Centre for Internet & Society

Nispana Innovative Platforms organized a Sustainable Smart Cities India Conference 2015, in Bangalore on 3rd and 4th September, 2015. The event saw participation from people across various sectors including Government Representatives from Ministries, Municipalities, Regulatory Authorities, as well as Project Management Companies, Engineers, Architects, Consultants, Handpicked Technology Solution Providers and Researchers. National and International experts and stakeholders were also present to discuss the opportunities and challenges in creating smart and responsible cities as well as citizens, and creating a roadmap for converting the smart cities vision into a reality that is best suited for India.

The objective of the conference was to discuss the meaning of a smart city, the promises made, the challenges and possible solutions for implementation of ideas by transforming Indian Cities towards a Sustainable and Smart Future.

Smart Cities Mission

Considering the pace of rapid urbanization in India, it has been estimated that the urban population would rise by more than 400 million people by the year 2050[1] and would contribute nearly 75% to India’s GDP by the year 2030. It has been realized that to foster such growth, well planned cities are of utmost importance. For this, the Indian government has come up with a Smart Cities initiative to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to Smart outcomes.

Initially, the Mission aims to cover 100 cities across the countries (which have been shortlisted on the basis of a Smart Cities Proposal prepared by every city) and its duration will be five years (FY2015-16 to FY2019-20). The Mission may be continued thereafter in the light of an evaluation to be done by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) and incorporating the learnings into the Mission. This initiative aims to focus on area-based development in the form of redevelopment, or developing new areas (Greenfield) to accommodate the growing urban population and ensure comprehensive planning to improve quality of life, create employment and enhance incomes for all, especially the poor and the disadvantaged.[2]

What is being done?

The Smart City Mission will be operated as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) and the Central Government proposes to give financial support to the Mission to the extent of Rs. 48,000 crores over five years i.e. on an average Rs. 100 crore per city per year.The Government has come up with 2 missions:Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities Mission for the purpose of achieving urban transformation.The vision is to preserve India’s traditional architecture, culture & ethnicity while implementing modern technology to make cities livable, use resources in a sustainable manner and create an inclusive environment. Additionally, Foreign Direct Investment regulations have been relaxed to invite foreign capital and help into the Smart City Mission.

What is a Smart City?

Over the two-day conference, various speakers shared a common sentiment that the Governments’ mission does not clearly define what encompasses the idea of a Smart City. There is no universally accepted definition of a Smart City and its conceptualization varies from city to city and country to country.

A global consensus on the idea of a smart city is a city which is livable, sustainable and inclusive. Hence, it would mean a city which has mobility, healthcare, smart infrastructure, smart people, traffic maintenance, efficient waste resource management, etc.

Also, there is a global debate at United Nations regarding developmental goals. One of these goals is gender equality which is very important for the smart city initiative. According to this, a smart city must be such where the women have a life free from violence, must be made to participate and are economically empowered.


The promises of the Smart City mission include:

Make a sustainable future, reduce carbon footprint, adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, proper sanitation, including solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing especially for the poor, robust IT connectivity and digitalization, good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation, sustainable environment, safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly, and health and education.

The vision is to preserve country’s traditional architecture, culture & ethnicity while implementing modern technology. It was discussed how the Smart City Mission is currently attracting global investment, will create new job opportunities, improve communications and infrastructure, decrease pollution and ultimately improve the quality of living.


The main challenges for implementation of these objectives are with respect to housing, dealing

with existing cities and adopting the idea of retro-fitting.

Also, another challenge is that of eradicating urban poverty, controlling environment degradation, formulating a fool-proof plan, proper waste management mechanism, widening roads but not at the cost of pedestrians and cyclist and building cities which are inclusive and cater to the needs of women, children and disabled people.

Some of the top challenges will include devising a fool-proof plan to develop smart cities, meaningful public-private partnership, increasing the renewable energy, water supply, effective waste management, traffic management, meeting power demand, urban mobility, ICT connectivity, e-governance, etc., while preparing for new threats that can emerge with implementation of these new technologies.

What needs to be done?

The following suggestions were made by the experts to successfully implement government’s vision of creating successful smart cities in India.

  • Focus on the 4 P’s: Public-Private-People Partnership since people very much form a part of the cities.
  • Integration of organizations, government bodies, and the citizens. The Government can opt for a sentiment analysis.
  • Active participation by state governments since Land is a state subject under the Constitution. There must be a detailed framework to monitor the progress and the responsibilities must be clearly demarcated.
  • Detailed plans, policies and guidelines
  • Strengthen big data initiatives
  • Resource maximization
  • Make citizens smart by informing them and creating awareness
  • Need for competent people to run the projects
  • Visionary leadership
  • Create flexible and shared spaces for community development.

National/International case studies

Several national and international case studies were discussed to list down practical challenges to enable the selected Indian cities learn from their mistakes or include successful schemes in their planning from its inception.

  • Amsterdam Smart City: It is said to be a global village which was transformed into a smart city by involving the people. They took views of the citizens to make the plan a success. The role of big data and open data was highly emphasized. Also, it was suggested that there must be alignment with respect to responsibilities with the central, state and district government to avoid overlap of functions. The city adopted smart grid integration to make intelligent infrastructure and subsidized initiatives to make the city livable.
  • GIFT City, Gujarat: This is an ICT based sustainable city which is a Greenfield development. It is strategically situated. One of the major features of the City is a utility tunnel for providing repair services and the top of the tunnel can be utilized as a walking/jogging track. The city has smart fire safety measures, wide roads to control traffic, smart regulations.
  • TEL AVIV Smart City, Israel: It has been named as the Mediterranean cool city with young and free spirted people. The city comprises of creative class with 3 T’s-talent, technology and tolerance. The city welcomes startups and focuses on G2G, G2C and C2C initiatives by adopting technologically equipped initiatives for effective governance and community building programmes.


The event saw participation from people across various sectors including Government Representatives of Ministries, Municipalities, Regulatory Authorities, as well as Project Management Companies, Engineers, Architects, Consultants, Handpicked Technology Solution Providers and Researchers.

  • Foundation for Futuristic Cities: The conference saw participation from this think tank based out of Hyderabad working on establishing vibrant smart cities for a vibrant India. They are currently working on developing a "Smart City Protocol" for Indian cities collaborating with Technology, Government and Corporate partners by making a framework for Smart Cities, Big Data and predictive analytics for safe cities, City Sentiment Analysis, Situation Awareness Tools and mobile Apps for better city life by way of Hackathons and Devthons.
  • Centre for SMART cities, Bangalore: This is a research organization which aims to address the challenge of collaborating and sharing knowledge, resources and best practices that exist both in the private sector and governments/municipal bodies in a usable form and format.
  • BDP – India (Studio Leader – Urbanism): The Organization is based out of Delhi and is involved in providing services relating to master planning, urbanism, design and landscape design. The team includes interior designers, engineers, urbanists, sustainability experts, lighting designers, etc. The vision is to help build and create high quality, effective and inspiring built spaces.
  • UN Women: It is a United Nations Organization working on gender equality, women empowerment and elimination of discrimination. They strive to strengthen rights of women by working with women, men, feminists, women’s networks, governments, local authorities and civil society to create national strategies to advance gender equality in line with national and international priorities. The UN negotiated the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in August 2015 (which would be formally adopted by World leaders in September 2015) and it feature 17 sustainable development goals, one of them being achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.
  • Elematic India Pvt. Ltd.: The Company is a leading supplier of precast concrete technology worldwide providing smart solutions for concrete buildings to help enable build smart cities with safe infrastructure.


The event discussed in great detail about what a smart city would look like in a country like India where every city has different demographics, needs and resources.

The Participants had a mutual understanding that a city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and height of its dream. The initiative of creating smart cities would echo across the country as a whole and would not be limited to the urban centers. Hence, the plan must be inclusive in implementation and right from its inception, the people and their needs must be given due consideration to make it a success. The issue of the road ahead was resonating in the minds of many, as to how would this exactly happen. Hence, the first step, as was suggested by the experts, was to involve the citizens by primarily informing them, taking their suggestions and planning the project for every city accordingly. While focusing on cities which would be made better by human ingenuity and technology, along with building mechanism for housing, commerce, transportation and utilities, it must not be forgotten that technology is timely, but culture is timeless. The cities must not be faceless and community space must be built with walkable spaces with smart utilization of limited resources. Also, it must be ensured that the cities do not cater to the needs of the elite and skilled population, but also the less privileged community. Adequate urban mapping must be done to ensure placement for community facilities, such as restrooms, trash bins, and information kiosks.

A story shared from personal experience by an expert Architect in building Green infrastructure was highly instrumental in setting the tone of the conference and is bound to stay with many of the participants. The son of the Architect, a small child from Baroda left his father speechless when he questioned him about the absence of butterflies from the Big City of Mumbai since he used to play with butterflies every morning in his hometown in Gujarat. The incident was genuinely thought provoking and left every architect, government representative and engineer thinking that before they step on to build a smart cities with technologically equipped infrastructure and utilities - can we, as a country, come together and ensure to build a smart city with butterflies? Can we pay equal attention to sustainability, environment and requirements of a community in the smart city that is envisioned by the Government to make the city livable and inclusive?

Questions that I, as a participant, am left with are:

  • Building a Greenfield project is comparatively easier than upgrading the existing cities into Smart ones, which requires planning and optimum utilization of resources. The role of local bodies needs to be strengthened which would primarily require skilled workforce, beginning from planning to execution. Therefore, what must be done to make the current cities “Smarter” and how encourage and fund ordinary citizens to redefine and prioritize local needs?
  • The conference touched upon the need for a well-planned policy framework to govern the smart cities; however, what was missing was a discussion on the kind of policies that would be required for every city to ensure governance and monitor the operations. Chalking out well thought of urban policies is the first step towards implementation of the Project and requires deliberation in this regard.
  • The Government plans seem to cater to the needs of a handful of sections of the society and must focus on safety of women, chalk out initiatives to build basic utilities like public toilets, plan the infrastructure keeping in mind the disabled individuals, etc.

This is of paramount importance since it is necessary for the Government to consider who would be the potential inhabitants of these future smart cities and what would be their particular needs. Before the cities are made better by use of technology, there is a requirement of more toilets as a basic utility. Thus, instead of focusing on technological advancement as the sole foundation to make lives of the people easy, the cities must have provision of utilities which are accessible to develop livable smart cities. Hence, what measures would the Government and other bodies involved in the plan take to ensure that the urban enclaves would not oversee the under privileged class?

Another issue that went unnoticed during the two-day event was pertaining to the Fundamental Rights of individuals within the city. For example, the right of privacy, right to access services and utilities, right to security, etc. These basic rights must be given due recognition by the smart city developers to uphold the spirit of these internationally accepted Human Rights principles. Therefore, it is important to ask how these future cities are going to address the rights of its people in the cities?

Apart from plans of working on waste management, another important factor that must not be overlooked is sustainability in terms of maximization of the available resources in the best possible ways and techniques to be adopted to stop the fast paced degradation of the environment.

The conference could suggest more solutions to adopt measures like rain water harvesting, better sewage management in the existing cities.

Also, the importance of big data in building the smart cities was emphasized by many experts. However, the question of regulation of data being generated and released was not talked about. Use of big data analytics involves massive streaming of data which required regulation and control over its use and generation to ensure such information is not misutilised in any way. In such a scenario, how would these cities regulate and govern big data techniques to make the infrastructure and utilities technologically efficient on one hand, but also to use the large data sets in a monitored fashion on the other?

An answer to these crucial issues and questions would have brought about a lot of clarity in minds of all the officials, planners and the potential residents of the Smart Cities in India.

[1] 2014 revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, July 2014, Available at : http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/publications/2014-revision-world-urbanization-prospects.html

[2] Smart Cities, Mission Statement and Guidelines, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, June 2015, Available at : http://smartcities.gov.in/writereaddata/SmartCityGuidelines.pdf

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