The 21st century has witnessed an unprecedented migration of people from rural to urban areas, seeking better livelihoods. To meet the challenges posed by this urban influx, India has embarked on a transformative journey towards creating smarter, more efficient, and sustainable urban spaces.
The term “smart city” goes beyond mere urbanization; it encapsulates a vision for cities that not only accommodate the rising population but also provide a high quality of life, economic opportunities, and a sustainable environment. Here we explore the landscape of existing and future urban tech innovations – ranging from sustainable transportation to smart governance – that are shaping the nation’s future.
The Current State of Smart Cities in India
The Smart Cities Mission, launched by the government of India in 2015, has been a pivotal catalyst in this journey towards urban excellence. The aim is to create 100 “smart cities” by focusing on the social, economic, and institutional pillars that will boost national economic growth and improve citizens’ quality of life. Some of the key initiatives of the mission include:
1. Infrastructure Development
Smart cities in India have witnessed a substantial improvement in their urban infrastructure. This includes the development of modern transportation systems, upgraded roads, and better public spaces.
To combat traffic congestion and enhance road safety, various smart cities have implemented intelligent traffic management systems. Utilizing real-time data and AI algorithms these systems optimize traffic flow and reduce gridlocks. For instance, the Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited (PSCDCL) has recently completed the first phase of its ‘Adaptive Traffic Management System’ or ATMS; installing the system on 30 signals in the city so as to regulate traffic effectively and reduce travel time.
2. Digital Governance
E-governance platforms have been established to streamline government services online, reducing bureaucracy and enhancing transparency in administrative processes. Further, smart cities are developing mobile applications that enable citizens to report issues like potholes, damaged infrastructure, or environmental concerns directly to local authorities, fostering greater civic participation.
For instance, in Bhubaneswar, the My City My Pride (MCMP) app was launched with the aim of better connecting citizens with the city to tackle common problems related to health, sanitation, waste management, and sewerage systems. Through the mobile app and website, citizens can track the status of their complaints and learn about other issues in the area.
3. Sustainable Mobility
The Indian transport sector is responsible for 13.5 percent of India’s energy-related emissions, with road transport accounting for 90 percent of the sector’s energy consumption [source: Climate Action Tracker].
Many smart cities have adopted sustainable transportation solutions, such as integrated public transit systems, cycling lanes, and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. As part of their commitment to reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality, these cities have introduced EV charging infrastructure.
4. Waste Management
Smart waste bins equipped with IoT sensors are transforming waste management in urban areas. These bins can alert collection services when they are full, optimizing collection routes and reducing operational costs. Additionally, to promote sustainable waste practices, smart cities have launched recycling programs and established recycling centers, diverting a significant portion of waste from landfills.
Taking impetus from the Centre’s smart city mission projects, the Jaipur municipal corporation, JMC-Greater administration, has announced to start a pilot project to streamline the waste collection process through electric vehicles in the Mansarovar zone. According to the city’s civic body, the project will be rolled out in about 23 wards of the Mansarovar zone, and over 60 electric waste collection vehicles and charging stations will be deployed.
5. Energy Efficiency
Smart cities are investing in advanced grid systems that can monitor and manage electricity distribution more efficiently. These smart grids reduce energy waste and enable better integration of renewable energy sources. Further, India’s abundant sunlight is being harnessed for sustainable energy production. Many smart cities have initiated large-scale solar power projects, reducing reliance on non-renewable energy sources and mitigating the environmental impact.
For instance, Pune is addressing climate-related challenges by enhancing its sustainable mobility plans, promoting energy-efficient measures, improving waste management infrastructure, and promoting renewable energy. A dedicated Energy Saving Cell has been set up to undertake energy-saving actions. Also, energy-efficient retrofits for HVAC and lighting systems are installed at an industrial park and municipal buildings. A 700 MT municipal solid waste-to-energy plant is set up, which feeds electricity into the grid. About 16,000 high-pressure sodium vapor streetlights will be replaced with LED fittings, leading to 40%–45% energy savings.
II. Challenges Faced by Smart Cities
Developing smart cities in India has a set of complex challenges that require careful consideration and strategic planning. Resource constraint is one of the key challenges. Developing new urban infrastructure or upgrading existing ones to incorporate modern technology and meet smart city standards requires substantial financial investments. Further, the successful implementation of smart city solutions needs three-tier governance and effective coordination between central government (MoUD), state government, and local government agencies. The involvement of different software solution providers can pose yet another challenge. The municipal authorities might have to handle complex combinations of smart city solutions developed by multiple technology vendors.
Smart cities’ reliance on digital systems and interconnected devices, like critical infrastructure protection from hacking and data breaches, is an ongoing Cybersecurity challenge. Further, the benefits of smart city technologies are often less accessible to rural communities. However, various initiatives are being undertaken to bridge the urban-rural digital divide. Additionally, it’s crucial to consider various latent issues while reviewing a smart city strategy. For instance, even before the authorities need to identify the city’s existing weak areas that lack basic supplies, such as 100% distribution of water supply and sanitation, the integration of formerly isolated legacy systems to achieve citywide efficiencies can also pose a significant challenge.
III. Government Initiatives and Policies
Various government initiatives and policies provide direction, support, and funding to turn the smart city dream into a reality. For instance, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) complements the Smart Cities Mission by addressing foundational infrastructure needs by providing essential services like water supply, sewerage, and urban transport.
The Digital India program seeks to transform India into a digitally empowered society with initiatives to improve digital infrastructure, promote digital literacy, and increase digital accessibility. The National Urban Innovation Stack (NUIS) provides a platform for startups and innovators to develop and test solutions for urban challenges and thereby fosters a culture of innovation in smart city development. Additionally, to promote sustainability, the government has introduced green building standards and incentives for eco-friendly construction in smart cities.
IV. Future of Urban Tech Innovations in India’s Smart Cities
The quest for smarter, more efficient, and sustainable cities in India is an ever-evolving journey. The future promises even more advanced technologies and solutions that hold the potential to reshape the urban landscape in ways that were previously unimaginable.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) Integration: As AI-driven algorithms continue to advance, they can be used to predict traffic congestion and accidents in real-time, allowing cities to optimize traffic flow and reduce commute times. Further, telemedicine and AI-driven diagnostic tools might become integral to urban healthcare, providing users with quicker access to medical assistance and personalized healthcare recommendations.
- Internet of Things (IoT) Expansion: Wider adoption of smart appliances, thermostats, and security systems might become commonplace. In peri-urban areas, IoT technology can be used to monitor soil conditions, crop health, and environmental parameters, enhancing agricultural productivity and sustainability.
- Augmented Reality in Urban Planning: Urban planners and architects will leverage AR technology to visualize and simulate infrastructure and architectural changes, making city planning more efficient and inclusive.
As India’s smart cities continue to evolve and adapt to the changing technological landscape, it is crucial to prioritize responsible and sustainable urban development. The above discussion highlights what can be achieved when technology, innovation, and governance converge to create smarter, more livable urban environments. However, the journey towards fully realizing the smart city vision is ongoing, and the future promises even more exciting innovations and transformations.
Authored by Soumi Bhattacharya
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