While countries are vying to associate themselves with India's ambitious Smart Cities mission, a noted UN specialist has cautioned India, saying that it should look for indigenous solutions as it can't fall back on examples from other countries.
"India can't be inspired by any example of anywhere in the world, because it is so big, so unique and so different, that it has to invent its own way," Yuri Afanasiev, the UNDP Resident Representative in India, told IANS on the sidelines of the World Sustainable Development Summit organised by the The Energy and Resources Institute at New Delhi.
He identified water, city governance and technology gaps as the major challenges faced by India.
India aims to build 100 smart cities even while 70 percent of the urban spaces, that are supposed to surface by 2030, are yet to be built. Building sustainable cities is one among the United Nations' 17 sustainable development goals.
Suggesting that India has to consider a development vision that is completely unique, Afanasiev cited the absence of the mayoral system as the biggest drawback to local governance.
"India doesn't have a global institution of mayors. They are not empowered or (have) a budget. If you intend to develop a (city) for 20, 10 or even 5 million persons, you have to first develop the local governance. We can't develop or address a city's needs without ensuring accountability and the budgetary responsibility. India doesn't have that. It's a major issue that it needs to think about," he said.
Believing the tussle between"climate change" and "urban planning" as a concern, Afanasiev said that the flooding faced by major Indian cities like Delhi, Bengaluru and Gurgaon during the monsoon had a lot to do with technical failures.
"The climate is getting worse, so a lot of cities are being overwhelmed once in 5 years when something really big comes. You simply can't protect yourself from everything, only eliminate some risks," he said.
Following one of the worst droughts this year in many parts of the country, several flyovers in Delhi became the shelter for migrants from as far as Bundelkhand. Asked if urbanisation influenced by climate change and lack of resources in tiers-3 cities was responsible for the migration, Afanasiev believed that a "post-industrial revolution" scenario may provide a solution.
"We don't have a lot of the answers. Nobody has yet succeeded in preventing urbanisation worldwide. People call it a hopeless fight. But then there's this new industrial or post-industrial revolution where, due to the internet and work culture it doesn't matter where you live. Hence manufacturing becomes distributed, like 3-D printing in a village in Gujarat," he said.
Stating that "migration can't be avoided", he urged for this to be controlled on the lines of China.
"Everywhere in the developing country, four percent of the population feeds the nation and in India it would be 34 or 44 per cent so you can't be competitive. However, with new techniques of working there may be a way to have urbanisation slightly more organised," he said.
Talking of the transformation of historic cities like Varanasi and Delhi, Afanasiev said that while historic cities need to be preserved, new cities should be created to attract people.
"Historic cities need to be protected, it would be a shame if you demolish them and recreate something new. But new cities will attract people away from some of the historic or important cities, as what's going on in Delhi, where a Delhi-2.0 has been created in form of Noida and Gurgaon," he said.
Speaking of the competitiveness among cities like London, Copenhagen, New York, Berlin and others in reducing their carbon footprint, he ascribed their succes to "jumping over a generation of technologies".
"If India follows what rest of the cities had been doing for last 20-30 years, like Korea building a future city, it will simply be catching up. Can you imagine re-developing New Delhi? It would be a nightmare. For India, the focus has to be on tier-2 cities, with 21st century urban planning, GIS technology, smart-grids and infrastructure and (a) new(ly) laid out public transportation," Afanasiev said.