It has become a trend among a section of analysts to take a sceptical view and express negative attitude towards Smart City projects in India. Their criticism is then blow up by the media whose interest appears to be raising the viewer rating or pushing up the circulation.
The best example of such an attitude among the so called knowledgeable analysts was Delhi Metro, when its planning started in 1984. They said that it would be a non-starter and in case it got commissioned, it would be a massive drain on the exchequer.
When it began operation in 2002, most critics of Delhi Metro have left the scene to pursue criticism of other development projects, including Smart City proposals of the Modi government.
These people should realise that today, Delhi Metro has become the world’s 12th largest system in terms of length and 12th largest in terms of number of stations. Those who said that after the initial euphoria, the services would lag and stations would be vandalised had been proven wrong.
It is the same case with the rising tide of criticism against the Smart City proposal by certain people who profess sustainability. These critics are questioning its feasibility of these projects.
The Modi government should be given a chance to showcase how the present ramshackle cities with dilapidated infrastructure could be transformed into efficient integrated liveable centres.
What is disheartening is a systematic campaign by a bunch of critics with access to the media who say that creating Smart City in the next five years would be impossible.
Some say that the government will mostly be able to do only pilot projects. They have come to this conclusion citing several factors. They doubt whether state governments would allow the smooth functioning of special purpose vehicles mandated to run the scheme.
Second, they wonder how the private sector would be accommodated in the SPV structure, while maintaining the delicate balance of power among the governments at the Centre, states and urban local bodies.
Third, they are not sure how well the SPVs and the private companies involved are able to generate revenue from the real estate they will be developing in these ‘smart’ colonies.
Considering government funds under the programme are no match for the investment required, the sceptics wonder whether Smart City advocates would be able to acquire and develop the land as the private sector would show reluctance to enter the project over doubts on return on investment.
These sceptics would do well to realise that Delhi Metro still keeps the stations clean, runs the system efficiently and has extended its services to more areas. What is more it won UN certification as the first metro in the world to get “carbon credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and helping in slashing Delhi’s pollution levels by 630,000 tonnes every year.
If there is a will there is a way.