Smart Cities Mission to Tackle COVID Challenge

The National Smart City Mission - aimed at upgrading core infrastructure of 100 selected cities through sustainable smart solutions for providing quality life to citizens - is at a critical juncture in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring a relook and a reworking of its strategy to meet newer challenges.
By Vinod Behl

Purpose, Implementation Strategy & Progress of Smart Cities Mission
The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) launched in 2015, was envisaged as a 5-year holistic program, aimed at providing ₹1000 crore to each of the 100 selected cities (borne equally by the Centre and the States) between 2017-22 to rejuvenate their core infrastructure. Each city, by creating a Special Purpose Vehicle, was expected to raise additional funding from the market. The strategy to implement the Mission revolved around area-based development, housing inclusiveness, creating walkable locations, enhancing citizens’ security, preserving and developing open areas, alongside cost-effective citizen-friendly governance.

Over the last five years, the Mission has made considerable progress, which is evident from the statistics. A total of ₹2,05,018 crore of investment for 5951 projects in 100 smart cities is proposed. Till now, tenders for 4869 projects costing ₹1,68,209 have been issued. For 4038 projects, costing ₹1,31,295 crore, the work is in progress or completed.

Digital Transformation - Key Driver for Smart Cities Mission
Digital transformation of cities holds the key to the success of the Smarts Cities Mission and the future of our cities and its residents. Digital transformation of cities can help meet the major objective of making governance citizen-friendly, cost-effective, transparent, and accountable. Data is the key driver to all policies, programs, projects and measures. Therefore, the focus on Big Data and the city’s behaviour towards its data management is a critical element towards being a truly smart city. Siemens has created a global data-driven index - Atlas of Digitalization - to rate cities based on digitalization readiness and digitalization potential.

Therefore, the current challenge is to make our cities data-driven. Built environment data - the authenticated Digital DNA of all cities - is already captured by cities in various formats and processes through building, engineering and planning departments, besides postal services. The integration of a city’s data in an accurate and authentic manner is key to following the path to becoming a smart city. And for that, we need a proactive approach of identifying and managing the city’s Digital DNA - the building blocks to effectively and efficiently use the city’s ability to repurpose its existing data and documents associated with the built environment.

Covid Challenges for Smart Cities Mission and the Path Ahead
Covid-19 has given us an opportunity to recalibrate the Smart Cities Mission and build sustainable cities, better equipped to handle such pandemics. It has also exposed the absence of strong and resilient health systems in our cities, which act as the first line of defense - not only against disease outbreaks - but also for meeting everyday health challenges. Considering that by 2025, 40% of India’s population will be living in urban areas, there’s a need to upgrade the health infrastructure to address challenges posed by pandemics like Covid-19.

It is an irony that creation of health infrastructure is a very low priority in smart cities. In overall spending under Smart Cities Mission heads, only 2.3% is dedicated to health and education and only about 1% of the smart city projects are for health infrastructure and capacity building. Only two sectors - environment and solid waste management - have got a share of investment equal to health and education. In contrast, area development (23%) accounts for the highest share followed by urban transport (14%), water supply (11%), housing (9.9%) IT connectivity and digitization (8.5%), energy (7.2%), sewerage & septage(7.2%), and economic development (6%).

So far, the major focus of the SCM has been to make cities economically vibrant. But now, in the post- Covid scenario, SCM needs to be re-focused and reoriented with greater priority to health, as our cities can become economic engines only if its citizens are healthy. And we can achieve it successfully by leveraging digital technology like telemedicine.

The writer is Editor, PropTOQ real estate magazine
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