Interview with Karuna Gopal, Advisor on smart cities and President Foundation of Futuristic Cities

Interview with Karuna Gopal, Advisor on smart cities and President Foundation of Futuristic Cities
24/09/2016 , by , in Interview Old

Why does India need smart cities?

South-East Asian countries are getting increasingly urbanised and the West is witnessing a reverse phenomenon with people leaving cities and moving to the outskirts.

Adjusting to this urbanisation trend is a challenge and each country has coped differently.

Different terminologies have been used such as eco-cities, sustainable cities, and digital cities. India’s answer to this urbanisation is the Smart Cities Mission.

What hurdles do you face while working on the 100 Smart Cities Mission?

There are many misconceptions about smart cities; too many myths. It’s important to demystify the concept and this is the biggest challenge. Educating people that smart cities are green cities is important.

One of the biggest myths is that they are all about technology.. But the fact is, technology is a mere enabler. It is all about using technology in a sustainable manner. Technological interventions go a long way in preventing environmental degradation, reducing CO2 emissions, etc.

People also tend to believe that these cities are investment-heavy. It is not about large investments but about innovative financing. Smart cities are for the people and all the plans encourage inclusivity.

How is India’s Mission different from other countries?

The challenge was how to customise the plan for the Indian context to make it India-centric. Apart from China, stakeholder considerations are taken for granted in most countries, and I wanted to change that.

Citizen engagement for ‘co-creation’ is crucial and this was one of the key points of the Mission.

On what basis were cities shortlisted?

Each city has its own DNA. We shortlisted cities based on various criteria — percentage of projects completed under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), the city’s administrative efficiency, vision and strategy, implementation plan, an evaluation of the city’s Smart City Proposal (SCP). We were looking for fresh and innovative ideas that included city-centric initiatives such as plans to revive their heritage.

On what parameters did Chennai score?

Chennai has done many things that other cities haven’t. The water supply management in the city has improved and its rain water harvesting mission is a model project.

The city has been successful in attracting a number of industries. Tamil Nadu comes a close second (after Gujarat) in achieving Swachh Bharat Goals and the community toilet project is a success.

Such plans look good on paper. Where are we going wrong in implementation?

We have not planned any of our cities in the last 70 years. Unfortunately, city planning and urban design comes as an after-thought. The biggest bottleneck is the bureaucracy, which does not encourage innovation or citizen participation. This is why India can’t be compared to other countries and we need to accept that such projects are tough to implement.

It is a complex process and execution is a challenge we face. While we aren’t a rich country, human capital is our biggest asset and we need to build on this.

A ‘mission program’ like the Smart City Mission has to be implemented in ‘mission’ mode and a ‘business as usual’ approach will not work.

Source: The Hindu

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