Why the Smart Cities Mission needs PM Gati Shakti

Why the Smart Cities Mission needs PM Gati Shakti

- Pratap PadodeOne of the prime objectives of India’s Smart Cities Mission was to inspire a new renaissance in urban development. It may be also fair to say that it was to highlight the severity of neglect urban planning was facing. Not only were we not buildin...

- Pratap PadodeOne of the prime objectives of India’s Smart Cities Mission was to inspire a new renaissance in urban development. It may be also fair to say that it was to highlight the severity of neglect urban planning was facing. Not only were we not building architectural masterpieces to receive global glory, we were also intent upon razing old relics, we were blinking at unauthorised construction, then struggling to legitimise them – and we were using floor space index (FSI) as currency. In the process, homeowners were getting short-changed, our cultural heritage was being torn apart and we were overburdening infrastructure without providing any metrics of capacity planning. Our population has grown from over 1 billion in 2000 to 138 billion in 2020. Further, our urban population grew from 292 million in 2000 when 27 per cent of total population was urban to 482 million with 35 per cent of total population being urban in 2020. The pressure on urban infrastructure has, therefore, been immense with a 70 per cent growth in urban population in just 20 years, with traffic slowing to a crawl, waste choking drainage systems, the topography of cities hammered to bring in concrete and steel structures that has changed the course of rainwater flow causing floods, trees being chopped and satellite cities causing havoc with the environment also causing water disparity flooding some regions and parching others. Therefore, one of the first achievements of the Smart Cities Mission is the recognition of the need for urban planning and then putting money behind it: Rs 480 billion on 100 smart cities over five years with a matching commitment from the city administration. Second, sustainability is another pillar of the movement. Apart from the Smart Cities Mission that catered to 100 cities, the Rs 1 trillion AMRUT was launched to cater to 500 major cities covering 60 per cent of the urban population. Projects over Rs 800 billion have been grounded and work worth Rs 560 billion has been carried out. Under the mission, 11.4 million water tap connections have been provided, taking total connections to 41.4 million in AMRUT cities. Also, 8.5 million sewer connections have been provided taking coverage to 23.2 million. The aim: to eradicate open defecation and 100 per cent scientific management of municipal solid waste in all statutory towns. Under this, over 7 million household, community and public toilets have been built. Under scientific waste management, waste processing has improved from 18 per cent in 2014 to 70 per cent today, as per government sources. While the Government claims this has been aided through 100 per cent door-to-door waste collection in 97 per cent wards and source segregation of waste being practised by citizens across 85 per cent wards, the numbers seem exaggerated. AMRUT 2.0 is now aiming to enhance its reach to 4,700 towns and cities and make them ‘water secure’. It will build upon earlier progress to address water needs, rejuvenate water bodies, better manage aquifers and reuse treated wastewater, thereby promoting the circular economy of water. The total outlay of AMRUT 2.0 is Rs 2.97 trillion. We have also made progress on financial sustainability. An RBI study has revealed that based on the debt-GSDP (gross state domestic product or simply GDP) ratio in 2020-21, 10 states that are financially vulnerable include Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Kerala, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Of these, Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal are highly stressed. Development expenditure in these constitutes a miniscule portion of spending with most funds spent on committed expenses like interest, pension and administration. Even among the better performing states, Maharashtra has seen its debt burden spiral to Rs 6.49 trillion, one of the highest for any state in the country. While Maharashtra will spend Rs 482.63 billion this year to service this debt, the high debt levels constrain its ability to go for higher capital expenditure. These budgets do not provide for any scope in participation from the citizens although the funds are to be spent for their welfare! It is assumed that as the spending is part of central schemes for which funds have been allotted, citizen welfare is already taken care of. The Smart Cities Mission has initiated financial discipline by urging cities to get themselves credit rated. Credit-rating work has been awarded for 485 cities and completed in 470 cities. Last year, 164 cities had received Investible Grade Rating (IGR), including 36 cities with rating of A- or above. Ten urban local bodies (ULBs) – Ahmedabad, Amravati, Bhopal, Ghaziabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Lucknow, Pune, Surat and Visakhapatnam – raised Rs 38.40 billion through issuance of municipal bonds. If cities are conscious of the need to improve credit ratings to qualify for funding at lower rates of interest, it would motivate them as political interests will mandate projects for which fund requirements would be crucial. The third laudable achievement is to inspire cities by competition and encourage development projects in a planned manner. For example, metro-rail projects in 15 cities have operational metro networks of about 746 km, and another seven cities have under-implementation projects of about 640 km. Further, 1,400 km of metro-rail projects worth ₹ 2 trillion are in the approval/proposal stage. These projects are inspiring a rethink on running seamless integrated transport management systems with last-mile connectivity. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is engaged in constructing 10.58 km of Coastal Road project Phase 1, worth Rs 127 billion, where about 90 hectare will be reclaimed of which 70 hectare will be landscaped to provide recreational spaces like cycle tracks, promenades, amphitheatres and children’s play areas. Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are building mega-scale corridors of connectivity like the Samrudhhi Expressways and Ganga Expressway. Samruddhi Mahamarg includes 50 flyovers, five tunnels, 300 vehicular underpasses and 400 pedestrian underpasses, connecting 10 districts, 26 talukas and 392 villages. It is also creating 20 greenfield townships. Similarly, the 594-km Ganga Expressway connecting Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh with Prayagraj district in eastern Uttar Pradesh is just one among four – the 340-km Purvanchal, 296-km Bundelkhand and 91-km Gorakhpur Links – that are scripting a transformation in the state. There is now a competition among states to be a frontrunner in the ‘Ease of Living Index’. Rankings take into account quality of life, economic ability, sustainability and resilience. The assessment also incorporates the view of residents on the services provided by the city administration. The Municipal Performance Index adjudges cities across five verticals that comprise 20 sectors and 100 indicators. The five verticals are services, finance, policy, technology and governance. The fourth outcome is the readiness to take up challenges and innovation. After having transformed metro cities, India’s $ 227 billion IT industry is making inroads into Tier 2 and 3 cities. There are now 66,810 start-ups in India and 50 per cent of them are emerging from these cities. The startups have reported the creation of more than 0.7 million jobs with an average of 11 jobs created by a recognised startup. The fifth beneficial outcome is that 600 cities are coming to life with the infusion of interventions. While municipal authorities and various development authorities plan their city infrastructure projects, the developments in the city converge to create better quality of life – from the free WiFi at railway stations, the CCTV cameras installed in 814 railway stations and the 8.9 million LED street lights along the highways to provide a feeling of security to the easeful experiences at the passport office, the availability of app-based taxi rides, the ease of receiving permissions through the Online Building Permission System implemented in 2,471 cities, the direct benefit transfers into Jan Dhan accounts and the availability of toilets in rural areas. Several other flagship schemes have set the ground for the simmering renaissance but all these need to integrate for delivering compounding value. Yet, there are stumbling blocks to converting this effort into a sustainable operation. Only when the value derived from the services provided is considered worthy of payment will financial sustainability emerge. Citizens value consistency and quality and will eventually pay for services that deliver. India received the highest ever FDI of $ 83.57 billion in 2021-22 and our urban development efforts can claim some credit for creating the grounds for such inflows. But then why have Indian smart cities not attracted FDI? Given that the Gulf countries are making a beeline to invest in India’s infrastructure, our cities could receive long-term funding from these countries sitting on oil surpluses. These funds could dramatically accelerate the improvement of India’s urban cityscape. As several states are burdened under unsustainable debt pressure, a central scheme that provides states long-term funds for city development on milestones could serve us well. Clearly, India’s Smart Cities Mission, just completing seven years, is an inspiring idea that has set the stage for a renaissance. But now we need a PM Gati Shakti model to bring together the multitude ideas under one platform for liveability, workability and sustainability. Our development story is definitely an orbit-shifting one and if we can scale up our per-capita income by enhancing productivity through offering city infrastructure of convenience, we will bring prosperity to billions of Indian homes. (The author is founder and executive director of Smart Cities Council India, affiliated to Washington DC based Smart Cities Council)

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