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How India Can Build Smart Cities For A Better Tomorrow

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India is rapidly urbanizing and its urban population in 2031 is expected to increase to 600 million, which will be crucial to the country’s economic growth. And this will require massive restructuring to support the future population. Undoutedly, by facilitating the creation of Smart Cities that uses advanced IT infrastructure and digital solutions to deliver services, policymakers can address the economic, social, and environmental challenges of urbanization. At a recent panel discussion on ‘Building a Smart Environment’ experts share their views on what goes towards establishing a smart infrastructure and how India can build smart cities for a better tomorrow.

“A key factor that goes towards building a smart city is the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance the livability, workability and sustainability of the city,” said Sanjay Jhunjhunwala, CEO Mani Group.

The Internet of things (IoT), that facilitates the connectivity across smart devices, is used as a means to link the different elements of a city together. “Through innovation and technological development, the focus is to bring its inhabitants together, improve their quality of life in both tangible and intangible ways,” he stated.A 2015 report by Cushman and Wakefield mentioned, in order to implement an extensive undertaking such as a ‘Smart City’ 5 crucial elements are necessary: Power, Infrastructure, Funds, Technology and Social Capital. Smart Cities require clean and continuous supply of power and for this there is a need to develop alternative energy sources to make the cities financially and ecologically viable. Both physical and social infrastructure developments will be crucial.

“In addition to this up-gradation and maintenance of the existing infrastructure is necessary. Developing innovative and viable mechanisms to secure funds for developing smart cities is essential. Strategies to engage multiple stakeholders will be necessary. Finally smart cities require technology advancements that can support the overall objective of the initiative. Promoting innovations in technology and providing skilled human capital that can create, engage and sustain the future cities will be an integral element,” the report said.

Sanjay Dutt, [the then] Executive Managing Director, South Asia, Cushman & Wakefield, said in the report, “A smart city requires the engagement of its empowered citizens to achieve its overall objective of building a sustainable and thriving city. And hence, it is essential to empower the citizen and solicit their complete support are vital.” This, experts believe can be possible, when there is political will and commitment from government to bring in large scale reforms. As Debashis Sen, Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development Department and Chairman, HIDCO, Govt of West Bengal, agreed, “Sustainable, technology-enabled and innovation – are the three pillars on which any smart infrastructure can stand. The WB government has introduced smart meters, where every 15 minutes, you can check energy consumption. Innovation is very important and smartness can no longer be retrofitted. It needs to be included from the design stage.”

The planning and design stage is the most crucial for the success of the smart city, believes smart city evangelist and architect, Dulal Mukherjee, who stated that Smart street lighting system, for example, can be the first step in the development of a smart city. “The LED lights in the city can be linked together to create a network, helping reduce power consumption and energy costs. He mentioned other features such as smart parking system, smart metering of water, a public information system, a centralized command centre, and area-based traffic control,” he suggested.

In this context, the future looks optimistic for companies that offer smarter networks to enable intelligent solutions, and meet the connectivity demands of smart cities. In the context of smart cities, it is not only about what technologies are being used – it goes much beyond that. Technology must be a catalyst that empowers all stakeholders – from the government to citizens and every other stakeholders – to meaningfully collaborate and engage with each other.

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