The second budget of the Narendra Modi government has been presented. The Smart Cities programme and 500 habitations under the National Urban Rejuvenation Mission (NURM) together have been allocated Rs. 6,000 crore (approximately $1 billion). This is more than one third of the total allocation under the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
At the same time, media reports reveal that a top government panel has approved an allocation of Rs.2.73 lakh crore over the next 10 years for 100 Smart Cities and 500 NURM habitations for modernisation of cities. It is a welcome move that Smart Cities and NURM are thought as complementary and not mutually exclusive programmes. Recently, Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu spoke about a selection process for cities called the 'City Challenge'.
The months since the interim budget in 2014 had seen meetings, workshops and deliberations taking place in Delhi, in academic and expert circles, and in the social media on how to go about making cities smart.
Meanwhile, some number crunching has revealed that about one-third of the budget on smart cities last year was not spent. The decision on pilot cities has been confusing, or apparently so, based on the news available in media. State-level departments and agencies are awaiting directions from the centre, while cities are awaiting a decision from the state governments. Speculation is running high and it's time that something decisive came out of the deliberations. , which was the driving message of the new government while coming to power.
The two primary objectives of a pilot project would be to enhance:
- The probability of success - so as to enhance the buy-in of the concept from stakeholders, especially investors; and
- The opportunity for replication in other cities and scalability - in this case to other cities of different characteristics spread across diverse geographic and socio-political jurisdictions.
The pilot cities can serve a larger development agenda by addressing:
- Larger regional development goals; and
- vulnerability concerns
The process of selection requires a bottom-up as well as a top-down approach. While the bottom-up approach would give a platform for cities to show proactiveness, the top-down approach would ensure that the larger goals of urban development are not pushed out of focus.
The next step is to operationalise this approach on the ground, for which the process would be as follows:
Step 1: Develop indices for cities
There is a plethora of indicators available from various sources which could be deliberated to select suitable indicators that address the four objectives, namely, probability of success, replicability and scalability, attaining larger development goals and reducing vulnerability. For example, the probability of success can be represented by broader themes such as economic growth potential, infrastructure preparedness, educated and aware citizenry, proactive city government and the like.
The indicators for infrastructure preparedness may include the status of physical infrastructure and facilities such as roads, water, sanitation, drainage, solid waste management and the like. Weightages for indicators can be decided based on a scientific method decided by consensus. Indices can be developed using nationally and internationally accepted methodologies.
Step 2: Call for proposals from cities
This step will entail a bottom-up approach. Proposals can contribute towards two major aspects of the city selection process: First, the city-level data required to measure the indicators, and second, the city's vision towards its future development which is necessary for any programme's success. The responsiveness of cities in participating in a competitive proposal bid can be indicative of the pro-activeness of a city's government. This is a critical factor for the success of the programme.
Step 3: Evaluation of proposals
This step would involve the evaluation of the proposals submitted based on the methodology decided during Step 1 and Step 2. An expert committee in each state, with representation from academia, research, think tanks and independent experts can be constituted. This committee can help state governments develop the framework for evaluation, be part of the evaluation process as well as support cities in preparing proposals.
The results may not be sacrosanct, and might require further deliberation in order to reach a consensus on the shortlisted cities for the first phase of the Smart Cities programme. The biggest outcome would be the practice of transparency, participation, consensus building, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness - the critical spokes of good governance.