India's Smart Cities Challenge: 98 contending cities

India Minister of Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu

By Pratap Padode
Founder, Smart Cities Council India

The India Smart Cities Challenge is a competition designed to inspire and support municipal officials as they develop smart proposals to improve residents' lives. One hundred 100 cities will compete in the first round -- with the best proposals receiving funding from the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD). 

Below are responses to frequently asked questions about India's ambitious initiative.

Why was Bengaluru left out?
The states have sent the names of the cities to be included in the project hence if any city gets missed out it is primarily because the state has not applied for the name of that city. Names of Patna and Bangalore were not proposed by their respective states.

Bengaluru scored less in the 13 qualifying parameters set by the MoUD that included existing service level, past track record reforms, implementation of the Jawarharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission scheme and self-financing capacity. So, it was eliminated from the list.

Is the list of cities without any political bias?
The smart cities mission is benefitting 35% of the total urban population of around 120 million. This is beneficial from the central leadership perspective but the real challenge is at the local leadership level where the state leaders have to choose between cities which have representatives who maybe favourites although the city may not be ready for such an application as it involves scrutiny. In a sense this exercise is an audit and rehaul of urban administration. However, the choices of cities are strictly as per applications received and fulfilment of parameters.

Which cities will gain most?
Small cities will have a large impact of these funds as their needs are not as humongous as the mega cities. There are 56 cities in the list having a population under one million each which will gain the most on sheer size of investment.

Will these 98 cities get funding from the central government?
These cities will get Rs 20 million each for preparing their City Development Plan to qualify for the next round. Their application with the plan will be vetted and the first lot of 20 cities will be determined for this funding by January 2016. This means that 78 cities will be turned down on the first round for this lot of 98 cities.

Why 98 cities?
The state of Jammu and Kashmir can only submit an application for one city while they wish to have both Jammu and Srinagar. Hence they have yet to decide and submit their application. Similarly the state of Uttar Pradesh is yet to provide its application for the 13th city that it is qualified to apply for. Both Meerut and Rae Bareli have secured equal marks so the state has to choose among them.

What is the next step for these 98 cities?
Once the two pending applications are received and they are accepted, we will have 100 cities as per round one of this challenge. There are empanelled consultants who will help these cities in preparation of their City Development Plans, which need to be submitted for qualifying the cities in the next round. The next stage will see the emergence of 20 cities in the first lot by end of the year and the next two years 40 cities each will be selected for receiving funding of Rs 500 crore spread over the coming five years. For the selection of 20 cities, the broad criteria will be city vision and strategy, cost effectiveness, credibility of implementation and innovation.

The remaining cities will have the chance to compete again next year.

Will the city planners listen to the citizens? Will the citizens have a voice?
The Challenge requires municipal leaders and their partners to consult the public to develop proposals that are both sound and have a high likelihood of being implemented. Proposed solutions must strengthen the city’s governance or its physical, social or economic infrastructure. Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) will be formed at each local city level among the cities selected. These SPVs will have representatives from citizen groups which will reflect the aspirations of the citizens.

What should the City Development Plan include?

  • A Bold Vision: Each city must convey its own unique vision that reflects local context, its resources, and the priorities and aspirations of its citizens.
  • A Pan-City Initiative: Cities should draw inspiration from smart solutions that incorporate the use of technology, information and data to improve services or results for citizens. The pan-city initiative must touch the lives of many, or potentially all, of its citizens.
  • An Area-Based Development Plan: This plan will transform an existing place within each city, creating an exemplar for other areas in the city, or across the country, to follow. Depending on local circumstances, cities may choose one of three approaches: retrofitting, redevelopment or greenfield development.

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