By Pramod Kolhapur & Kiran Nandavarapu

In India, the rate of urbanization has really picked up pace over the past few decades, especially in the after 1991. Coupled with economic growth and expanding markets, the urban population in India now stands at around 30% of the overall pie. However, from economic reforms to demographic dividend in the form of a young population, India has many areas of focus. There is also some ground work to be done in order for India to reach beyond its ‘developing country’ tag and emerge as a technology hub. Upgrading existing cities and creating new ones are prerequisites for economic progress and they must take place in an organized manner.

There is a great need for the Indian government to build smarter cities to improve the overall quality of life in a city environment. The definition of a “smart city” varies widely – ranging from the use of discrete new technology applications to a more holistic conception of intelligent, integrated working and user-generated services. A smart city could take between eight to 10 years to build from scratch – and even more time to attract businesses and residents. Such an initiative requires commitment and persistence on part of the government over a long period of time. The authorities need to be aware of the latest relevant technologies, and the technologies have to be custom and used effectively taking into account the topography, location and natural resources of the area.

Given below are some of the key challenges that governments/businesses in India will face while implementing their smart city strategies:

Replacing Existing City Infrastructure to Make It “Smart City-Ready”
There are a number of latent issues to consider when reviewing a Smart City strategy. The most important is to ascertain the business case that will justify the replacement of existing infrastructure. The integration of formerly isolated systems in order to achieve city-wide efficiencies can be a significant challenge.

Providing Clearances in a Timely Manner
For timely completion of project, all clearances should use online processes and should be cleared in a time bound manner. Freeing the right of way for laying optic fibre networks, water supply lines, sewerage systems, draining systems and other utilities should be given as per the timeline and cost decided by the government.

Financing Smart Cities
The High Power Expert Committee on Investment Estimates in Urban Infrastructure has assessed a Per Capita Investment Cost (PCIC) of $685 for a 20 year period. The total estimate of investment requirements for the smart city comes to $113 billion over 20 years (with an annual escalation of 10 percent from 2009-10 to 2014-15).

Dealing with a Multivendor Environment
One of the other main challenges in the Indian smart city space is that (usually) software infrastructure in cities contains components supplied by different vendors. Hence, the ability to handle complex combinations of smart city solutions developed by multiple technology vendors becomes very significant.

Capacity Building Program
Building capacity for 100 smart cities is not an easy task and most of the ambitious projects are delayed due to lack of quality manpower, both at the center as well as states. In terms of funds, only around five percent of the central allocation may be allocated for capacity building programs which focus on training, contextual research, and a rich database.

Stay tuned for our next entry that will focus on the key factors that are driving the growing investments in Indian smart cities, one of them being the increasing urbanization rate in India.

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