SMART cities: Challenges and opportunities for Delhi

Indian cities, even for the diehard India lovers, are notoriously ill managed. An overwhelming majority of them are collapsing under their own weight. Sanitation is absent in many parts of most of the cities. Public transport is non-existent and electricity and water supply are sketchy at best. Add to this air, water and municipal waste pollution makes for a very low standard of living. While this is a set template for most of the tier 2 and 3 towns in India, the burgeoning metropolis aren’t any better.
Take the case of National Capital Territory of Delhi. The city was once a beautiful landscape of spacious bungalows and sprawling gardens, broad boulevards and leisurely life. Not anymore. Since the Asian Games in 1982, the city has witnessed a silent explosion aided and abetted by constant stream of population from around the country and the resultant real estate boom.
Today the city’s official population is pegged at 1.67 crores (16.7 million) but the policy planners and experts put it anywhere between 2 crore (20 million) to 2.5 crore (25 million). A large number of residents of the capital live in unauthorised colonies where there is no sewerage or drainage facilities, water supply are scanty, electricity supply are mostly unmonitored and the general quality of life is abysmal. Still, Delhi attracts hundreds of thousands of people from rural heartland and small cities as it offers a chance for a life that is qualitatively much better than back home.
Faced with this endless stream of dream chasers landing on its door and the strain they are putting on the limited resources of the tiny state, the city administration, seven years ago, decided to undertake a huge exercise towards modernising governance, management and creating a Samrt city.
A three dimensional (3-D) map of the city was to be created and then data of 24 administrative departments like police, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Delhi Jal Board (DJB), and Revenue Department etc was to be connected to this map. It was a five year long exercise.
The teams used Google maps, on ground survey techniques, enabled with still and movie cameras, and provided the raw information to the Information Technology teams. They in turn translated the entire data into a 3D model of the city. Meanwhile the digitisation of departmental data was undertaken. Linking of departmental data followed simultaneously. The entire process was completed by 2012.
The new e-platform presents a one word world of huge opportunities as well as challenges called data. The digitisation and resultant linking of departmental data to the new map showed that most of the data was incomplete, old, un-sanitized and at times misleading.
Correcting this data within the department is one opportunity. Upgrading it according to the framework provided by the new platform presents the second opportunity. The upgraded data when combined with the data of other departments will create a wealth of inter-connecting big data that would open up a sea of opportunity for data analysts, programmers and business developers.
Tourist operators, transporters, FMCG goods retailers and other service providers and creators will give their right hand for this kind of data. The departments that generate primary data could work in tandem with corporate entities, entrepreneurs and IT professionals to develop new consumer friendly applications and share profit.
Also better coordination between departments in terms of information flow in real time will create immense opportunities to bring down resource wastage, increase per unit efficiency and lead to enhanced savings.
However, the project managers encountered extreme resistance from the government departments to share data. This resistance was symptomatic of age old turf wars between various departments which by now have become institutionalised. And as mentioned above dealing with mindsets in gathering data would be the biggest challenge.
Each department has erected little fortress around their database and drawn power from withholding information rather than sharing it. They believe in the axiom, knowledge and information is power”. But their understanding is limited. They haven’t been told that withholding information is power in decline as it is not being enhanced by 360 degree inputs. Sharing can fulfil this gap and create a force multiplier effect for each department.
Second challenge is of coordination. Years of lack of coordination has somehow spilled over to the digital arena too. Unwillingness to share data with the public is one thing but when this is practiced between the departments it leads to unnecessary wastage of resources.
For example the Delhi police department needs a list of jewellery shops and liquor shops in Delhi. This makes their work easier. The information is with Revenue Department. If the information is available to the police department, then it can better deploy its small and stressed manpower.
Similarly, suppose Mahanagar Telephone Limited (MTNL), the government run telephone company is planning to lay a cable, meanwhile the Delhi Jal Board is also planning to undertake repair work on its water pipes in the same area, they can coordinate their efforts and save MCD the trouble of repairing the road twice. But in the absence of any sharing the old practice of multiple digging at the same site is still in vogue in these departments.
The third challenge is of updating data. While the existing data till 2012 has been digitised and linked to the 3D map, the challenge is to constantly update it for optimum utilisation of the new technology platform. However, even here the problem of information blockade is practiced. People at every level in the bureaucracy and their political masters are reluctant to update information for fear of losing their control over people. The lack of information in black and white gives them ample room to play god to hapless citizens and earn some quick bucks.
However, even here this attitude is rooted in greed borne out of ignorance. Take the case of MCD. The department had property records of only 7 lakh built up structures. When the survey was finally completed the actual number of built up property including residential, commercial and industrial (excluding jhuggi jhonpris and Cantonment board area) stood at a whooping 55 lakhs.
If the MCD officials are smart they should sense an opportunity in the new data. If these properties are catalogued and their tax is fixed using the rational methodology than over night the corporation can turn into a cash rich organisation rivals any medium to large scale corporate entity. This huge flow of funds will empower them to not only serve their areas better but also give them the moral courage to legitimately increase their salaries, perks and emoluments. No one will grudge their earning as they would be getting world class service in return to their taxes.
Delhi has shown that the hardware for Smart city is ready but the software is not. The humans who have to run the systems are still languishing in the crevices of communications gap. The fear of losing power by sharing information, a morally bankrupt world view of earning petty money by unfair means has left the hardware performing at sub optimal level.
Application of technology and right communication tools are a potent combination to achieve what moral lecturing and draconian laws can’t. It can open up a window for professional dealing and professional payment method that is transparent and based on economic reality of the times. Smart city will not only be more efficient in its resource management and score highly on consumer satisfaction index, it will also help in readjusting the moral compass of a system that has come under heavy criticism over the years.
The application of technology in the right spirit will impress upon these reluctant professionals that it can rescue them from unnecessary fear of losing power and the greed to cling on to it. It offers an opportunity to begin afresh – a life of professional excellence, financial prosperity and moral sagacity. Then they would be a part of the solution and not the problem. Something the new political outfit Aam Admi Party (AAP) is trying so hard to achieve.

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About indiadynamic

mediaperson worked for TWI, TVI, Dainik Bhaskar, UTV and Hindustan Times in all the divisions print, TV, radio and internet
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