Skip to main content

Here’s why PM Narendra Modi 'does not talk about' Smart City project anymore

By Rosamma Thomas* 

Launched in 2015, the Smart City project was expected to conclude in 2020. This large scale urban infrastructure renewal and retrofitting initiative was meant to make Indian cities – 100 of them were chosen – climate change resilient and sustainable. Housing, electricity, water, waste management, efficient transport and robust digitalization were all planned, along with better governance.
Project implementation did not occur as planned, and the project was extended to 2023. Considering all the data available till March 2022, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), assessed the progress on the project, to find that it had flopped. Seven Years of Smart Cities Mission in India: A Review details the scale of the flop, visible even to those who did not keep track of data, given how frequently cities have flooded in rains in recent years.
The Centre committed Rs 48,000 crore to this project, Rs 100 crore for each city. This contribution would be matched with a similar amount from the states and local bodies of the respective cities; it was estimated that over five years over Rs 2 lakh crore would be spent, considering also the possible intersections with other schemes such as Swachh Bharat. 
Such provisioning was in sharp contrast to the earlier Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, launched in 2005 with a budget of Rs 60,000 crore, which took the economic ability of state and local governments into consideration and offered a ratio of 90:10 for Centre and State governments as contribution for funds in the Northeast. Under the Smart City Mission (SCM), if many cities were chosen from one state, the state government was saddled with an enormous burden.
SCM also provided for funding through Public-Private Partnership. Projects that have been implemented in this mode are usually in the commercial infrastructure, real estate and social infrastructure sectors; manufacturing and communications have attracted little interest from private players. Funds were drawn also from international institutions like the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The report also notes the by-passing of democratic procedures in the implementation of the scheme, which is through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a limited company creating a parallel structure for implementing urban projects along with municipal bodies. Digital and online modes were used for citizen participation in decision-making about proposed projects, leading to the exclusion of marginalized communities with no access to the internet. 
This is reflected in the meagre expenses incurred on projects for the welfare of such communities. It remains unclear what role the SPVs created for the purpose of this project will serve, once the mission is completed. Who will be responsible for maintenance of projects implemented under this scheme after the project is completed? These questions are left unaddressed.
Even the definition of the Smart City was left vague. The Government of India document states: “There is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. It means different things to different people. The conceptualization of the smart city therefore, varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of city residents. A smart city would have different connotation in India than, say, Europe. Even in India, there is not one way of defining a smart city.”
Despite all the efforts, India was ranked last on the Environmental Performance Index brought out by Yale University in 2022.
The CFA report notes the role of transnational corporations in building smart cities across the world – CISCO, IBM, Schneider Electric, Hitachi, Toshiba and other companies have a role too, in the promotion of the smart grid and communications networks. Given that India does not yet have a data privacy law, the involvement of global private corporations in the implementation of the Smart City project needs closer monitoring.
Inclusion of marginal communities -- street vendors, domestic workers, sanitation staff on contractual arrangements -- is unclear in SCM
The report notes that although allocation to the Ministry of Urban and Housing Affairs for the Smart City Mission has increased over the years, actual expenditure had seen a drastic fall since 2020-21, when Rs 6,450 crore was the budget estimate, Rs 4,300 crore was the revised estimate, and actual expenditure was Rs 3,195 crore. It might be possible to attribute this to the Covid pandemic; however, in 2019-20, the difference between Budget Estimate and actual expenditure was 47%, before the pandemic.
Funds released prior to 2019-20 may have been left unused since many cities took 18 months to get the Smart City Mission operational. Among the least performing cities on fund utilization, few had a project completion rate of 50%. Other than Srinagar and Itanagar among this list of 10 cities, all others had a completion rate of less than 22%.
“There have been astute attempts to manufacture high project completion rate by completing small/less-valued projects, which take lesser time,” the CFA report notes. For projects in PPP mode, a big chunk of the US$9,190 million allocation is accounted for a single project – International Agriculture Marketing Infrastructure Development, which would extend across the country. A press release in December 2021 indicated that loans would be offered for post-harvesting marketing infrastructure.
The CFA report indicates that this mode of “development” could be out of place in a democracy, given that decision-making is centralized and the SPVs function without inputs from elected representatives. As part of the SCM, Integrated Command and Control Centres would function, for a nationwide view of ICT infrastructure. “It is important to decide on a process to maintain data privacy and security of these data centres,” the report notes.
The inclusion of marginal communities – street vendors, domestic workers, sanitation staff on contractual arrangements with local governments and others -- is also unclear in the SCM. In Indore and Varanasi, for instance, demolition of old residential areas adversely impacted urban communities. Given that all this collective suffering has yielded so little, is it a wonder that Prime Minister Narendra Modi no longer mentions Smart Cities in his speeches?
*Freelance journalist



Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Corporate-political party nexus? Rise and rise of Gautam Adani under Modi regime

By Sandeep Pandey*  In last five years Rs 10,09,510 crore taken as loans by various companies from banks in India have been declared as Non Performing Assets, an euphemism for writing them off. Out of this State Bank of India alone wrote off Rs 2,04,486 crore. Only about 13% of the total written off amount was recovered. Identity of the defaulting borrowers, most of whom are influential corporates, is not revealed. Compare this to the loans taken by farmers. The names of defaulting farmers is displayed on walls in tehsil offices to shame them and some unlucky ones also land up in lock-ups there. On the contrary, a few corporate defaulters have fled the country and quite curiously the authorities didn’t seize their passports like they do with some dissenting intellectuals or activists booked under mostly false cases. Now consider the donations received by political parties in the form of electoral bonds. The identity of the donor need not be revealed even to the Election Commission or i

Facing tough times, Rajasthan's Raika herders hold first-ever camel cheese festival

By Rosamma Thomas*  During the pandemic, the annual Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan did not occur for fear of contagion; in 2022, it was called off again as lumpy skin disease affected cattle. At Sadri in Pali district, however, festivity continues – a two-day Camel Cheese Festival was held on November 23 and 24, 2022. Visitors spent time with the camel herds and their Raika, drank camel-milk tea with the herders and then returned to lunch at the Kumbhalgarh Camel Dairy, from where the Kumbhalgarh Fort is visible, to taste camel cheese. The Raika herders have been facing a tough time – camels are no longer used as much for transport or agriculture in Rajasthan. The animals have limited utility, but their milk is prized. Camel Charisma, the dairy at Kumbhalgarh, sends camel milk across the country to people who use it in therapy – for autistic children, improved blood sugar levels, or even to treat cancer. It is believed that the health benefits of the camel milk is because the animals

BJP-RSS trap opposition in 'futile row' around Savarkar, freedom movement

By Prem Singh*  Everything in this article is just a repetition. I have been saying all this since 1991-92. It is obvious that the Congress and the RSS/BJP do not like my ideas. But most socialists, advocates of social justice and communists also dislike my thoughts. I watch their measures and efforts to deal with the present crisis with interest. I respect them and also participate. Yet, the fact it, we fall behind again and again, and the crisis goes ahead. Instead of being a solution-providers, we are seen to be a part of the crisis. How long will this last? Perhaps, if the new generation thinks differently, things may turn for better! 1 To say that modern Indian society and politics are passing through the deepest crisis ever will surely be a repetition. The crisis is deeper than the spreading of communal hatred we witness around us. In fact, the business of communal hatred is flourishing by taking its manure and water from the deep crisis. The crisis of neo-colonial slavery is pro

Carbon abatement to tackle climate change: India's failure has 'outpaced' its success

By Satorupa Karmakar*  On November 01, 2021, India took a pledge of reaching a carbon-zero stage by 2070, at the COP-26 held in Glasgow, UK. As ‘ambitious’ and dubious it may sound to some, with a short-term delay in renewable energy generation (which gained the pace post-September 2020) and drastic fall in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission level as COVID-19 emerged as a ‘necessary evil’ , the path of India’s clean energy mission could be seen being paved throughout this time. Currently ranked as the third largest GHG emitter in the world, India is projected to demand more energy in coming years due to a large population base (1.3 billion as per 2011 Census data) and primarily coal-based fast-growing economy. Rapid industrialisation in post-colonial developing countries like India, stimulated by a larger and cheaper pool of fossil fuels and labour-force depicted a continuous upsurge in temperature, heavy precipitation in some places with an overall declining rainfall and a burgeoning soc

Demand to withdraw 'anti-environment, anti-adivasi' forest conservation rules 2022

By Gopinath Majhi*  The Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, a coalition of adivasis and forest dwellers’ organisations, has sent a memorandum to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) raising serious concerns over Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, notified by the Centre on June 29.  Contending that recent amendments and a host of executive orders/guidelines issued by the ministry undermine and dilute the FRA and threaten the rights of adivasis and forest dwellers, CSD demands that the 2022 FC Rules should be rescinded forthwith. Demanding withdrawal of such anti-people and anti-environment rules CSD Odisha organised a protest Dharana in front of State Assembly today on 25th November 2022 and submitted memorandums to the Hon’ble Governor of Odisha, Chief Secretary and Commissioner-cum-Secretary, ST & SC Development Department for conveying our concerns against the FC Rules 2022 to the Central Government for its withdrawal. The memorandums w

GM mustard not swadeshi, it's a patent of MNC Bayer, GoI 'misleading' SC: Modi told

Counterview Desk  In a representation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as many as 42 farmers’ organisations though their representatives , backed by senior scientists and experts, have said that the Government of India (GoI) should stop misleading the Supreme Court “with untrue and incorrect” statements on GM mustard. Insisting that India does not need unsafe GM mustard, in their representation, they urged the Supreme Court to order immediate uprooting of GM mustard crop in various locations. The representation comes even as a penal of experts, coming down heavily on the GoI for refusing to see how in less than a week’s time the pollen from GM mustard will “start contaminating” non-GM mustard fields with transgenes, including male sterility and herbicide tolerant traits. Alleging that the GoI is actively misleading the Supreme Court with untrue and incorrect statements on GM mustard, Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India said, “We can list at least five areas where Gov

Shedding Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan? New Modi-Shah love for Tamil Nadu 'ignores' Periyar

By Sandeep Pandey*   The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) have long argued for ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’, which into recent years has translated into a crisper English expression: ‘One Nation-One Religion-One Language’. Given this backdrop, it is curious that the BJP government has organised the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency. Why did the BJP and RSS feel the need for such an event? All Narendra Modi events are highly publicised and have multiple political objectives. It is never an innocuous religious/cultural event as it may appear from the face of it. Afterall, RSS calls itself a cultural organisation, but has never ceased to surprise us with its political designs. Tamil Nadu has a long history of opposing imposition of Hindi by Union governments. Periyar EV Ramasamy had opposed the idea of compulsory teaching in Hindi as far back as in 1937. The 1960s witnessed violent protests against Hindi in which a number

Never-ending saga of sin tax: What if murder is taxed at Rs 1 crore, rape at Rs 5 crore?

By Moses Raj GS, Sangeetha Thomas*  What should have ended by June 30, 2022 as a 5 year experiment has resurfaced. The government has extended the levy of GST compensation cess by another 4 years till March 31, 2026. This cess, dubbed as the sin tax imposed on sin(ful) goods, is double the highest slab on indirect taxes. But only a few pay for it and the majority benefit, unendingly. The year 2017 is a landmark year for indirect taxes. With the grand idea of ‘One Nation, One Tax’ as a fiscal slogan subsuming all State based taxes such as octroi /entry tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), sales tax, taxes on lottery, betting and gambling, luxury tax, purchase tax, entertainment tax, property tax, professional tax and central sales tax into a single framework of Goods and Services Tax (GST) changed the contours of revenue collection. Complicating it further, India, with each State having its own size and revenue problems, has the most complex and highly centralised indirect tax structure in the w

'Extremist' US Hindu global group funding hate against Indian Churches: NGO groups

Counterview Desk  As many as 14 civil rights and faith-based organizations in co-signing a letter to the US Senators, Representatives, State Governor, and other elected officials have demanded the FBI, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Department of Justice should investigate into Texas-based organization Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF) a fundraiser campaign for demolishing churches in India. Co-signed by Federation of Indian American Christian Organization in North America (FIACONA), North American Church of God, Southern Methodist University (SMU) Human Rights Program, Amnesty International - Dallas, World Without Genocide, Center for Pluralism, Genocide Watch, The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Limitless Church, Justice for All, Hindu for Human Rights, North Texas Peace Advocates, Good Citizens of DFW, and the North Texas Islamic Council, the letter has been sent to Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz; Representatives Michael C Burgess, Pat Fallon, Van Taylor, Terr