Sameer Sharma
21 Nov 2016


The Smart Cities Mission has generated an Indian way of planning practice. Citizen participation and competition have led toan Indian way of integrated planning of Indian Smart Cities.

What is this Indian way of integrated planning practice?

The Competition

  • The Indian Smart City Challenge is the first of its kind in India and possibly the world – and marks a transformation in the way city planning is practiced in the country.
  • For the first time the allocation of funds in a government scheme has been done not by the decisions of ministers and officers but on the basis of competition in an all-India Challenge process. This is a good example of competitive and cooperative federalism.
  • The initial selection of cities was passed on to respective State Governments who have towork in close partnership with their chosen cities. This is appropriate to the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India, which has placed the responsibility of urban development with the State Governments.
  • The entire Challenge process was conducted on the basis of Smart City Proposals prepared by cities in a standard template. This allowed the cities to be assessed purely on the merit of their plans and proposals, irrespective of the size and type of the city or town. This allowed the citizens to express themselves fully, thereby, bringing out the uniqueness of each city.
  • Five basic themes, the 5Ss, have emerged from the Proposals received from the cities during the Challenge process.These align to the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations.
  • The 5Ss brought out from the Smart Cities Challenge are:
    • SAHABHAGITA (participation of all),
    • SUVIDHA / SAHULIYAT (good governance and service provision),
    • SHAKTI (empowerment of vulnerable groups)
    • SUDHRIDATA (healthy and safe communities),
    • SHRISHTI SANRAKSHAN(environmental sustainability)

SAHABHAGITA (participation of all)

  • Policy often gets framed within the closed confines of ministries and meeting rooms and is unable to connect with people. This is one of the big challenges of urban development. Efficient governance is not enough; it has to be pro-people and pro-active. Good governance is putting people at the centre of the development process.
  • One of the critical innovations of the Missionwas the rigorous engagement and involvement of citizens into the planning process at various levels.We have attempted to change the way we plan by doing a “Jan Andolan through Jan Bhaagidari”. This will ensure citizen ownership and pride in implementing the plans.
  • How did we do this?
  • We have a robust tradition of dialogue and debate where philosophers who championed different systems of thought would engage in public debate in arenas called Kuthulashalas and those who won were honoured. In today’s India we recreated the Kuthulashala in a different way. First, we opened it up to ordinary citizens, second, we used the mobile and different electronic forms of communication to conduct public debates, contest, talks and tasks, and finally we allocated funds to cities based on the results of the competition.
  • As many as 2.5 million people participated through contests, discussions, polls, blogs and talks on the MyGov platform alone. Several other people were engaged through social media like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and Instagram. Cities also reached out directly through household surveys and focused group discussions.
  • Several other innovative forums were used to ensure that maximum number of people could engage with the process of planning for their smart city and actively shape it. For instance, cities organized Essay competitions “Mere SapnokaShaher” and posters, painting, logo/ tagline competition. It was interesting to see how different generations of citizens envisioned their smart city – children saw a city with playgrounds and open spaces, the young and middle aged looked for IT enabled services and ease of mobility, whereas the older citizens looked for public spaces that would be safe and accessible. These ideas became the basis for the ‘Smart City’ Visions of cities.
  • Cities also paid special attention to vulnerable groups such as women, children, older citizens and the differently abled, who are usually not involved in citizen consultations. For instance, Bhubaneshwar worked with a large number of organizations to ensure children become an integral part of the planning process for the Proposal. In particular, one national campaign – Humara Bachpan Campaign originated in Bhubaneswar. Around 15,000 children from various socio-economically backward communities from the city participated in this campaign. Using over 40 Children Labs, extensive community consultation were done by these Humara Bachpan Children to identify and understand child friendly aspects of the city such as open spaces, mobility, sanitation and early childhood services for young children.
  • Other innovative forums include:
    • Polling, discussions/ workshops, talks & blogs, new-letters, FM Radio & Cable/ local TV, nukkad nataks (street plays), organizing marathons/ music concerts, Innovation Fridays, mobile app-based surveys
    • Festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi for engaging citizens and for crowd sourcing ideas through youth associations such as Ganesh Mandals (Pune and Sholapur)
    • Technology Fairs for exhibiting various smart city solutions and generating awareness amongst citizens (Surat)
    • Development and use of dedicated mobile applications for ensuring wider coverage (Belagavi’s ‘Smart Belagavi’ app)
    • Encouraging smart ideas through organization of events such as ‘Digital Hackathon’ and ‘Appathon’ (Pune)
    • Signature campaigns for ensuring participation in the long run (Pune, where 3 lakh citizens pledged their support to Pune’s SCP, with around 8000 households from the targeted area for ABD endorsing the proposal directly)
    • Awards for co-creation (Bhopal, where the Mayor declared 175 awards)


SUVIDHA/ SAHULIYAT (good governance and service provision)

  • As a country we have traditionally looked down on urban development and upto the 1980s hardly any funds were set aside to develop cities. This was the first generation and continued upto the1990s. The second generation of urban development was initiated in 2004 with the launch of earlier mission. Huge funds were earmarked and the focus was on infrastructure creation coupled with a set of urban reforms. The Smart Cities Mission goes one step ahead andfocuses on integrated planning and holistic development of cities. Thus we have ushered in the third generation of urban development.

What do we mean?

  • If we look at the first 20 Lighthouse Mission Cities – each of these already provides an average of 90 to 135 litres of water per day to each person. Clearly availability of water is not the issue in these cities, and yet several households in these cities do not receive adequate quantity of water.The problem lies in operational inefficiencies – inefficient distribution systems, leakages, administrative failures etc.
  • Same is the story with quality of water. Earlier we used to drink water straight from the tap. We did not need domestic filtration systems to purify and make the water potable. Somewhere this also has a linkage with operational inefficiencies in the supply system.
  • Thus the focus is onensuring that every household receives adequate and good quality water, water losses are minimized, systemic efficiencies are optimized through smart applications etc.
  • Similarly, the focus is on makingpublic transport accessible to all – citizens can receive critical information on their mobiles, one mobility card can be used for all modes of travel, traffic is optimized through use of smart signaling, trip distances are reduced and non motorized transport modes are encouraged.

What do citizens need?

  • They should be able to access information, pay taxes, provide suggestions, and track their complaints etc. easily from the comfort of their homes or their mobile phones.
  • What do administrators need? City governments should be able to use sensor-based technologies to make immediate decisions based on information coming from use of smart technology.
  • It is a popular misunderstanding that the Smart Cities Mission is driven by technology. The idea is to move beyond simplistic infrastructure creation and usetechnology to make operations smart and to do more with fewer resources
  • For instance, Kochi has proposed an integrated mobile phone based m-governance platform for city information, citizen engagement as well as citizen services. Coverage will include (i) Transport services with real time information, (ii) City information like city calendar, weather forecast, Tourist assistance, (iii) Access to public services including 2-way communication between citizens and local body/ government departments, emergency services like police, ambulance, suspicious activity reporting, (iv) Infotainment services such as free Wi-Fi, city search and various other services.
  • Several cities have also proposed Smart Cards for enabling payment across all modes of transport including metro, city buses, para-transit, and common service centres and kiosks/retail points run by various departments.
  • Madhya Pradesh has taken e-governance a step forward and is implementing a state-wide initiative called e-Nagarpalika, conceived to synergize and simplify different IT systems across all cities in the state. Bhopal Smart City has been taken up as a pilot project. Key features of the system include Comprehensive and uniform ERP system, system available on 24x7x365 days basis to the citizens for on line operations, online payment gateway provided to the citizens, so that they can make hassle free transactions, integration of all municipal functions and services within and between ULBs and integrated with GIS based applications.
  • Cities have also focused on implementing visible physical improvements. These include initiatives such as replacing overhead electric wiring with underground wiring in order to reduce overhead clutter, encroachment-free public areas etc.


SHAKTI (empowerment of vulnerable groups)

  • If a government is progressive, and runs an honest and efficient administration, the biggest beneficiaries are the poor. Poor governance hurts the poor more than others.
  • Wide use of smart technology for e-governance and m-governance will enable access to critical government services to the masses. Technology has the potential to cross social and class barriers and enable equitable access.
  • Contrary to the assumption that smart cities project would only be taken up in affluent city areas, most cities have chosen areas with substantial slum areas. This shows a strong impact of broad based citizen engagement in the selection process. Thus affordable housing and provision of high quality services, improvement of living conditions in slums etc. have formed major components of several SCPs.
  • For instance, slum redevelopment forms a major component of the Proposal of Ahmedabad. The redevelopment proposal for Wadaj slum includes housing for 8000 slum dwellers and development of community centre, schools, aanganwadis and complete infrastructure improvement including open spaces in the area. 12 out of the 20 Lighthouse cities have cumulatively proposed affordable housing projects covering around 55,000 housing units.
  • Specific attention is also being paid to ensure improvement in overall economic productivity and enhance job opportunities. Several Smart Cities have chosen to converge with the Skill India Mission to ensure that people receive appropriate skill training and are ready to make use of the opportunities that will emerge from new investments and improved productivity.
  • Cities have strongly focused on incorporating universal accessibilityin all public facilities and public spaces. This will mean that all walkways, public plazas, green spaces etc. will be accessible to children, women, the elderly and the differently abled. This will also translate into appropriate signage in public places.
  • Involvement of vulnerable sections of society was given particular and due importance even during the engagement process. For instance, in Kakinada, ideas of visually impaired students were captured through the use of Braille language with the help of officials and teachers.
  • At the macro level, such examples of citizen participation, will substantially empower citizens to have access to information, ask critical questions, provide suggestions and shape the development of the city.


SUDHRIDATA (healthy and safe communities)

  • One of the central agendas of the Mission is to provide clean,healthy living conditions andimprove the livability of our cities.
  • Cities have laid special emphasis on Swacchata, devising various area level strategies for improving the cleanliness of theirmohallasand gallis. The broad moto is” SwachchGhar se SwachchShaharTak”. Here the idea is to converge with the Swaccha Bharat Mission (SBM) and add value to the infrastructure being created under the SBM. This is being supported through city level initiatives for tracking waste collection vehicles, ensuring regular collection from RFID bins, managing the system from a command centre, etc.Emphasis is also being observed in ensuring that public e-toilet facilities are developed and available at regular intervals throughout the chosen area.
  • At another level, cities have focused on reducing pollution and congestion through multiple interventions such as focus on non-motorized transport and public transport, reduction in long distance private trips through encouragement of mixed use developments, installation of smart devices and sensors for measuring pollution levels, air quality parameters, traffic conditions etc. Various cities have thought of intelligent poles to monitor their traffic movements and pollution levels.
  • Given the inactivity epidemic in India, which has adverse outcomes both for the health of citizens as well as lost economic productivity, cities have proposed tocreate physical environments that is able to induce physical activity, by demarcating non-vehicle streets/zones, incorporating pedestrian and cycling friendly design for encouraging walking and cycling, improving availability and usage of parks and open spaces.
  • Pune for instance has proposed to create an open space structure, wherein a garden will be just five minutes away from all residents. Such gardens will remain open till late night with adequate security features and facilities like an open gymnasium for senior citizens.
  • We have in the past few years experienced great loss of life and property due to natural disasters. While such events cannot be averted, it is surely possible to minimize their impact through preparedness. Cities have proposed:
    • Early warning systems, emergency response systems, SOS apps, sensors for capturing critical data for analyzing and predicting risks particularly in vulnerable cities such as Vizag, Chennai, Bhubaneshwar etc.;
    • Vizag for instance, based on the learnings from the recent cyclone Hudhud, has proposed smart applications related to early warning, quick response and disaster mitigation;
    • Pune, forexample, has proposed to install street lights with air pollution sensors, panic button for quick emergency response, wi-fi access point and CCTV camera;
    • Introduction of innovations such as sensor-fitted drainage covers which will send remote signals to a control room on the quantity of rain fall in the area and will enable pumps to be started before water logging sets in;
    • Integrated Command Centres for integrating the overall disaster management and mitigation system in the city
  • Chennai has responded to the flood challenge faced by the city recently, and proposed interventions such as sensor based flow measurements helping in identification of flooding areas, ICT system for disaster Management, sensors for weather forecast and reporting rainfall, sensors at critical reservoirs, alert system to monitor the water level in the reservoir, surveillance at reservoirs, alert system to citizens in-case of rise in water levels above permissible limits in reservoir.
  • One of the challenges faced by cities is regarding the safety of vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, women and children. Several smart city proposals have proposed to reduce the incidence of crimes – by improving access to and activating open spaces and public spaces through cultural programmes, night bazaars etc., setting up CCTV based surveillance systems, app-based SOS systems, 24×7 Crime Monitoring throughCommand and Control Centre facilities etc.
  • Several smart city proposals have proposed convergence with the schemes of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and proposed projects for telemedicine, augmentation of hospital facilities, development of new health facilities, and upgrading health infrastructure etc.


SHRISHTI SANRAKSHAN (environmental sustainability)

  • India has made far reaching commitments towards the larger welfare of the planet in the COP 21 Summit. We are committed to reducing the emission intensity of our GDP while growing at a fast pace.
  • Cities can have large ecological impact on its surroundings. What this means for our urban growth strategy is that cities, the engines of our economic growth, must grow rapidly and productively, albeit through a growth model that is sustainable and in line with our national environmental priorities.
  • Smart Cities are working on developing a sustainable growth model:
    • Adoption of a compact mixed use urban form. Such sustainable urban form will not only reduce trip distances but also lead to more compact growth of cities and a smaller ecological footprint in the longer run;
    • Rehabilitation and renewal of ecologically sensitive features such as urban greens, lakes and rivers.
    • For example, integrated development of eight-lake network in Coimbatore. Twin purpose of restoring this ecologically sensitive feature of the city and creating vibrant open/ public spaces for the citizens. Components include improvements to water quality, desilting, de-weeding, arresting sewage flows, and effective flood management along with public space components such as green pathways with urban forestry/landscaping, cycling and walking tracks, water sports, fountains, sound/light shows in two of the lakes etc.
    • Renewed focus on improving the open space structure of cities resulting in a direct impact on reducing urban heat island effects and pollution levels.
  • Smart-use and Re-use of critical city resources:
    • Use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, etc. and reduce the dependence on non-renewable sources. Cities have proposed to meet at least 10% of their energy needs in the selected ‘areas’ through renewable energy.
    • Conversion of wastes to energy and reuse of wastes leading to reduction in unscientific practices such as land filling and reducing probable health risks resulting out of ground water pollution;
    • Judicious use of scarce natural resources such as water through reduction in non-revenue water reduction, smart metering, rain water harvesting etc.;
    • Reuse of waste water for non-drinking purposes and recharge of ground water tables through rain water harvesting.
  • Bringing down pollution caused by cities:
    • Strong focus on non-motorized transport modes and on walking through creation of dedicated bicycle tracks, pedestrianization of areas, etc. For example, Pune has proposed to connect footpaths to all gardens so as to ensure 100% walkability to gardens. A total of 60 km of footpaths will be redesigned to ensure 100% continuity and promote walkability.
    • Chennai has planned a public cycle sharing system with approximately 3,000 cycles and an initial coverage of about 19 The system will have a smart card, easy payment options, cycles with GPS to track location, etc.User can check out a cycle from a station and return it to any other station, easy payment options, cycles with GPS to track location, etc.
  • Use of non-polluting vehicles as a substitute. New Delhi has proposed Electric Vehicles (EV’s) based last mile connectivity to Metro/Bus Transport System/park and ride facility. EV charging facility will also be provided at each parking bay to encourage use of private EVs.
    • Renewed focus on developing good quality public transport and encouraging its use through smart applications.
    • Integrated command centre for improving traffic management through use of data, thereby improving the efficiency of traffic movement;
    • Monitoring of air quality parameters through smart sensors at various traffic junctions and public spaces.


  • Those were the five tenets of Smart Cities. Smart Cities have already begun the process of creating the necessary institutional framework for implementing their proposals.
  • What is heartening to see is that cities have gone beyond standard planning jargon and explored their own unique features and USP, which they have tried to translate into their Proposals. This has allowed each city to develop priority areas based on a self-assessment of their real issues and needs as well as the outcomes of the citizen engagement.
  • So Ludhiana has chosen to explore its potential as a bicycling city, whereas Kochi has chosen to optimize its tourism potential; Guwahati (river city) has tried to build a model for sustainably dealing with its hydrological systems, Surat has developed plans for promoting its traditional textile markets and Vizag has attempted to look closely at options for dealing with disaster vulnerability.
  • Specific mention must be made of the manner in which cities with a strong cultural or built heritage have tried to link such heritage with economic opportunities. For example, Jabalpur has proposed heritage marketing and promotion centres to promote their tribal and ethnic art forms, Jaipur has proposed night time tourism and heritage walks around the walled city to promote tourism economy etc.
  • 20 smart cities have been announced. They are in the process of converting plans to projects and are gearing up to begin the roll out of these projects. Meeting scheduled timelines and completing all works as envisaged will be the next challenge. Here, it must be stressed that while the role of citizens in shaping the vision and plans for smart cities has been commendable, this role is far from over. For any Smart City project to be successful, citizen participation during implementation is a must. Unless people partner the Mission in its Smart City initiatives, many a goal will remain on paper and may not yield the desired results. People were a part of planning and by becoming partners in execution, they will assume ownership of the Smart City projects.


-Sameer Sharma, PhD

(Views are personal)



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