The challenging road ahead for our smart cities

Ambitious benchmarks are being set for the smart cities the government envisions.

Updated - January 14, 2015 06:41 pm IST

Published - January 12, 2015 01:32 pm IST

This is a blog post from

The bar is being set high for the 100 smart cities that the government plans to promote in the country.

If the concept note (which has been described as a work in progress) is to be believed, this is how our smart cities are going to be:

- No commuter would have to spend the best part of his time on travel - not more than 30 minutes in small and medium sized cities and 45 minutes in metropolitan areas, for instance. Unobstructed footpaths should be a norm on either side of the broader roads. Not to speak of cycle tracks.

- And ninety-five percent of residents would not have to walk more than 400 metres to find parks, primary schools and recreational areas and also for shopping. It should be possible to access work places and public and institutional services using public transport or bicycle or by walking.

- The benchmarks cover different sectors including health and education. For example, telemedicine facilities should be available to 100 per cent of residents and the emergency response time should be no more than 30 minutes. The city should have Wi-Fi coverage.

Universities, medical colleges, engineering colleges and technical education centres should be so distributed as to cover a population of 10 lakhs each. And so on.



Travel time of 30 minutes in small and medium sized cities and 45 minutes in metropolitan areas.

2 metre wide footpaths and bicycle tracks.

Mass transport within 800m of all residences in areas with a certain density - over 175 persons / ha of built area; access to para-transit within 300m walking distance.

Water supply

24 x 7 supply of water; 100% households with direct water supply connections.

135 litres per capita supply.

100% metered water connections; 100% efficiency in collection of water charges.

Spatial planning

Population density of 175 persons / ha along transit corridors.

95% of residences should have shops, parks, primary schools and recreational areas within 400 metres walking distance.

95% residences should have access to worplaces and public and institutional services via public transport, bicycle or walking.

At least 20% of all residential units to be occupied by economically weaker sections in Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zones 800m from transit stations.

At least 30% residential and 30% commercial or institutional space in every TOD Zone within 800m of transit stations.


100% households should have access to toilets; 100% households should be connected to the waste water network

100% efficiency in the collection and treatment of waste water.

Solid waste

100% households to be covered by daily door-step collection system.

100% collection of municipal solid waste and segregation of waste at source.

100% recycling of solid waste.


100 % Wi-Fi coverage at 100 Mbps; 100% households to have telephones, including mobile.

Other benchmarks

1 fire station per 2 lakh population / 5-7km radius.

Use of renewable energy in all sectors.

Rooftop solar panels on all public, institutional and commercial buildings as well as multi-storeyed residential housings.

3D GIS-based maps of property and all services – power, water supply, sewerage etc.

Cities to formulate building and parking standards


Electricity for 100% households ; 24 x 7 supply

100% metering of electricity supply; 100% recovery of cost.

Tariff slabs that work towards minimizing waste.


Telemedicine facilities for 100% residents ; 30 minutes emergency response time; 1 dispensary for every 15,000 residents ; bed strength specified for different categories of hospitals, including 200 speciality hospital beds per lakh population ; 1 diagnostic centre for every 50,000 residents


School and college requirements specified on a per population basis, including 1 integrated school (Class I to XII) per lakh population; 1 school for the physically challenged for every 45,000 residents ; 1 school for the mentally challenged per 10 lakh population.

1 college per 1.25 lakh population; 1 university ; 1 technical education centre per 10 lakh population; 1 engineering college per 10 lakh population; 1 medical college per 10 lakh population.

Given India's track record in urban development and planning, how successful will the smart cities be in achieving these benchmarks? The document itself uses the phrase "strive to achieve" in the context of the benchmarks.

And the costs are going to also be very huge. A High Power Expert Committee had pegged it at Rs 7 lakh crores over 20 years, which translated into an annual requirement of Rs 35,000 crores.

The formula that the government proposes for the selection of the 100 cities is interesting. The Census of 2011, came up with a picture of India in which 70 per cent of the total urban population lived in urban agglomerations or towns with a population of at least a lakh. There were 468 such towns. Fifty three of these had a population of a million plus.

But the concept note states that among the cities to be included are those with population sizes from two lakhs and above, apart from cities of tourist, religious and economic importance and state capitals. Which leaves out a significant chunk of smaller urban agglomerations or towns, numbering about 250 plus, out of the radar.

But the focus on managing urbanisation is important; after China, India accounts for the largest urban population in the world. And India will displace China and contribute the most to the projected increase in the global urban population between 2014 and 2050, according to World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, Highlights , a report released by the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division a few months ago. India will have one of the largest country-wide concentration of cities in the world, including some very big ones.

One of the points the report makes in the context of the global urbanisation trend is that governments should try to achieve a balanced distribution of urban growth, which means that policies should be aimed at promoting the development of intermediate sized cities. These shoud ensure that the benefits of urbanisation are shared equitably. Migration cannot be restricted, but sustainability is a key word .

But the UN report does not talk of smart cities in the context of urbanisation, though. What is a smart city? "A smart city (also smarter city) uses digital technologies to enhance performance and wellbeing, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens. Key 'smart' sectors include transport, energy, health care, water and waste," says a Wikipedia entry.

The concept note provides a four pronged infrastructure-based description of how our smart cities will be modelled. "Literature on smart cities has different definitions. We are keen to have own version of smart cities keeping in view the contemporary problems in urban areas and emerging challenges like reducing carbon emissions," Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu had explained recently on the sidelines of a seminar in Gandhinagar.

The note addresses the economic aspect early on - "a Smart City for its sustainability needs to offer economic activities and employment opportunities to a wide section of its residents, regardless of their level of education, skills or income levels." It emphasizes ease of doing business as a key factor: "Simple and transparent online business and public services processes that make it easy to practice one’s profession or to establish an enterprise and run it efficiently without any bureaucratic hassles are essential features of a citizen centric and investor-friendly smart city."

And goes on to talk about various parameters including "decent living options to every resident. This would mean that it will have to provide a very high quality of life (comparable with any developed European City)." The bar is being set very high indeed.

(Charts: T. Ramachandran; Data: Draft Concept Note on Smart City Scheme, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision)

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.