The first phase of India’s hundred smart cities project was successfully completed a few days ago with the finalisation of the list of the leading 20 smart cities to receive financial support for development over the next five years.
Bhubaneswar, located in the eastern part of India in the state of Orissa, was on top of the list. How did this ancient city compete with modern cities and come out on top? Where does its wisdom come from? This reporter went to Bhubaneswar to get more information.
People oriented model: benchmark of “smartness”
This reporter did not expect to directly reach the Mayor of Bhubaneswar via the number provided on the website, but to his surprise it worked. “Welcome, we are pleased to know that a Chinese journalist wants to visit our city”, said the Bhubaneswar Mayor, Anant Jena, sincerely on the the phone. He simply asked “When will you arrive? Can you first email me the questions about smart cities”?
Walking into the building without having to go through any form of a security check or interrogation was a very unusual feeling for this reporter This was the administrative center of the Orissa Government but the security is not even as good as in New Delhi’s subway stations. However, the reporter was soon relieved as he saw many other people who had prior appointments with the Mayor.
“Among the most important selection components of smart city selection criteria was the use of the internet to handle government affairs and as a common mode of communication by its people”. While waiting to meet the mayor, the reporter was accompanied by Bi Budi (Vibhuti), a reporter from the the Telegraph. Two months ago, he was assigned by the city hall, along with few other journalists, to build a news team and to coordinate the promotion for the smart city project. Bi Budi said, “The city already has the tag of ‘India’s smartest city’ and within a few years Bhubaneswar will be one of the most talked about cities in India. This will push us further towards the urban transformation of this city.”
Already “the smartest”? Or wanting to “become the smartest”? Confronted by this question, both Mayor Jena and Deputy Mayor Kumar replied in unison: It is smart and will be so in future. In the past seven months, cities in contention for selection were evaluated on soft criteria like the degree of digitization in government’s administrative affairs, clarity of the city development plan, degree of effective allocation of municipal funds, government’s success rate in achieving development goals; and hard criterions like public transport network, electricity supply, the standard of waste material management; and evaluation of the proportion of corresponding parameters. Bhubaneswar ranked first with 78.83 points and Pune scored 77.42 in second position. Jaipur, a famous city, which shares old historical ties with New Delhi, scored 73.83 points coming in third place.
On the question of “how to win”, Mayor Jena highlighted their “core competency” which is people-oriented approach. He said, “Bhubaneswar in itself is a medium size city with the population of 100 million, but in the last few months each resident has come together to put in effort and actively participate in the smart city movement. It is through their ideas, suggestions and hard work that the city has become smart. Speaking from this point of view, this is completely in line with Prime Minister Modi’s idea of a smart city, i.e. use smart decisions to improve the life of the people in the city.
Advance planning: the cornerstone of development
February 14, celebrated as Valentines’ day in the West, fell on a Sunday this year. Many Bhubaneswar residents selected a unique way to express their love towards their city. As many as 50,000 residents came together to participate in the 5th “smart living” activity at the Laguerie Avenue located in the downtown market. This comprised of activities like using bicycles instead of cars, thousands of people practicing yoga together and displayed traditional weaving techniques. The common thread in all these activities was that they were all low carbon activities with an intention to protecting the environment and promoting healthy living. In addition to these activities, this city is the base of India’s largest IT Company Infosys which along with other “smart solution” providing companies put up displays and exhibitions.
Kumar told this reporter that the “smart living” movement will make people yearn for a good urban life. The expectations may be diverse but as far as we are concerned, a distinct and clear urban development plan is essential.” In the “smart city” selection process, Bhubaneswar already had a clear five year plan for city transformation. This included: firstly, establishing a 985 hectares large “smart central district” which will require investment of Rs 4095 crore and secondly, a “smart” transformation of the existing urban transportation system, which will cost around Rs 4420 crore. India’s Central and local governments will provide Rs 1000 crore in advance and the rest will be raised from foreign investors.
While visiting Bhubaneswar this reporter discovered that urban planning is not only the future of this city but was also the base of its healthy development in the last 70 years. In 1948 the main Bhubaneswar city was re-planned by a German architect. It resulted in the smooth and wide roads, orderly traffic and high green coverage and clear functioning in the city. With the above mentioned characteristics, it is hardly surprising to see Bhubaneswar among the top ranked Indian cities.
Bi Budi said that the north-west of Bhubaneswar has the “information city” which houses Information Technology companies, Science and Engineering colleges and many management schools. It can be looked upon as the source of “smartness” within the smart city. The south-west part has hundreds of temples and considered to be the spiritual center of the city. The city center is the business and administrative area, where the municipal complex and business center is located.
Use local methods to make the city colourful
Is it comparable to a big city? Can a medium sized city like Bhubaneswar easily transform into a “smart” city? How to explain big cities like New Delhi, Chennai and other big cities which have populations in the millions?
Danesh, Head of the Industry research, CII, told this reporter, “earlier, Bhubaneswar was only looked upon as a temple city while also famous for its beach turtles. But it is this foundation that led them to their smart city plan. The next step is to look for funds and partners to help the city move in the direction of healthy development. This shows that there is no uniform template for India’s smart cities. Each city must find its own unique path of development. The central government can only provide basic framework and a share of funds. How will a smart city look like? The final decision is in the hands of that city and its residents.
According to statistics, 31% of the Indian population lives in cities and their total contribution to the national economy is 68%. This number is rapidly increasing. By 2030, half of the Indian population will live in cities. Prime Minister Modi came to power in 2014 and started the 100 “smart cities” project. His aim is to rapidly but sustainably improve the quality of life in Indian cities. Presently, the first 20 smart cities will get government funds for development, next year another 40 will be selected for financial aid and the remaining candidate cities will receive funding in the year after.
As far as the reputation of Bhubaneswar is concerned, the implementation of projects is far more important. Kumar told this reporter, “Competition is over. Now is the time to test implementation. Bhubaneswar’s development requires support in all aspects including funds, knowledge and technology from China. We have to set up an “express train” team which is responsible for contacting special overseas companies which are interested in participating in the smart city project.” He also emphasized, “Buddhism flourished in Orissa, where Bhubaneswar is located, for thousands of years. Tang dynasty monk Xuanzang also came here. I believe that our ancient history and present opportunities will bind us together.”