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Only public participation can make 'smart cities' a real success: Chandrashekhar Hariharan

As 98 cities across India hunker down on the last leg of their race to be in the first 20 cities, Chandrashekar Hariharan expands on the challenge before the City Commissioners.

Chandrashekar Hariharan |

Updated:November 2, 2015, 2:30 PM IST
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Only public participation can make 'smart cities' a real success: Chandrashekhar Hariharan
As 98 cities across India hunker down on the last leg of their race to be in the first 20 cities, Chandrashekar Hariharan expands on the challenge before the City Commissioners.

Dr. Chandrashekar Hariharan, Executive Chairman and Co-founder of BCIL ZED Homes is a core committee member of the CII India Green Business Council and co-author of the IGBC Residential Green Guidelines. He is a member of the Advisory council of the Science & Technology Park, Pune. He is also a member of the National Advisory Council of the CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development. He spoken to IBNLive on the Narendra Modi government’s ambitious Smart Cities projects.

As 98 cities across India hunker down on the last leg of their race to be in the first 20 cities, Chandrashekar Hariharan of the Responsible Cities Foundation expands on the challenge before the City Commissioners as they brace up to meet the November 27 deadline for presenting their SmartCity Proposal. Will they be among the chosen first lot 20 cities after having won the short listing in the hundred from 472 cities that were first on the landscape? Here are excerpts from a conversation.

Question - What should the chosen cities concentrate on?

Answer - On picking low-cost high-visibility projects to ensure that citizen confidence in the earnest of city admin - both elected and appointed - is first established. Then pick high-investment projects for BOT so that there'll be greater accountability than when they are part of City expenditure budgets as in the past. Smart cities have to bring interventions across the board on compliance from government agencies and from citizens. That's the key challenge for city commissioners.

Question - What are the neglected aspects of Smart Cities in India?

Answer - The humane side of the poor citizen and the small entrepreneur, the shopkeeper, the footpath vendor, the kirana store, the small farmer on the city periphery in a largely agrarian economy in all our chosen smart towns. These don't attract big money and need smart thinking. So the reluctance among most in both the elected and appointed fraternity in cities. They should overcome this block.

Question - How can a city be one of the first 20? What does it take to be winning the race? What happens if they don't?

Answer - They need to work hard as many of them are doing. The brains trust in each city has to show much more earnest than they have ever done before. Reports from most cities show that commissioners are toiling for long hours - doubling as they have to between their regular job as commissioners of the city corporations and the new role of steering the Smart City Proposals until such time as the CEO for the special purpose vehicles is appointed in each city. But these officers are not complaining. There is serious and intense mentoring they're being offered. The new crop of consultants are struggling with their own lack of understanding if these new city contours. If cities fail to reach the tape on the first 20 cities, nothing is lost. They must keep up the pace. The second year will see the next 40 cities picked. The laggards will be in the last batch of 40 cities in Year 03. Those who don't make it now, must display their earnest over the next year so they qualify next year.

Question - What should a city concentrate on to get selected in the first 20?

Answer - Be honest in what they seek to fix in their cities. Go sustainable. Chase values for (and of) the city, not GDP and economic growth alone. GDP will be a derivative - if their plans are right and if they shape elements of administration and management that make their city smart.

Question - What/how should citizens contribute to help their city corporation win?

Answer - The Citizen engagement workshops are an opportunity. It's like the ballot. If citizens attend, and offer their suggestions, and persist with reminders to the websites that each city has created, that'll be valuable. By listing what they want not as individuals but as sub-communities. Demand good governance. List what you need on your street, in the neighborhood, in the zone - as basic infrastructure. Avoid the standard flyovers and other such things. Ask for retrofits for existing buildings and not new projects. Look for projects woven around tourism, chemical-free intense agriculture, and sustainable mobility as well as helplines that work. Remember it's about many smart cities within your existing city. Sometimes it's a smart thing across the city. In fewer cases - Whitefield Projects -- it is in one isolated zone.

Question - What should be the citizens prepared for?

Answer - A more proactive role. Check the e-newsletter at the gov.in site of your city. Know that the politician cannot influence the decision on any SmartCity projects. You can! You need to speak up now and in the next five years as the SmartCity projects progress with the collective intelligence of residents and citizens.

Question - What should be the city authorities be prepared for?

Answer - For bringing management into the city administration. There have so far been only administrators. Measure. Manage ... that'll be key. SMART is to have goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based goals.

Question - What should City commissioners and administrators do to win their place in the first 20?

Answer: Apart from picking from citizen suggestions, their own understanding of infrastructure deficits will come into play. A key input will be how far they're willing to go on interventions that are non-project, and therefore the toughest because they don't offer money as investments in the first rounds. These interventions are to do with legislations, directives and rules that the ULBs and City Corporation will have to implement in order to enable good governance in the major areas of city infrastructure, new and existing buildings, new business potential that's unique to the city and not an alien copy from other cities, safety & security, education, health, and so on. The risk is obvious : it may falter for either lack of political will or the bureaucracy's reserve. I have been speaking to some of the architects in MOUD and in New Delhi of the Smart City guidelines. Clearly the test is of a City's ability to bring transparency, proactive working, the ability to bring a shift in relations both inter- and intra- departments and agencies of the City, any city

Question - Your take on Smart cities in 1 line.

Answer - It's India's first effort to usher in good governance. Citizens and bureaucrats will see less political interference. Political leaders will have to take this language to people. The brutality of public expenditure will stop with greater transparency on public projects and costs.

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