By Accommodation Times News Services
Government allocates Rs. 6,000 crore for the development of Smart Cities programme and 500 habitations under the National Urban Rejuvenation Mission (NURM) together. This is more than one third of the total allocation under the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
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.
The idea of selecting pilot cities under the Smart Cities programme at the state level has been so far understood as a political decision. In this context, the ‘City Challenge’ is a positive approach towards bringing objectivity in selecting cities and thus increasing the chances of being successful in the pilot projects. The modalities of the ‘City Challenge’ are, however, not clear. There exists a good opportunity to build this process on the pillars of good governance, 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: 1)The probability of success – so as to enhance the buy-in of the concept from stakeholders, especially investors; and 2) 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:
1)Larger regional development goals; and
2) 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 pro activeness, the top-down approach would ensure that the larger goals of urban development are not pushed out of focus.