What Indian consumers gain when the country’s cities get smarter
In the ever-evolving landscape of urban development, the concept of smart cities has emerged as a beacon of progress and efficiency.
In the ever-evolving landscape of urban development, the concept of smart cities has emerged as a beacon of progress and efficiency. Smart cities use technology to make things like transportation, public utilities, and infrastructure safer and more efficient.
With India making significant strides in technology and connectivity, the implementation of smart cities holds immense promise for improving the lives of everyday people. But what will living in a smart city be like for an average Indian?
India's move toward smart cities
In 2015, the Indian government initiated the National Smart Cities Mission, a program focused on urban renewal and retrofitting, with the goal of creating citizen-friendly and sustainable smart cities across the nation.
According to data released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) to the Lok Sabha, as of 7 July 2023, work orders have been issued by 100 smart cities in 7,978 projects, of which 5,909 projects (74%) have been completed. The government has released INR 73,454 crore for 100 smart cities, of which INR 66,023 crore (90%) has been utilised.
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The Smart Cities India expo is coming up in January 2024, which will showcase the latest in information and communication (ICT) and sustainable technologies, and discussions are already scheduled on the key success factors of superior city development at the upcoming Horasis India Meeting -- a gathering of business and government leaders -- on 26 November 2023 in Adelaide, Australia.
In the annual Union Budget 2023, the government allocated INR 16,000 crore for the Smart Cities Mission for FY24 as opposed to INR 14,100 crore in FY23. As of September 2023, a total of 7,960 projects to the tune of INR171,432 crore (US$21 billion) have been tendered.
Currently, 99 cities are under this scheme. Already, metropolises such as Mumbai showcase intelligent solutions for urban planning, waste management, and transportation, all driven by advanced technology. Emphasizing sustainability and citizen-centric services, the city adopts a strategy that leverages digital platforms and data analytics.
Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, incorporates technology to enhance traffic management and citizen services. Indore has gained acclaim for its cleanliness and waste management endeavors, aligning seamlessly with the smart city vision. The city's utilization of technology for waste tracking and management has been commendable.
As India continues to progress and form the smart cities of the country's future, let's take a look at what living in a smart city may look like for ordinary citizens in the not so distant future.
Meet Raj, a fictional resident of one such smart city in India. Raj's daily life has undergone a revolutionary change thanks to the integration of cutting-edge technology and data-driven solutions.
One of the hallmarks of a smart city is its robust digital infrastructure. Raj experiences seamless connectivity, with high-speed internet and widespread Wi-Fi hotspots. Whether he is commuting to work, relaxing in a park, or shopping in a bustling market, Raj can stay connected, making his life more convenient and productive.
Reliance Jio and Airtel have been spreading their 5G connectivity throughout India at a rapid pace. Since the launch of 5G services in October last year, the telecom operators have expanded their 5G coverage in 50 Indian cities (till December 7) and are reaching out to more cities almost every day. Jio is set to launch 5G pan-India by December 2023. Bharti Airtel plans to accomplish this by March 2024.
Raj's morning commute has become a breeze, thanks to an integrated public transportation system. Smart traffic management systems optimize traffic flow, reducing congestion and travel time. Raj uses a mobile app to plan his route, book tickets, and even check real-time updates on bus and train schedules, ensuring a stress-free journey.
In Uttar Pradesh, to facilitate contactless payments, automated customer discounts, and simplify travel planning, Aurionpro, a software company, integrated its services to make rail and bus travel easier and more efficient for service providers as well as customers by establishing industry standards for transport operators.
It uses an open loop system, which is flexible and makes functions such as purchasing transit tickets, paying for them, tracking the fleet, planning routes, and managing departments, easier.
After contactless services became the standard norm after the COVID-19 outbreak, the company introduced contactless Europay, MasterCard, and Visa (EMV) mass transit processing.
Smart cities prioritize sustainability, and Raj, who is an aware citizen, benefits from energy-efficient practices. Solar panels line the rooftops of buildings, harnessing clean energy to power the city. Raj's home is equipped with smart meters, allowing him to monitor and regulate his energy consumption, contributing to both cost savings and environmental conservation.
It's important for city dwellers to understand how they contribute to making their city more sustainable. Initiatives such as the Union Ministry of Power's ECO Niwas Samhita 2021, an Energy Conservation Building Code for Residential Buildings to shift and promote energy efficiency in the residential buildings, can help.
Also, the Energy Conservation Act, of 2001 provides a regulatory framework for establishing standards and labeling of processes, equipment, and appliances. Under this Act, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency has drafted many energy efficiency steps in household lighting standards and in industrial buildings.
Enhanced Safety and Security
Safety is paramount in smart cities, and Raj feels secure in his daily life. Surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition technology monitor public spaces, deterring criminal activities. An emergency app on Raj's phone connects him to the city's integrated emergency response system, ensuring swift assistance in case of any unforeseen incidents.
Indian cities have been gearing up on tech to meet citizens' safety needs. For example, the Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited (PSCDCL) initiative focuses on enhancing citizen engagement, mobility, and infrastructure through digital innovations.
Similarly, Gujarat city Surat's Safe City Surat project, in collaboration with law enforcement agencies, aims to create a secure urban environment through cutting-edge surveillance and communication technology.
Raj's health is a priority, and smart healthcare services have made accessing medical assistance more convenient. Telemedicine platforms connect him to healthcare professionals for virtual consultations. Wearable devices monitor his health parameters and send real-time data to his doctor, facilitating preventive care and early intervention.
One of the initiatives of the Smart Cities Mission is to reduce private out of pocket expenses (OOPE) on healthcare incurred by urban residents, especially slum dwellers, aiming at more inclusive cities. Currently, compared to a rural household, an urban household in India spends five times more on diagnostics, 2.6 times more on medicines and 2.4 times more on doctors' fees. One of the outcomes of the pandemic is that we understand the significance of smart healthcare. Hence, there is a real effort to bring about remote monitoring, telemedicine, and mobile healthcare.
Is India there yet, when it comes to enjoying smart cities? Not yet. As India continues its journey toward urbanization, there is a conscious effort to leverage technology and innovation to make our cities smarter.
The transformation in Raj's life is just a glimpse of the immense potential these cities hold for the well-being and prosperity of Indian consumers. With continued investments in technology and infrastructure, smart cities are poised to redefine the urban experience, making it more connected, sustainable, and fulfilling for generations to come.
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