- VN Kalam, Commissioner, Solapur Municipal Corporation
Congratulations, Solapur, for making it to the list of India´s first Smart Cities Challenge! One of the major cities in Southern Maharashtra, Solapur, established on the north-south railway - the most important root in India - is famous for textile manufacturing. And with its new smart vision, Solapur Municipal Corporation is set to develop the city as a religious centre and textile, medical and education hub as well as stepping up quality of life by improving public service delivery and governance through smart and sustainable solutions. What´s more, VN Kalam, Commissioner, Solapur Municipal Corporation, was recently felicitated by the Smart Cities Council India in Mumbai for the city's ranking among the top 20 in the smart cities mission. At the event, he shared more on the corporation's plans in conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN.
With all your smart plans, what is the business opportunity in the city at present?
We are fortunate to have made it to the list of 20 smart cities; we are at the ninth position. So, it is with pride and privilege that we state that we are making the best city in the world. We have studied major smart cities in the world; we have visited countries such as South Korea and studied the infrastructure. My aim is to build infrastructure that is sustainable and useful for citizens. For example, we have planned the roads and utility services of the city and are enhancing the infrastructure in old areas. With such specific planning, we are in search of agencies to provide the best solutions for our projects.
What areas will you focus on?
We have several areas with projects coming up. Among the more crucial is water recycling. We have a project of water recycling or sewage treatment plant (STP) of over Rs 200-300 crore. Similarly, we have a pipeline project of 110 km from Ujani dam to Solapur. Also, we have some STP and stormwater drainage projects. Additionally, there are at least 10 projects related to infrastructure at present, of which, three are ongoing and the rest are to be completed, as part of the smart city project.
Have you budgeted an amount for projects under smart cities?
Our annual budget will increase this year. The city´s current annual budget is more than Rs 1,000 crore; this cost is set to increase by 20-30 per cent with the advent of smart city projects.
How much financial support is coming from the state government and other agencies?
Our smart cities proposal is at Rs 2,247 crore. Of this, we are getting about Rs 750 crore from the Centre and state governments. The rest is being created by us as well as from financiers.
On which key elements have you focused in your smart cities challenge plan?
Our vision is to make Solapur city clean, efficient and progressive. Considering this, we want to tackle the most vital problems of our city: Cleanliness and water management. These are the two key points we want to tackle in the first phase.
Have any countries shown interest in Solapur?
China has shown interest. The Chinese consul general along with a delegation of China-based companies visited the city recently. We had discussions at length and they have given a letter to my corporation about their intention to invest, support and enhance projects in Solapur. Similarly, I hope major countries of the world come to us and we take the best technology and infrastructure from them. FDI could help in a big way in setting up Solapur as a smart city.
When were you posted commissioner? Did you envision this smart city opportunity back then?
It´s been nine months now. Back then, the smart city challenge announcement was yet to happen and it was more in the realm of discussion that the Government of India would declare smart city challenge projects. So, while prior to this we had not thought much about the smart city plan, as soon as the announcement was made, my vision was to bring the city to the forefront. And, despite all the limitations of our city, we have been ranked number nine.
What challenges do you foresee in your quest to fulfil Solapur´s smart plan?
The challenges are there. But when the government and the world´s technology is with us, I don´t think these challenges will remain. I will definitely work on them and for that I need to deploy the best technology, the best guidance and the best agencies throughout the world.
What would you like to say to India´s developers, architects, builders, contractors and other stakeholders?
I welcome them all. Let them come to my city. I will be happy to discuss my detailed plan with them. I will get some suggestions and will share our specific intention to build this city. I will always welcome the best agencies and infrastructure companies from India and across the world.
In the coming six months, do we see Solapur floating any tenders?
We are all set to float tenders. We are just waiting for some instructions from the Government of India. We are declaring our special purpose vehicle (SPV) because all this needs to be done through this vehicle. So as soon as we announce the SPV, the action will start.
Who will head the SPV?
The commissioner is the chairperson of the SPV in the general body as well as the executive body. So the team under me will include 15 directors in the general body, of which six are from the political side, and a few are from the Centre and state governments side. In the executive committee, along with me, there will be a CEO who will be appointed from the corporate world, and there will be a finance officer. Apart from that, 50 per cent of the staff would be well-trained in their respective fields. So, within the next one month, we can expect this SPV to be formed.
Is there a theme on the lines of which you are planning Solapur smart city?
Our city will focus on water recycling and cleanliness. And, our ambition is set: Climb high, climb far; your goal the sky, your aim the star!