The Trappings of a Smart City

The Trappings of a Smart City
Jan 2017 , by , in Eco-watch

The Trappings of a Smart City

“The term “Smart City” has caught the fancy of intelligentsia, business entities and technology companies, often without realizing what is needed to create a smart city. But, it can mean different things to different people depending on the location, economic status and social fabric.”Shekhar Dutt, Former Governor of state of Chhattisgarh,  Ex- Defense Secretary & Deputy National Security Advisor, Government of India.

051122-D-9880W-031      India's Defense Secretary Shekhar Dutt (right) meets with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (left foreground) in the Pentagon on Nov. 22, 2005.  India's Ambassador to the U.S. Ronen Sen (center) joined Dutt in his talks with Rumsfeld.  The meeting was part of the U.S.-India Defense Policy Group.  DoD photo by R. D. Ward.  (Released)

The term “smart” does not mean only IT based solution for infrastructure and system management. It should include using of “appropriate technology” for the basic infrastructure (e.g. waste treatment plants) and “proven systems”of city infrastructure management over which“smart solutions” should be built. This Smart infrastructure (new or upgraded on existing one) needs to work under local environment at affordable cost –

  • Reliable water supply of good quality(use proven technology and hardware)
  • Reliable and environmentally sustainable power supply of good quality (economic mix of solar and other renewables)
  • Cleanliness, sanitation, waste collection system and waste treatment with ‘appropriate technology’.
  • Efficient, environmentally sustainable urban mobility and public transport (greater use of electric power)
  • Safety and security infrastructure for public that is responsive

To effectively manage the above mentioned facilities, there has to be “proven systems” for –

  • Monitoring for functioning of the infrastructure and services
  • Management structure and command system for action, accountability, reward and punishment
  • Citizen participation and grievance redress system
  • Health and sanitation system
  • Rules and laws and enforcement of the same.

While none of the smart infrastructure elements are present exist in any of the Indian cities, even the robust systems do not exist in any of the cities.This is well proven by pollution level, regular flooding during the rainy season, subsequent spreading of vector borne diseases and other failures that citizens suffer from, in all the cities.

The Information Technology and Smart Solutions should include, Smart hardware and smart infrastructure facilities, e-governance as tool to efficiently manage the infrastructure as well as services and a robust IT connectivity for managing all these factors. I have intentionally put IT and smart solutions asthe last item, though something like e-governance can start off in parallel with flexibility in the software to add new systems and course corrections.

As far as India is concerned, I would like to define smart city as a city with assured availability at all times of basic infrastructure and utilities to give reasonably good quality of life even to lower income groups.

Correcting the Un-smart Practices

Unless, the current un-smart practices, miniscule of which are given below are not eliminated, all the investments in smart cities will be a waste.

  • Road Design: Create smart roads. Design to avoid frequent digging of the roads. Provide corridors under the road at frequent intervals to install piping, cables or any other item crossing the road in future. Provide sidewalk for the pedestrians. To avoid digging on the pedestrian sidewalk, provide strip of soft soil with grass top, outside the side walk. Also improve road specification and construction specification to provide durable roads.
  • Improvement on Construction Contract: Digging for laying of cables/pipe is done promptly by contractor, keeping in that state for prolonged time. Contractual terms should include refilling of dug area within weeks and returning it to the original state, before any further payment. Similarly, removal of debris at the end of any work like road or pipe/cable laying should be given high weightage for final payment.
  • Drainage: Flooding during rains is perpetual problem making our cities very un-smart. Drainage system should be sized keeping possible future expansion in mind. Any expansion should not be approved without ensuring drainage system vetted by a credible third party. Any addition of buildings over originally approved plan should be allowed after vetting adequacy of drainage, roads and other infrastructure. Ensure drainage flows to a treatment plant and beyond.
  • Construction Material on Roads: Private and public construction material like sand, cement etc. occupy road and sidewalk space. This should be avoided and made punishable by law.

Such practices should be monitored by the government through e-governance system, of which building owners’ and residential associations should be a part. All deliberations on such e-governance should be transparent and accessible by all.

Road, drainage system, power supply system of adequate capacity should come before building residential and commercial complexes. In India the reverse happens. Example is Gurgaon with Singapore like buildings placed on shabby approach roads.

Smart Housing Complexes

Builders should learn the technology of building low cost houses. Around 1.2 crore completed houses are lying vacant across urban India. But latest Economic Survey points out: that at present urban housing shortage is 1.88 crore units. These contradictory statements tell us what is wrong with our real estate.

The demand is from economically weaker sections (EWS) who cannot afford the kind of houses built by real estate developers. Along with building complexes for the Middle/ upper-middle class, at least 20% of the accommodation should be for EWS. Occupation of EWS apartments, Benami or otherwise, should be made punishable by the government. Unless is this aspect is taken care of smart cities will be surrounded by un-smart settlements all around.

  • Smart Asset Management System: Install smart system for asset tracking. This includes assigning unique id for each asset (e.g. pumps, tanks, lifts etc.), maintain attributes like model, make, date of purchase, expected life span, purchase cost, warranty period, capture details of every service done on the asset, AMC records, preventive maintenance etc. This should be transparent and visible.
  • Smart Water Supply: Provide for piped (or tanker) water supply. Each building should have quality measurement facilities. Log in all tanker supplies, vendor name, quantity and quality of water, piped water quantity and quality daily basis, tank storage levels at all buildings.
  • Waste Collection and Disposal: design and install at the very beginning system for collection of waste, segregation at source and collection by municipal authorities.Rain-water harvesting should be made must for all building complexes.
  • Design for Environmental Sustainability: Rooftop solar on apartment blocks should be made mandatory for all new housing complexes and office buildings. The directional layout of the buildings should be such that at least one side of the apartments get adequate sun suitable for solar installation. Provide sloping cantilever projections for solar panels. Provide horizontal projections for Split AC compressors.
  • Smart Security Systems: Camera, monitor and alarm systems with press button for direct alarm to police in emergency.

In 3000B.C Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa urban township demonstrated the peak of town planning with its efficient systems for water supply, drainage, sewerage, storm water management, road, and housing design & planning. However, today’s development across the Indian sub-continent is neither efficient nor comprehensive.


The Smart India Concept    

Developing and establishing huge majestic commercial buildings, hotels and hospital, express highways and extending Metro is not the solution. The developmental disparity between the urban and rural areas has resulted in increasing unemployment problems in rural and small towns. The resultant mass migration to urban areas chokes up the facilities and utilities of the city, as the same was never estimated or envisaged by the planners.

For instance, Gurgaon, the modern satellite city of National Capital Region (NCR) was branded as better than Singapore. Unfortunately, the city planning from road & traffic, drainage & storm water management to electricity and water supply have miserably failed. Inundation of road during monsoon, uncontrolled load shedding during peak hours, jammed of traffic during peak hours for 6-8 hours a day, lack of parking place are only some of the miseries of a common man.

The Smart city is an imperative necessity in present globalization where we cannot survive in isolation if India is to compete with other developing and developed countries. While developing smart cities, smart villages must be planned and developed simultaneously.

For planning a smart city such hindrances need to be addressed and accounted for. There are no short cuts to it. The part of the solution lies in an equivalent development of infrastructure in both rural and urban areas.


  • Smart buildings: The buildings must have light and hollow structure to have good insulation to combat temperature variation with minimum air-conditioning. The insulation boards manufactured from waste material such as paddy shell, husks, agricultural waste should be used which otherwise used as fuel in rural area aggravating air pollution and carbon emission. Buildings must be well spread out with at least 40-50% of cumulative floor area reserved for greens. Entire roof and most part of the exposed walls must be preserved for solar panel, transparent solar panels in windows and mini grid to be created interconnected with regional grid.
  • Smart traffic planning:The rural population influx needs to be taken into account and measures to control the same should be implemented. Strict traffic discipline and adequate &fast public transport grid are the need of the hour. Offering concession on taxes to electric cars will help reduce air pollution. Also, digital traffic monitoring and scanning, online penal action and road tax payment including vehicle insurance payment can go a long way in felicitating the Smart city planning.
  • Power management: Besides creating mini grid of solar power, the power distribution and control system requires massive up-gradation from substation, transformer, and HV, MV and LV power lines. All power operated household and consumer’s durables must be power efficient by statutory regulations.
  • Smart water management:An online grid managing system for water distribution system can monitor water levels, leakages and subsequent repairs to ensure uninterrupted water supply. Rain water harvesting must be a statutory requirement as also the treatment of drainage water before disposal in seas.
  • Waste management:The garbage disposal must be modernized such as home-collection in separate disposable bags, transportation by specific purpose vehicle, thereafter mechanical segregation, recycle and power generation.

Building Smart cities is an imperative necessity for our future long term planning. What we are doing today is just “crisis management” in a “wait and see policy”. Any township development needs a minimum of 100 year life cycle planning. This is a difficult but not an impossible exercise and planners needs bigger vision and longer foresight.

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