Smart Cities can change the way India functions, say Experts

by Basudha Das, TERI | The Energy and Resources Institute
Monday, 29 September 2014 11:48 GMT

The Bangalore city. Credit: TERI

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India’s urban population is exploding – increasing from 285 million in 2001 to 377.1 million in 2011, and by 2050, this figure will breach the 814 million mark, according to a 2014 UN report. The massive migration from rural areas as well as the transition of smaller towns into mega cities is testing the physical and social infrastructure in Indian cities. That’s why Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of 100 Smart Cities could play a decisive role to not only accommodate the burgeoning urban population, but also encourage investments, create new employment opportunities and foster economic growth.

“This initiative is about the confluence of futuristic and sustainable technologies that can change the overall functioning of India,” said participants at the recently held Regional Dialogue organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Bengaluru. The Regional Dialogue series was held in the run up to the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2015, where the primary focus would be on sustainable development goals and how smart cities can be play a significant role in achieving the goals. Bengaluru, unquestionably, has all the ingredients to develop into a Smart City, but needs mammoth funding, sustainable solutions and enormous political will to accomplish this dream.

Dr R. K. Pachauri, Director General, TERI, said: “In a diverse country like India and with a federal structure of government, it is important that sustainable development be pursued as an objective in different regions of the country. The DSDS Regional Dialogue aims to engage key stakeholders in Bengaluru to explore how sustainable development concepts and practices could be applied to growth and development in South India, and reduce their footprint on the ecosystems of that region.”

The event saw experts deliberating on how these model cities could be integrated with cloud-based applications, such as the ICT-powered urban management system, efficient and eco-friendly urban planning solutions to transform it into a learning hub that would enable a knowledge-economy promoting innovative solutions. Above all, the importance of having sustainable solutions with the use of renewable energies, resource-efficient infrastructure and green buildings was also discussed.

“Smart cities would mean making urban life comfortable, efficient and eco-friendly. We need good e-governance, efficient health-care facilities, better education services, green jobs along with basic civic facilities, such as 24X7 water supply, uninterrupted power supply, high-quality sanitation, proper waste management, and a viable and cost-effective transport system. And, above all, we need to build a people-centric system for more transparency and cutting red-tape,” said Dr M. Ramachandran, Former Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India.

Besides, the speakers emphasised the energy challenges for the smooth functioning of the smart cities, namely, uninterrupted power supply and a robust cyber connectivity system. Energy efficiency can be achieved through investing in energy-efficient designs and innovative ideas; customising the technology as per the city’s requirements; strict regulations promoting energy efficiency; and, building capacity and talent for research and improvement. The idea was to look for smarter solutions for basic requirements – from air-conditioning systems that consume significantly less power and emit far lower greenhouse gases to elevators that run on renewable energy sources, and from fire safety systems that can dramatically decrease the water consumption while delivering greater performance to ultra-efficient lighting systems.

“We will face financial constraints if our resources are not used tactfully. We need to cap or fill the demand-supply gap for power and other energy requirements by utilizing renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and biomass,” said Mr K. Jairaj, Former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka.

Cyber connectivity and technology, including smart water management, smart mobility, smart energy, smart waste management and smart health management systems, will play a key role in making the concept a success, said the participants. Finally, the experts unanimously agreed that smart leadership and immense political will is essential to execute the mammoth task of building and sustaining Smart Cities. The first step is to create the right policy framework and implement the plan properly, they added. “Our politicians need to understand that our environment cannot withstand any more exploitation. We need long-standing solutions to the power problem and we need to bring sensitivity towards public assets,” said Jairaj.