India’s ever-increasing urban population has failed its ambitious smart city project. Much research and collaboration is needed to get this project on the right track. The Smart Cities Mission was a major urban development initiative aimed to improve the living conditions and achieve higher economic growth in 100 cities across the country.
According to public policy think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), urbanization comes at a cost and an appraisal of some sectors at the city level highlight the magnitude of the crisis. Citing Greater Mumbai which has a population of over 18 million, ORF says there is a huge challenge to offer more humane living conditions to slum households which are growing in numbers and at present account for more than 40 per cent of the total households.
Meanwhile, Delhi with a population of over 16 million has severe issues of traffic congestion, hazardous levels of vehicular emissions and other pollution. Apart from the city’s growing vehicular strength, pressure on the road is created by the daily entry and exit of thousands of private and commercial vehicles operating in the surrounding regions.
Indian cities have a long and growing list of problems. From lack of housing to inefficient and inadequate means of transport to service unavailability, the list goes on. The cities have economic potential but it remains grossly underutilized plagued with high social and economic inequalities. Compared to other cities across the world on various urban development parameters, India’s cities lag behind. This is a result of poor urban planning, governance and huge deficit in civic sense accompanied by corruption in civic bodies. Though urban development is in control of the state governments, the ORF highlights that only few state governments have been able to take sufficient steps towards development of their cities.
While the Smart Cities Mission was a novel initiative, more should have been done. The state and central government with their stakeholders have to work together. Successful achievement of the objectives and goals would depend on the creation of suitable conditions by the centre, states and urban local governments. The failure of the mission in taking off can be attributed to poor governance, collaboration, clash of party ideologies, lack of funds, increasing population, and lack of policy making.
According to Developing and Cooperation (DC) local authorities need autonomy and scope for decision-making. The urban governance in India is not well organized and described as overly complex. There are three levels to the institutional framework. First, the central government’s role is supervisory and it supports policy making. Second, state governments, key to urban governance, has to provide basic amenities and services through various state departments, state-level boards, statutory and non-statutory bodies at the city level and financial support in planning and implementing infrastructure projects. Third, the municipal governments oversee the operation and maintenance of basic services as well as implementation of ad-hoc infrastructure projects.
Overall, smart cities are long-term projects. First the government needs to look into its growing rural to urban drift and housing. Though the city will be smart at the core, the surrounding or on its outskirts, there would be slums. India is a developing nation. Projects as such will take time.