A little less than a third of India’s population, now live in urban areas, overcrowded cities and towns with infrastructure bursting at the seams. This gargantuan problem will only worsen with little or no intervention. In this crisis, the Smart City Mission promises to be the silver bullet. In the first phase, 98 cities were identified to be developed as smart cities over the next 5 years. In the pilot phase, 20 cities were selected from these 98 cities on an objective criteria based competition. The competition ran for more than two months and names of these 20 cities have now been announced.
However, amidst all the brouhaha over the scheme, what’s been incredibly admirable is that the process of selecting 20 cities has undoubtedly been systematic, transparent and citizen centric. The final list also seems indicative of a process that has been fair and apolitical.
To make the process of selection systematic and competitive, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) collaborated with Bloomberg Philanthropies to conduct the Smart City Challenge, a competition among Municipal Corporations across India. Through this competition, MoUD aspired to come up with a list of 20 cities to be developed as a smart city in first phase of the Smart City Mission. Bloomberg Philanthropies is an international philanthropic organization with considerable expertise in designing large level competitions and has supported urban local bodies across the world to design their city plans.
In the first stage, based on population size, every state was asked to nominate a certain number of cities to be developed as a smart city. States were given the freedom to decide which cities to nominate and the desired support was provided to them. Principles of federalism were followed in letter and spirit. In the next stage, a huge competition was envisaged among nominated 98 urban local bodies. Corporations were provided with a funding of Rs. 2 crore to be spent on preparation of proposals, citizen consultation and conducting of feasibility studies on the plan prepared.
Cities were asked to hold detailed deliberations on every aspect of plan with all the stakeholders including residents, welfare associations, students, NGOs, industrial bodies, elected representatives and government authorities, etc. In an attempt to be inclusive, cities even conducted several essay competitions on smart city themes, which saw enthusiastic participation from citizens. This provided citizens a platform where their ideas were heard and duly incorporated in the plan to be implemented for the city. Moreover, interaction channels were developed and municipal corporations were at the receiving end of ideas from social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, MyGov etc.
It’s possibly the first time in India that a unique and a genuine effort has been made towards citizen consultation. From elected representatives to bureaucrats, including MPs, MLAs, Mayors, District Collectors, Municipal Commissioners, etc, everyone was involved in the process in some way or the other.
The criteria on which cities would be finally shortlisted was boldly stated in the guidelines, which further curtailed alterations in the results owing to political pressures.