Shaping Smart Cities as Safe & Secure Habitats

The concept of smart cities is now closer to the ground and has brought the core framework issues in sharper focus. The framework for smart cities is now accepted to include safety and security for the citizens as one of the critical parameters. The Mission on Smart Cities (MSC) and the Atal Mission on Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) would, between them, cover 500 cities and close to 50 per cent of the urban population of the country. This is a very ambitious framework and gives the hope of a major push to planned urbanization of the country and, in turn to a resurgent India. The phrase used last deserves to be underscored, as for close to six decades after Independence, our national policies indirectly neglected investment in urbanization, while overtly pushing not only for rural development but also for a reverse migration from cities to the villages.

The result was a near chaos in the cities, as migration to the cities is a near natural phenomenon, globally, and the unprepared cities could not cope with the migrants, leading to proliferation of slums and also to the breakdown of the civic infrastructure and services, much to the chagrin of the existing residents of the cities. However, from 2005-06, thanks to the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), cities got attention for their infrastructure needs and public funding started flowing for improvement of water supply, sanitation, public transport systems, etc. in the cities. The JnNURM also combined urban governance reforms concomitantly with the investments, by making the former a precondition for the flow of Central Grants to the States and Cities for development/renewal of civic infrastructure and services. The results of JnNURM were impressive in many ways and wherever it could not give positive results, it threw up very cogent lessons for the future policies and management of urban development programmes.

Trends in urbanisation

Urbanisation, which was of the order of 17% at the time of Independence, has by 2011, touched the level of 31.2% and is expected to reach 50% by 2050. The country has accepted this trend as a reality as well as a positive development. We as a nation are no more shy of urbanization. In this scenario, the MSC and AMRUT have given a hope for a second push to planned urbanization. Another issue to take note of is that the AMRUT is probably as important as the MSC, even though the limelight has gone largely to the MSC. This can be concluded mainly from the fact that smaller cities are growing much faster than the larger cities. As per the comparative population data of census, the growth of population in the Mega Cities between 2001 and 2011 was almost half than that between 1991 and 2001, as shown in Table-1 below.


Table-1: Trends in Population Growth of the 3 Mega Cities vs All Cities in India: 1991-2001 & 2001-2011




All Cities



The Census has also indicated the great need for giving heightened attention to the planned development of smaller cities, as the population trends in difference classes of cities in the Table-2 below would indicate:

Table-2: Trends in Urbanisation: Growth Rate during 2001 to 2011


Growth in Percentage

Urban Population
31.8 %
Total No. of Cities
53.7 %
Million Plus Cities (No.)
51.4 %
Population Growth in Million Plus Cities
48.4 %
Population Growth in Medium Cities
(having Population of 1 to 10 lakh)
18.4 %
Population Growth in Smaller Cities
(having Population of < 1 lakh)
66.3 %
Non Statutory Census Towns
(Population varies from 5,000 to over 1 lakh)
179 %

While the data in the above two tables highlight the need to accord enhanced attention to smaller cities, the reality would remain that all cities deserve attention as all have remained practically neglected for decades. Thus the combination of MSC and AMRUT becomes a very powerful means to usher in progressive development in cities of all sizes. Urban areas provide greater opportunities for social and economic growth and development of all, but more particularly of the disadvantaged sections such as the elderly, children and women, and cities attempting to become smart must make due provisions for the safety and security of such vulnerable sections.

Safe and secure cities

One of the key features of the MSC, which introduces an element of competition among the cities to become eligible for Central grants, has brought in higher level of awareness among the planners and managers on the need for better management of the cities. The MSC also moots setting up of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for each of the selected cities, with the intention of giving a professionally sound framework for city development. The MSC proposes preparation of Smart City Plans (SCP) by the cities with the help of expert agencies. While the SCPs have been accepted to be based on the concepts of sustainability, inclusiveness, efficiency and transparency, the need for ensuring safety and security of the residents also deserves equal attention. Cities need to be safe and secure for the residents not only against crime but also in respect of natural calamities such as floods, earthquakes and fire.

Drainage plan

Flooding is one calamity, mostly natural, by which most cities get affected almost every year, particularly during the rainy season. A closer look at the causes of flooding would reveal that in all cases, it occurs owing to unplanned construction activities that obstruct the flow of storm water in natural courses. A large number of water bodies in the form of tanks, ponds and lakes have been converted into built spaces, which took away the natural reservoirs of the storm water, leading to logging of such water at road junctions or even seeping into the built spaces. Besides causing such unwanted and harmful flooding, this also prevents the rainwater from reaching the natural nallahs, rivulets and rivers, which do not get enough flow, except for municipal solid waste and construction and demolition waste. The result is choking of the flowing water bodies.

Smart Cities need to give highest priority to preparation of Drainage Plan, based on GIS maps, which delineate the course of natural drainage system. The ‘Bhuvan’ GIS Database of the National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad, developed under the National Urban Information System (NUIS) Programme of the Ministry of Urban Development, could greatly facilitate preparation of drainage plans by and for the cities/regions. Properly guided drainage systems would not only prevent flooding of the cities, but would also nurture the water bodies and even the aquifers of the city and its surroundings.

Transport planning & Transit Oriented Development

Transportation Plan is the next high priority item for a smart city and needs to be based on the concept of “Walk to Work”, in a combination of safe walkways and efficient public transport system. The walkways need to be made free from all types of encroachments, including those made by the public agencies, such as Police Booths and Shopping Kiosks. The streets and walkways need to be adequately lighted to make them safe at all times of the day and night. Intelligent Street Light Management Systems, coupled with LED lighting, make it possible to have the roads well lit without causing financial burden on the municipality concerned.

The Transportation Plan for the City should focus on providing access to the nook and corner of the city through public transport systems of one of more types such as metro/mono railways, Bus/BRTS and tramways. All such public transport systems can be functionally integrated for the citizens through a common fare card. The fare structure can provide for attractive offers for unlimited rides through passes so that the residents find it worthwhile to switch over from personalised transport systems to public transport systems.

Along the corridors of public transport systems, land use can be liberalised to encourage mixed land use, so that most people find the localities adequate for living, shopping, leisure activities, hospitals, educational needs, and even for employment. As public transport systems permit ingress and egress of larger number of persons within a short time and space, high-rise built spaces can be encouraged along such transit corridors. Such framework of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), linking land use to the transport plan, can provide most efficient and optimum use of land, which is the single most precious commodity in the cities.

Building bye laws

The Municipal Building Bye Laws are the cutting edge of legal framework for ensuring safe and secure abode for the citizens. Ministry of Urban Development has now issued the revised version of the Model Building Bye Laws (MBBL) earlier in 2016. The MBBL (Chapter-6)includes structural safety, disaster management as per Prof. Arya Committee Report and BIS Codes including Structural Design Basis Report (SDBR) for various building types. The MBBL also provide for prevention measures against “Soft Storeys” in multi-storeyed buildings and proof checking of structural design for buildings. The updated version of the National Building Code, which is expected to be launched shortly, would also be making ample provision towards specifications for safety in built spaces. The Bureau of Indian Standards is also working on Smart City Standards, which would include the defining parameters for safe and secure cities.

Empowered local govt

Cities suffer from an excess of the number of authorities functioning in/for the city, in a framework that leaves no single authority as fully accountable for the development or otherwise of the city. Such institutional labyrinth needs to be resolved and the Municipalities deserve to be projected as the one point source of all authority in matters relating to development and operation of the various civic infrastructure and services, be it water supply, public transportation, drainage, sewage, solid waste management, street light, health & medical care, parks and other recreation facilities, maintenance and development of lakes and other water bodies and so on.
The stature of the Mayor and other functionaries of the Municipality needs to be raised suitably, to enable them take decisions on all such matters, for planning, execution as well as operation & maintenance.

The city police needs to be made accountable to the city government, at least in respect of petty crimes and traffic management. These seemingly ‘smaller crime’ issues impact citizen greatly, particularly the more vulnerable sections such as the women, the elderly, the children and the poor. That would also provide the citizen a singular and definite framework for securing accountability for governance decisions and outcomes.

In conclusion

We could summarise the situation narrated above by saying that the for a city to be truly smart, it would be necessary to make it safe and secure, in the context of calamities of all types- man made as well as natural. The parameters for safety and security need to be standardized as also codified by way of amendment to the manuals for standard operating procedures of various agencies related to land use planning and construction activities These efforts need to focus on and revolve around the common man, while the implementation mechanism would need to bring the municipalities in the driver’s seat.