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Modi aide regrets lack of public discourse on smart cities: Interpreting "smartness" is not Govt of India concern

By Our Representative
Regretting “lack of clarity in public discourse”, a top Narendra Modi aide has declared that the Government of India (GoI) may not be able to pump in resources in its ambitious “Smart City initiative”. The aide, Bibek Debroy, has declared, even “interpreting smartness” is not a GoI concern.
In a blog for India’s top policy making body chaired by the Prime Minister, Niti Aayog, member Debroy said, Smart City “isn’t about Union government pumping in extra resources for urban development.”
He underlined, “Though a smartness template exists in terms of providing public services, smartness is what citizens determine it to be.”
Saying that “the critical element is about citizens planning and interpreting smartness”, Debroy noted, already, while submitting their smartness proposals, “States and ULBs have interpreted this smartness differently.”
“The way Bhubaneswar has looked at it is not quite the way Pune has looked at it. That is why this Mission is refreshingly different”, Debroy said, adding, “The Ministry of Urban Development has disseminated plenty of information about a Smart City”, yet there is little “public discourse.”
The templates, he said, only show that there should be an “existing built-up area”, on which there can be “retrofitting of more than 500 acres, in consultation with citizens.”
“Again in consultation with citizens and in an existing built-up area, there can be redevelopment in an area more than 50 acres. For areas more than 250 acres, there can be Greenfield development”, Debroy said.
Debroy said, Union government would provide just about Rs 500 crore for each smart city, with states providing “a matching amount”, adding, but other than the Finance Commission, rest of the money has to come through other sources.
These “sources”, he emphasizes, include “user charges, public-private partnerships (PPPs), municipal bonds, bilateral and multilateral borrowings, National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) and convergence with other government schemes.”
Even in the first year, Debroy said, “Barring some minor deductions, each selected Smart City will get Rs 200 crore from Union government towards the corpus. This is followed by Rs 100 crore each year, for three years.”
While leaving things to “citizens” to decide on smart city framework, Debroy said, their “implementation” would have be done under a state-sponsored special purpose vehicle (SPV), “created under the Companies Act.”
Debroy’s “clarification” comes amidst GoI planning to have, between 2015-16 and 2019-20, 100 smart cities. These smart cities are to beset up through what it has called “a Smart City Challenge route.”
While the the first cycle of the competition is over, there will be a second cycle of competition in 2016-17 and a third one in 2017-18.
The results of the first cycle of competition were announced in January 2016 and 20 cities were chosen, with a selection process based on criteria and weights attached to these.
While scores are a function of weights and criteria, Bhubaneswar topped the list with an overall score of 78.83% and Bhopal was last in that list of 20, with an overall score of 55.47%.
Maharashtra has 2 in the list, Gujarat has 2, Andhra Pradesh has 2 and Madhya Pradesh has 3. As many as 23 other cities have been “allowed” to fast track the approval process.

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