There are times in the life of a nation when a new opportunity knocks on the doors offering fundamental shift from the past while promising huge business opportunity. Smart city plan by the new government is one such move. It holds the key to completely alter India’s urban landscape, create a new engine of growth and move the country on the path of sustainable development.
As it is still a wish and not much long term thought has gone into it, it would be right to take giant leaps of imagination to visualise about how the smart city concept will or can unfold in India?
When the present Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, articulated his desire for creating smart cities in India during his election campaign, he wasn’t presenting any new concept. It has been around since the end of the last century. Only the country has lagged behind in embracing it.
However, the fund allocation in the budget 2014 (Rs 7060 crore) for the smart city project is a step in the right direction. On the face of it the amount looks small and it is. When we divide it with 100 cities it comes to around Rs 70 crore per city. Still, the initial amount shouldn’t deter the long term entrepreneurial thinkers and planners. This money will be invested in pre-feasibility studies, detailed project reports etc.
Critics may ask how it will help the cause of green economy. Well the answer lies in the nature and concept of smart city. These cities are built around a premise where Information Technology (IT) assist’s the urban local bodies in ensuring good governance with increased monitoring of resource utilisation, operations maintenance, quick public service delivery and efficient use of data to create better services.
IT forms the core of the smart city but is not the end of the story. With changing times the smart city concept is being upgraded continually. The threat of resource scarcity, increasing wastage, deteriorating urban conditions has forced policy planners to incorporated better planning and energy efficient technologies for power, building, water, transport and waste disposal in the concept.
This has widened the ambit of smart city. Together, the IT and other emerging technologies help an urban area to better coordinate among departments and offer focussed service delivery. It helps in achieving resource optimization, energy efficiency and minimum wastage.
When we look at the big picture the possibilities are enormous. These smart cities can act as magnets that attract opportunities for green business from around the country as well as abroad. Technologies like efficient lighting, new building materials, efficient town planning practises, public transportation technologies, waste disposal systems, renewable energy, water conservation, harvesting and delivery as well as Information Technology will see a boom in the coming decades.
Nowhere in the world has such an ambitious project has been under taken. China, which has made a habit of achieving grand successes, has been content with just four known smart cities.
However, not all of the 100 smart cities will be built from the scratch. The future smart cities will come in two packages – Greenfield and Brownfield. Greenfield cities would be built anew and this would be one of the biggest urbanisation drive of the 20th century. Right now there are seven cities proposed along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). Each of these cities will house 5 lakh to a million residents.
No formal calculations have been made about the financial implications of the entire project but a small example may indicate the gigantic opportunity. A smart city near Ahmedabad, in the advanced stage of construction in an area of 886 acres, will cost Rs 70000 crore. Even if we take this as the bench mark for the rest of the 100 cities we get the drift.
The biggest business opportunity will arise when the government shift its focus from Greenfield to Brownfield cities. This will include cities like Delhi, Mumbai and others with huge population and systems.
Seven years ago when the previous government initiated a programme to make Delhi a smart city the cost of the 3D city map using property survey, GIS maps and satellite imagery was estimated at Rs 100 crore. The integration of various department data (32 in all) was another project. After the work was over the Delhi government had to create a separate company Geospatial Delhi Limited (GSDL) to manage the data flow.
The smart cities will need large workforce in both the stages – during its creation and after it is complete. It would create an opportunity for training a large scale workforce to undertake new and specialised assignments.
During construction of new or up-gradation of old cities a large team of engineers, technicians and supervisors, landscapers, botanists, environment engineers and others would be needed. Once they are up and running the same team would be required to run the operations and maintain it.
The jobs would be created in the IT, big data, app creation, hardware maintenance, waste management, energy efficiency, renewable energy companies, transport and infrastructure builders, lighting (LED) and other service providers. Experts of green building code, energy auditors, green building companies, architects, renewable energy and waste management experts, engineers and managers will be in demand.
All the above fields are the drivers of green economy around the world. Take the case of LED lights. A couple of years ago, Delhi government study said that if the city shifted to LED lights it will save 250 MW (megawatt) of electricity daily. Similarly another study suggested that Delhi’s built up area offers a chance to generate 2557 MW of solar power.
It will open up a huge market for the LED bulbs, fixtures and solar panels, batteries, invertors etc. Trained and untrained people would be required for manufacturing, transport, installation, repair and replacement and disposal of new products.
Efficient lighting and renewable energy promote green economy by minimising carbon footprint and the need for conventional energy while creating space for clean energy and other sustainable practices. These efforts lead to a sustainable economic development. Both the examples from a single metropolis suggest the large scale potential and the impact of employing green technology. Similar opportunities exist in the other sectors mentioned above.
Going back to the emerging smart city in Gujarat, it is said that it will be able to generate 5 lakh direct jobs. It means 100 smart cities have a capability of creating 50 million jobs. This is a mouth watering data for any government. Job creation of this scale will ensure its stay in New Delhi for at least a couple of terms.
However, to ensure this the government and the policy planners will have to bold and futuristic in their thought and deeds. If ever there was a silver bullet to meet the twin but divergent demand of economic growth and environment conservation “smart city” is it. But the concept needs to be embraced in its letter and spirit with an aim to fundamentally alter the functioning of our urban centres.
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