Smart Cities are looked upon as a possible solution to the swelling urban population and the resulting capacity and resourcing issues. Metropolitan areas in most developing nations will need to revolutionise their urban infrastructure as the population grows. The next 30-40 years will see an unprecedented transformation in the urban landscape in India.
However, India is controversial when it comes to Smart Cities. Can India have smart cities without smart villages?
This question is brought up often because the developed world expects the developing world to follow the same linear growth that we followed for previous industrial revolutions. But the real question is, is smart city development linear?
Smart Cities are the same the world over; it is not just about having the latest technology. A smart city is one that identifies with the need to be more intelligent, then builds its identity around this knowledge. This attitude and the resulting decisions are so people can make the best use of resources without depleting them for future generations.
India is currently in a climate where there is a mass migration of people from rural areas. Contextually, cities are challenged by a lack of pre-planning of residential and corporate hubs. Growth has been organic with a lack of planning controls in the built environment and cities, and people are constantly challenged by unstable power grids and inadequate water supplies. Culturally, there seems to be a sense of scepticism about the success of smart cities in India. People doubt the government's ability to deliver on the necessary infrastructure that would create a smart city. Many cities do not have a drainage system or potable water.
Current Smart Cities in India
In 2019, the city of Mohali launched a pilot called 'Intelights'. Intelights are a 3D Smart Traffic Signal deployed to control traffic with sensors regulating the movement of traffic.
The system was devised by students of Chitkara University after three years of research and tested for eight months. In the first three months, this technology saved 15,528 litres of fuel and waiting time at the lights was reduced by up to 720 hours. This technology was deployed in one of the 'dark spots' in Mohali, where there was an extensive history of fatal accidents. As a result of this technology in the first 12 months, there were no accidents.
This new system sees efficiencies for both the drivers and the government, as well as reducing pollution.
Traditionally in India traffic police are used to direct traffic manually, this practice is insular and labour intensive. A benefit India has in its development cycle is there is no need to supersede outdated infrastructure. In developed countries, implementing a system of smart traffic lights requires convincing stakeholders that the method of lights that already exists is not good enough.
Another traffic light innovation developed in India is being patented by three students from Chandigarh University, Raj Aryan, Kashish Jangid and Himanshu Soni.
This self-powered smart traffic control system is powered by Piezoelectric Sensors that can convert pressure into electrical voltage. This technology further solves the issue of installing a power grid to deal with the inconsistency in power in this region. This smart solution solves more than one problem in the built environment relevant to this city, which may not be applicable in a brownfield site. This solution also may not be appropriate in a village sense and indicates that the growth to smart cities is not necessarily through smart villages.
The city of Jamshedpur is a Smart City leader in India and leads some aspects of best practice in the world. Jamshedpur leverages technology in several facets of the city from parking, to lights, to bins, to citywide potable water filtration. Jamshedpur proves that Smart Cities are possible in India.
In any large country, it is impossible to say carte blanche they are capable or incapable of creating smart cities. India has many advantages that the developed world does not. They are generally not constrained by existing infrastructure. They can develop and deploy the technology on greenfield sites. This advantage, coupled with rapid urban growth proves that smart city and built environment development is not linear.