Self-Sufficient villages becomes a win-win for India’s people

A chartered accountant by qualification, Pratap Padode, has specialised in financial research. He pioneered equity research in India by launching India’s most successful specialised equity journal. He is the founder of ASAPP Info Global Group and his passion for infrastructure over last 17 years is reflected in the innovative thought leadership through ten specialised magazines, conferences & awards organised in the fields of construction, infrastructure & engineering. Since early 2014 he has been promoting the move to smart, sustainable cities and contributing to Smart Cities Council Partners’ business success through advocacy and action, as the Founder Director of the Smart Cities Council India

How do you envision living standards in a smart city? Do you have any idea about what could be essential features in smart cities?

The implementation of smart city technology can lead to the comprehensive development of many features in the city. The aim of India’s smart cities mission is to essentially build more livable, workable and sustainable cities. This could include creating walkable localities in cities to reduce congestion, promote interactions and ensure security. Roads can be refurbished to encourage walking and cycling, while also adding necessary services within short distances. Smart cities also help preserve and develop open spaces such as parks and playgrounds, which help to enhance the quality of life of citizens, reduce the urban heat effects in areas, and generally promote an eco-balance. Smart city features allow mixed land use that makes land more efficient, and promotes housing and inclusiveness, by expanding housing opportunities for all. Furthermore, applying smart solutions to infrastructure makes areas less vulnerable to disasters, by using fewer resources and providing cheaper services. Additionally, it helps in making governance citizen-friendly, by relying on online services, which helps to reduce the cost of services, and increase accessibility. Ultimately, smart city technology gives an identity to a city. Based on the ideals of sustainability and economic efficiency, it has a lasting impact on health, education and culture.

What is the significance of smart and efficient villages in making Smart Cities Mission successful? Do you think we need a scheme for making our 640,867 villages smart to compliment the scheme for cities?

Thirty people move from rural India to urban India every minute. This causes an immense pressure on city infrastructure, leading to cramped and congested cities. People who migrate from villages to cities keep going back and forth, which is acting as a fetter on speed of urbanization in India. Their lack of job security or a continuity of employment keeps them vacillating back and forth between rural and urban areas. This unpredictability further complicates matters. In order to change this pattern, we need to develop comprehensive schemes that can benefit India’s large rural population – and building smart and efficient villages can help this cause. First, the government could develop labor-intensive manufacturing units under Make In India, so that villagers find suitable employment locally. Second, we need to provide a suitable ICT network in and around villages under Digital India, so that villagers are informed in real time about the latest developments —to help them build their businesses, both in the agricultural sector, as well as the industrial. Lastly, by developing smart villages, dwellers in rural India would no longer face problems — rather, they would become a part of the solutions to various problems faced by cities. If the influx from rural India is checked, smart cities would stop being overcrowded, and India’s smart cities would be able to fulfill their objectives without major impediments.

What do you think should be the priorities of the newly planned smart cities in India? Do you think the cash-strapped municipalities can generate enough funds to implement the proposed projects as submitted the part of the smart city mission competition process?

In the approach to building smart cities in India, the Ministry of Urban Development declared that its main priority is to provide cities a core infrastructure, give citizens a decent quality of life, and a clean and sustainable environment. Newly planned cities should also prioritize these ideals, but modify these needs based on the needs of its city. For example, a city with a large urban sprawl should build its smart city model around the construction of a central command centre, which would facilitate the better management of its area. Furthermore, a city facing a water shortage should prioritize the development of a sustainable water resource on top of the holistically preset Indian smart cities agenda.

India’s smart cities mission relies on a public-private partnership (PPP) model to fund smart city projects. In the budget outlined by the union government earlier this year, the center has released Rs 9940 crore to states for smart cities, and under the mission guidelines, states issue a grant of the same amount released to them for the development of their cities. Thus, the central government is evidently providing adequate funds to states, and providing local bodies all the ammunition they need to successfully manage their funds.

How can our cities improve the urban ecosystem and plan a development agenda that is in sync with nature?

In order to achieve urban sustainability, a systematic focus on urban ecosystems, via a planned development agenda is required. Building an ecologically smart city could increase the resilience of cities by providing low-cost, adaptive, and efficient ways to deal with the challenges of providing safe food, pure water, and clean air for a number of people. We need to focus on building ecosystem services that are capable of resisting a whole host of local and global challenges, from pollution and food shortages to climate change. Using smart city technology for example, Vienna, Austria has been managing its energy better and is working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Other cities worldwide are also implementing connected technology, to reduce the production of carbon dioxide, through the operation of smart electricity supply grids, which increase energy efficiency, and harness low-carbon energy supplies. Smart city technology can help city planners identify places where green infrastructure can improve the urban ecosystem, and lead to the construction of more sophisticated and sustainable projects, which are ‘in sync with nature’.

Do you think it is important for our cities to plan their development keeping in mind the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals? What would the role of cities be in making these global agendas successful within the timeframe?

The New Urban Agenda offers a normative framwork for guiding India’s urban future. It aims at making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It also outlines that everyone has a ‘right to the city’, and thus does not fall completely in line with India’s urban-centric development agenda. Unlike a few other countries involved in chartering this new agenda, we are suffering from overpopulation in our urban areas, and a ‘right to the city’ approach would not fit well within our policy framework. Additionally, smart cities, which form a lynchpin of India’s urban agenda, only makes a fleeting appearance in the New Urban Agenda, thus diverging in priority from one another. The New Urban Agenda should then only be used as a reference while deciding our own plans, but need not be central to our policies. By utilizing the full potential of ICTs to support urban operations and participation, however, India’s smart cities can be key enablers for achieving the main objectives envisioned in the New Urban Agenda, using its own path to development and sustainability, instead of abiding to the UN’s charter

 

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