The government has already initiated concrete steps to implement Prime Minister Narendra Modi's promise of building 100 'smart cities' - eco-friendly cities which use innovative Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for efficient delivery of public services and infrastructure.
PM Modi's pet idea of building 100 'smart cities' would need massive financial resources and technological prowess. For both these prerequisites, India will have to look up to foreign countries. Many countries have expressed their interest towards this endeavour of the new Indian government.
The Modi government has allocated Rs 7,060 crore (a little over $1.1 billion) in its maiden union budget to kickstart the smart cities project.
Singapore has emerged as a major foreign player in the Indian scheme of things in this context.
The government plans to deliver three smart cities by 2019, all of which will be part of the larger project called Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). These smart cities, scheduled to be completed by 2019, are Dholera, Shendra-Bidkin and Global City.
Actually the DMIC project entails setting up seven green field smart cities between Delhi and Mumbai. The DMIC is a super ambitious $90 billion project initiated by the UPA government.
The Indian government is working closely with Singapore to develop a virtual city or a "Little Singapore" along the corridor (DMIC). This issue was one of the top agendas of discussions External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had with her Singaporean interlocutors during her official visit to that country last week.
"Singapore's expertise in smart cities, urban planning and water management strategies offer a valuable learning experience for India. We shall work for setting up greenfield smart cities and for urban rejuvenation. Our experts shall identify the priorities and we shall coordinate its timely delivery," Sushma Swaraj remarked on 16 August after finishing her meetings with Singapore leaders.
Singapore will be helping India in several areas, including developing transport infrastructure, creating heritage, tourism and educational hubs and setting up water treatment mechanisms, to name a few.
Singapore has already popped up very high on the radar screens of India, especially in cooperation on the smart cities project. Already Singapore firms have won major contracts in the DMIC. Singapore has won the largest water desalination project contract in Dahej. Besides, two Singapore firms have won contracts in different places in Haryana relating to integrated management of water and also for their planning purposes.
"Singapore has a very interesting use of water. Approximately 30 percent of their water is used from storage based on rainwater storage and recycling of waste water. This is a concept that would be extremely useful for us to see and try and emulate in some of our big urban cities," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said on 13 August while briefing on Swaraj's Singapore visit.
Singapore has transformed its water operation and two-thirds of Singapore's land surface is now a water catchment area with water stored in 17 reservoirs, including the Marina Basin. Singapore collects waste water to produce drinking water. This meets 30 percent water needs of the City-State, a target that will be increased to 50 percent of future needs by 2060.
India is eyeing Singapore's expertise in this vital area which will come in handy for cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Besides, India is planning to utilize Singapore's expertise for rejuvenation of existing cities. The Planning Commission has already identified cities for utilizing Singapore's expertise in urban service delivery systems. The zone-wise break-up of the targeted cities is as follows: North (Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Agra, Varanasi, Ludhiana); East (Kolkata, Patna, Ranchi, Bhubaneshwar); South (Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Vizag, Kochi); North East (Guwahati); Central (Indore, Bhopal); West (Greater Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Surat, Jaipur).
By 2051, half of India's population is projected to reside in urban settlements. The urban India's contribution to the national GDP is expected to be 75 % to 80 % then. The number of million plus cities is likely to breach the 100-mark and the number of urban centers over ten thousand.
This is why PM Modi's focus on building 100 "smart cities" assumes relevance. It is a well thought futuristic project which throws up gargantuan challenges to urban administrators to make the cities really 'smart' and make them sustainable and efficient.
Globally, cities constitute just two pe cent of the Earth's surface - but they consume about 75 percent of the world's resources. Thus cities and urban centres throw up a massive sustainability conundrum.
*The writer is FirstPost Consulting Editor and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.
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