The Government of India launched the Smart Cities Mission in 2015 with the objective of developing sustainable and inclusive citizen friendly cities that enhance the quality of life of its citizens. Instead of only developing greenfield cities, the focus of the Smart Cities Mission is to invest in the infrastructure and development of Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities and bring them at par with global smart cities. However, it is pertinent to note that there is no strict definition of "Smart Cities" and it appears that each nation has its own necessity and focus on what constitutes a Smart City. Under the Smart Cities Mission, the key objective and aim of a Smart City is to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people.

Under the Smart Cities Mission, 100 cities in India have been identified to be developed into Smart Cities within a time period of five years (FY 2015-16 to FY 2019-20) after which the Ministry of Urban Development will evaluate the Mission and implement the learnings from the first five years of the Mission to expand the concept to more cities.

The Smart Cities Mission, as envisaged, aims to develop the entire urban eco-system, represented by the four pillars of comprehensive development – institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure. One of the ways this is expected to be achieved is by undertaking of local area development and harnessing technology in order to convert existing areas (including slums) into better planned and sustainable neighbourhoods with efficient systems that can be seamlessly integrated with the larger systems and infrastructure of the city, thereby improving the liveability of the entire city. Also, newer areas and satellite towns with planned civic infratructure will be developed around cities with a focus on sustainability and room for expansion and economic growth. This will help accommodate the expanding population in urban areas and ease the population and economic burden of the cities in the long term.

The Smart Cities Mission also envisages certain solutions to achieve comprehensive development such as promoting mixed land use in areas, providing various transportation options (with ease of access), expanding housing opportunities and developing open, recreational spaces. The primary focus is on sustainable and inclusive development and the idea is to look at compact areas which can be seamlessly integrated with the neighbouring areas and eventually, the city itself. This would then enable to create a replicable model for other cities on a much larger scale.

The three models of area-based development contemplated under the Smart Cities Mission are:

  1. Retrofitting, which is by way of planning in an existing built-up area to achieve smart city objectives to make the existing area more efficient and liveable.
  2. Redevelopment, which will effect a replacement of the existing built-up environment and enable co-creation of a new layout with enhanced infrastructure using mixed land use and increased density.
  3. Greenfield Development, which will develop vacant areas using innovative planning, with provisions for affordable housing primarily to meet the requirements of expanding population.

Some of the core infrastructure elements in a Smart City would include adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, sanitation, including solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing, IT connectivity and digitalisation, good governance, sustainable environment, safety and security of the citizens and health and education. Such a self-sufficient city that provides and takes care of all the necessities and needs of its citizens would result in the citizens being better contributors to the society and thereby contributing towards the growth and development of the city.

The implementation of the Smart Cities Mission is being undertaken by special purpose vehicles (SPV), some of which have already been set up at the city level in the form of limited companies incorporated under the Companies Act, 2013. The SPVs have been given complete flexibility to implement and manage the Smart City project, including appointment of consulting firms and handholding agencies. The funding to these SPVs is provided through a tied grant kept in a separate grant fund.

A number of foreign governments and international organisations have also offered to provide technical assistance towards development of Smart Cities. The Government of India has been working together with the United Sates to fulfil the objectives the Smart Cities Mission. As a consequence of this collaboration, the United States has signed memorandums of understanding with the Government of India to develop three Smart Cities in Allahabad, Ajmer and Visakhapatnam. The United States would be involved and assisting these cities in its project planning, infrastructure development, feasibility studies and capacity building. This will bring about a global perspective towards developing Smart Cities in India.

The Smart Cities Mission is a bold initiative of the Government of India with a step taken towards development of a new India. The vision is for each Smart City to set a strong example which can be replicated by Smart Cities in other parts of the country. The Government of India proposes to give financial support to the extent of INR 48,000 crores over a period of five years to the Mission.

The initiative towards development of Smart Cities has been taken in order to achieve comprehensive development which will improve quality of life, create employment and enhance income for all (including the poor and disadvantaged), leading to inclusive cities.

While there is a long way to go before each Smart City becomes self-sustainable, it would benefit to integrate other central and state government programs/ schemes with the Smart Cities Mission. If a Smart City stays true its objective and mission, it could lay the blueprint for redevelopment of some of the larger cities in India which are faced with problems of space crunch, crumbling infrastructure, lack of public facilities, spaces and transportation.

This article was first published in IACC- 14th Indo US Economic Summit (book).

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