tendered’ ‘Work Orders Issued’ and ‘Project Completed.’
Progress so far
While it’s too early to assess whether the Mission has made any difference to the life of people living in those cities, the government claims that the pace of project implementation under the Mission has picked up. Till the end of calendar year 2019, 4178 projects totalling about Rs 1,50,000 crore were either under implementation or completed. Till now 1296 projects worth Rs 23,170 crore have been completed.
Speed has picked up of late but there is need to go all out to meet the deadline. But the most important thing about the programme is how it will impact common man’s life? Will it make any difference to his life or will it become another programme long on promise and falling too short on delivery? If the current status is any indication the programme may result in nothing but all noise with no change in ground reality.
Only superfluous changes
In many cases, SCM has resulted in just superfluous changes like more murals on clean walls and new pavers on footpaths. For example, in the name of making Raipur a Smart City, city has been painted afresh which was not at all required.
Wasting or spending money?
In some cases, money was wasted rather than spent on projects which were not needed or were not on priority list at all. For example, in case of Surat Smart City project it was found that in the name of Smart City work, Surat Smart City Development Limited (SSCDL) had undertaken the construction of footpaths which was not needed at all in Surat city. In case of Raipur Smart City, cycle tracks were constructed which is thoroughly unutilized, whereas the city needed underground drainage which has not yet been provided.
Failed to understand priorities
In most of the cases, the programme has failed to understand the priorities of the cities. Patna which came under SCM in round 3, was inundated with sewerage last year due to floods but SCM is yet to come out with a concrete plan to tackle such situation. This may be mainly due to low public participation and lack of collaboration among various stakeholders. Though the SCM provides for constitution of Smart City Advisory Forum (SCAF), composition of this forum is critical. Unless it gets enough local representation, gap between the local priorities and the actual delivery will be widened. There are many instances where the local MPs have complained about the implementation of some projects without their knowledge/involvement. SCM cannot make any change to the common man unless there is extensive citizen engagement at the planning stage itself.
Will it attract needed private investors?
Out of total requirement of Rs.2.05 lakh crore for SCM, 21% i.e. Rs 41,022 crores will be met by PPP for Mission period of five years. However, till date only Rs 3,600 crore worth projects have been completed under PPP and 20,000 crore projects are either tendered or are under implementation. Under the present circumstances whether the government will be able to meet the rest of the target in remaining period or otherwise how it will be able raise the money through alternative sources is a big question.
With rapid urbanization the urban population is set to increase from the present 35% to as high as 50% by 2050 and several reports have also projected very adverse scenario ahead, in case we continue with our lowest level of underinvestment in urban infrastructure. Rapid urbanization leading to exponential growth in urban population will put the existing physical and digital infrastructure under stress and challenge the urban resilience and sustainable environment, at the same time funding for new infrastructure could come under pressure.
Therefore, there is urgent need for a renewed focus on infrastructure resilience and investment. The SCM to make any difference there is need to change the way its planned and implemented. We need to shift approach to innovative, integrated and bottom-up planning. We need to focus on achievement of outcomes (not projects) based on categories of States/ Cities. We have to build capacity of the cities and optimize present resources. And also we need to shift towards data driven performance management and governance. Unless SCM incorporates all these factors it may also join the list of an ambitious but failed programme.