Marching together towards sustainable smartness

To stir a dialogue on sustainable urban development and Smart City Mission among city leaders and urban planners, All India Institute of Local Self Government (AIILSG) in association with Cities Network Campaign (CNC) and Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) organised the two-day South Asian Cities Summit in New Delhi recently. City leaders and urban planners across from South Asian cities released a mutually agreed upon declaration to augment the pace of ‘smart’ urban development

With an aim to build smart, sustainable, and inclusive cities, city leaders across from South Asian Cities agreed upon to develop sustainability strategies for energy generation and distribution, transportation, water management, urban planning, and eco-friendly (green) buildings. In addition, the summit addressed number of factors hindering building smart cities in South Asian Cities—financial concerns, empowerment of local bodies, climate resilience issues, and need for building capacity across all sectors in cities.

Union Minister for Environment and Forest Prakash Javadekar, who was the Chief Guest at the event, emphasized on significance of sustainable development for building liveable and smart cities in his inaugural speech at the Summit. Javadekar said, “Each city needs to have a vision for the next fifty years to handle the pressure of rapid urbanisation.”

Javadekar highlighted the need of capacity building of municipal staff and appointing ‘right person at right place’ for inclusive development of cities. He added that there is a need of better coordination among different civic and development agencies to ensure better urban governance.

Ramanath Jha, Director General of the AIILSG, said that rapid urbanisation throws up unparallel challenges both in policy and in governance, cities must meet these challenges and fashion answers in the light of their own socio-economic and cultural contexts.

Jha added that hand in hand with urbanisation, there have been huge technological advances. They provide us with tools that enable greater efficiency, more economic growth, better environment, greater social wellbeing and enormous improvements in governance. Indian and South Asian Cities are at a turning point in their urbanisation. Poised to grow at swift pace along with resurgent economies, they can derive advantage from the latest technological development.

In a special address during the inaugural session, Satyendra Jain, Health Minister of Delhi, said that cities need to focus on their design. Even the road design in many of our cities is not correct. “We do not need sprawling bungalows in cities; we can have smartly designed houses that will serve the purpose. Urban planners need to focus on building big community spaces so that people can engage with each other. At present, cities are designed in a way that people need not interact with their neighbours even”, he added.

The major topics discussed during the summit included empowerment of local bodies, smart mobility, solid waste management, water and sanitation, financial viability of smart cities, smart energy solutions, safe cities, climate resilient cities, green buildings, empowerment of local bodies, etc.

The panel discussing financial viability of smart cities focused on various financial options available to augment the pace of smart city development. The panel talked about various international funding possibilities like Green Climate Fund, Climate Change Adaptation Fund, etc. It was suggested that the central government should facilitate having a common platform to which the cities have direct access so that while structuring projects these additional funding possibilities can be taken into account.

M Ramachandran, former UD Secretary, Government of India, said that the scheme details of Smart City Mission have not yet announced by the government. It will be significant to see how it empowers local bodies in development of smart cities. He said that municipal cadre should be strengthened and state finance commissions (SFCs) should address the issues of urban local bodies for ensuring better urban governance in our cities. On the role of technology providers in Smart City Mission, he said that technology providers will be keen to partake in the process. Will do they look at business opportunities or will it possible for them to bring in some resources or finances as well because they owe something to society. They will set up technical requirements as dictated or required by the local bodies or the cities but what will be their stake in this entire process that also becomes crucial. V Suresh, Former CMD, HUDCO, said that many international consultancy agencies have estimated that the country will need around $ 2 Trillion investment but the government has budgetary provision of only Rs 100 crore per year for each smart city. Cities will need to generate huge amount of funds themselves for implementing the project. Sanjay Chauhan, Mayor of Shimla, said that the government should focus on brown field projects so that we can make our existing cities smart. For that, there is a need to build physical, institutional, and social infrastructure. Small cities like Shimla may not be able to generate matching grants because the private players would not find the project lucrative enough.

On the basis of deliberations during different sessions during two-day conference, city leaders from South Asian cities along with dignitaries from national and International development agencies, donor organisations, civil society organization, representatives of wider urban development fraternity signed a fifteen-point declaration to make cities inclusive, better governed, smart and sustainable.

The declaration read: “…We will create policies and implement initiatives which are socially, culturally and economically inclusive by inter-alia, specifically addressing gender equality, safety, security, creating investment opportunities and conserving heritage of the built environment… We would like AIILSG to be the focal point for knowledge sharing, sharing of best practices and deliberations on various innovative ideas to improve service delivery and enhance quality of life of city residents.” CDKN, UN-Habitat, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), USGBC, School of Planning and Architect, New Delhi, NACO and several other institutions proactively participated and conducted different sessions intended to address relevant urban issues cities are facing today.

Over 200 mayors, commissioners, bureaucrats, and urban planners from various South Asian countries and from different parts of India were present in the two-day summit.


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