UP set to be the smartest; TN, Maharashtra, MP, Gujarat to follow

Only 20 cities to be become 'smart' this fiscal; rest 80 to follow in the next two years

Nivedita Mookerji New Delhi

In a race between 100 cities picked up from states and union territories across the country, only 20 will start their 'smart' journey this financial year. The remaining 80, in the proposed 100 smart city plan, will join the club in two equal batches of 40 each in the following two years, a source in the government said.

Once the entire smart city plan is rolled out pan-India, Uttar Pradesh , at 13, will be top of the heap with maximum number of such cities. Tamil Nadu will be next at 12 smart cities, Maharashtra at 10, Madhya Pradesh 7, Gujarat and Karnataka at 6 each. The timeline has not been defined, but the entire exercise of turning 100 cities smart could take a decade or more, as global experience shows, an expert said.

Among those that could possibly be part of the 100 smart city list are Lucknow, Allahabad and Varanasi in UP; Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai in Tamil Nadu; Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Surat and Rajkot in Gujarat; Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar in Punjab; Gurgaon and Faridabad in Haryana; Shimla in Himachal Pradesh; Haridwar and Roorkee in Uttarkhand.

While the Union Cabinet had cleared a Central funding of Rs 100 crore per city per year over a period of five years in April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to announce the finer details of the plan on Thursday. He will also give out the details of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). A combined funding of Rs 1 lakh crore was cleared for 100 smart cities and rejuvenation of 500 others.

Selection of potential smart city candidates will be based on a two-stage competition called ''City Challenge''. While states will compete first to name their cities, the second stage will be about cities making the cut.

Evaluation of cities and towns will be based on a set of criteria framed by the Ministry of Urban Development in consultation with states. But the Centre has mandated every state to be a part of the smart city universe. Urban population and the number of statutory cities/towns in each state will guide the selection process. However, many other factors including readiness to become smart and availability of good mass transport will play a critical role too. While top 20 will be chosen for funding during 2015-16, rest of the cities will be given time to make up for the deficiencies identified before participating in the next round of competition, a government official said.

Experts pointed out that the central funding of Rs 500 crore is not sufficient for a smart city. Ultimately, it is the states and the local urban bodies, along with private entities, which have to carry the project through, they said. In July 2014, the 100 smart cities project was formally announced in the Union Budget, with an allocation of Rs 7016 crore.

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Gulam Zia, executive director, Knight Frank India, had said after the Cabinet nod on April 29 that the ''scope of improvement under the Smart City Mission is ambitiously widespread to include water supply, sanitation, waste management, transportation, housing for poor, power supply, among others.'' While cities like Varanasi, Vizag, Ajmer can benefit from the smart city project, a city like Mumbai where transportation projects like the Trans Harbour Link or the Metro Phase 3 can itself cost upwards of Rs 10,000 crore each, the proposed amount of Rs 500 crore may not even suffice for a fraction of the interest cost of these projects, Zia had said.

Koichiro Koide, India managing director at the Japanese conglomerate NEC (earlier Nippon Electric Company), had also recently told Business Standard that the biggest challenge in the smart city project is the need for huge investment.

If one has to work on the basic infrastructure, the cost of project goes up at least 10 times, analysts said. That's the gap which must be plugged by states, urban bodies and companies. But, companies will look for return on investment and may not come forward if their assessment of the business is not rewarding enough, an analyst said.

First Published: Jun 23 2015 | 7:42 PM IST

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