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What is the Smart Cities Mission

Context:

Despite two extensions until June 2024, the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) launched in 2015, is unlikely to meet its deadline, with 5,533 completed projects funded at Rs. 65,063 crore and 921 ongoing projects worth Rs. 21,000 crore.

Relevance:

GS II: Government Policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Smart Cities Mission?
  2. What kinds of projects were proposed?
  3. Challenges Faced by the Smart City Mission
  4. Steps Needed to Strengthen the Smart City Mission

What is the Smart Cities Mission?

  • The Smart Cities Mission is an initiative of the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry that was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 25, 2015.
  • Cities across the country were asked to submit proposals for projects to improve municipal services and to make their jurisdictions more liveable.
  • Between January 2016 and June 2018 (when the last city, Shillong, was chosen), the Ministry selected 100 cities for the Mission over five rounds.
  • The projects were supposed to be completed within five years of the selection of the city, but in 2021 the Ministry changed the deadline for all cities to June 2023, which was earlier the deadline for Shillong alone.

What kinds of projects were proposed?

  • After the Ministry gave broad guidelines to the participating cities, the project proposals ranged from making certain stretches of roads more accessible and pedestrian-friendly to more capital-intensive ones like laying water pipelines and constructing sewage treatment plants.
  • All 100 cities have also constructed Integrated Command and Control Centres to monitor all security, emergency and civic services.
  •  During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, these centres were converted into emergency response units by many of the cities.

Challenges Faced by the Smart City Mission:

Lack of Clear Definition:

  • The Smart City Mission (SCM) lacks a clear definition of what constitutes a smart city, leading to challenges in resource allocation and project prioritization.

Sidelining Elected Representatives:

  • Reduced role of elected councils in decision-making raises concerns about democratic governance and accountability within the SCM framework.

Competitive Selection Process:

  • Selection of cities through competitive means overlooks India’s diverse urban realities, leading to the exclusion of many areas from development.

Limited Area Development:

  • Focus on developing less than 1% of a city’s area results in the neglect of significant portions, impacting overall urban development.

Financial Constraints:

  • Inadequate funding compared to the required investment for improving livability in Indian cities poses a significant challenge to SCM’s success.

Governance Structure:

  • Misalignment of the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) model with the constitutional framework and limited participation of the private sector hinder effective governance.

Social Displacement and Environmental Impact:

  • Smart city projects often lead to the displacement of vulnerable populations and environmental disruptions, such as urban flooding.

Steps Needed to Strengthen the Smart City Mission:

Appointment of Dedicated CEO:

  • Appoint a dedicated CEO with a fixed tenure and representation from experts and stakeholders to ensure effective leadership and management.

Inclusion of MPs in Advisory Forums:

  • Include Members of Parliament (MPs) in State-Level Advisory Forums for their grassroots-level expertise in project identification and implementation.

Emphasis on Pan-City Projects:

  • Prioritize pan-city projects for comprehensive development, optimizing resource allocation, and reducing wastage.

Digital Infrastructure Protection:

  • Implement mechanisms to protect digital infrastructure from cyber threats and ensure data privacy.

Capacity Building for ULBs:

  • Strengthen Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) capabilities in small cities through central government assistance for organizational restructuring and capacity building.

Timely Project Completion:

  • Focus on timely project completion by actively intervening in execution and providing necessary expertise and support.

-Source: The Hindu


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