Partners line up to help India achieve smart cities goals

Wed, 2014-10-15 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

India says its smart cities goal is too ambitious to accomplish on its own, and it is slashing red tape to make it easier for more outside partners, consultants, and even the United States government to step in to help. But as work to create 100 new smart cities speeds up, cities that aren’t part of the vision say they’re being left in the dust.

Delivering on the smart cities vision is the top priority of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has called for all the country’s old land use policies, laws, and business regulations – anything that could get in the way – to be re-evaluated.

“The prime minister has already asked the Urban Development Ministry to look into all old laws. We are going to cut down on those. We have to make it citizen-centric rather than regulatory-centric,” Shankar Aggarwal, urban development secretary, told India TV.

India pledged to turn 100 cities into smart cities by 2022. It plans to have work underway for five new smart cities by the end of the current fiscal year, which closes March 31. It’s soliciting bids and could award the first contracts later this month.

Partners step up
While India still hasn’t finalized its definition of what a smart city is, consultants are stepping in, asking to help. The Indian government says it has already reviewed more than 200 presentations. While evaluating those presentations involves a lot of work, the government says the process is helping it refine its vision.

Council Lead Partner Cisco is stepping up to build its own Cisco Smart City in Banglore, one of India’s high-tech areas. Cisco’s showcase spans some 2.6 million square feet to show off its Internet of Things offerings, including smart work spaces, buildings, parking and transportation offerings.

IBM, another Council Lead Partner, is also investing heavily in India. Its CEO recently met with Prime Minister Modi for a one-on-one meeting to discuss ways they could work together on the smart cities vision. IBM has a huge presence in India, with offices in 14 cities and employs more people there than it does in the U.S.

The smart cities will need power, and work is under way to supply that. Council Associate Partner ABB will work with the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh to help build four new turnkey substations and expand six others, reaching nearly a half-million households.

Even the U.S. government is lending its support to build three smart cities and improve clean water and sewage services in others. A number of other countries around the world are also planning to help India with its ambitious agenda.

Some cities left behind
With all this attention on smart cities, regular cities, however, say they’re being left in the dust. They complain that they’re not only missing out on funding to grow, they don’t even have enough money to run existing services.

One example is the city of Kanpur, which points to its perpetually malfunctioning traffic light. Cars, livestock and vendors are often stuck at the intersection, since it’s not clear who has the right-of-way. With no budget and no ability to raise taxes, the mayor says he’s powerless to do anything about the problem except go out and direct traffic himself.

Still, the national government is firmly behind the vision, expecting the transformation work itself will create tens of thousands of jobs. And depending on its success, the 100 new smart cities could be the first of hundreds more.

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