Interview with M Venkaiah Naidu

Minister of Urban Development, India

Interview

January 22, 2016

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France: A Key Partner in Smart City Plan

M Venkaiah Naidu,Minister of Urban Development, India

M Venkaiah Naidu,Minister of Urban Development, India

Urban development faces numerous challenges in segments such as power, water, transport, waste management and infrastructure. France has a lot to offer in all these domains and the scope for bilateral collaboration is very high, says M Venkaiah Naidu.

You have recently been to France to participate in the 22nd ITS World Congress meeting in Bordeaux. What were the main outcomes of your visit?

The Bordeaux visit was to attend the World Transport Congress to discuss about intelligent transport systems and how to improve urban transportation, how to reduce emissions and make it more public oriented. We shared ideas on new methods of commute such as cycling, pedestrian, inland waterways, trams and metros and also what are the new technologies in the urban transport system. It was a very useful discussion.

Thirty ministers from across the globe came for this meeting and we discussed the issues and approved a declaration calling upon all the countries to reduce emissions and increase public transport. Many French and other companies exhibited new technologies available for intelligent transport, tracking vehicles and geo tagging, like, an intelligent mobility card that works in train, airplane, taxi or any other transport. Recently I have commissioned one in Cochin Metro. Some countries are at a very advanced stage. It was a good learning experience.

You are in-charge of the ambitious project to develop 100 Smart Cities. Could you outline the progress until now and the interest of the French in participating in this programme?

Of the 100 smart cities, 98 have been finalised and two more will be added. Bloomberg recently hosted an Idea Camp in Delhi to support our initiative. Indian government will be investing an amount of EUR 70 million in each city over five years. The remaining money has to come from state governments, urban local bodies and through public-private partnerships. First, the cities need to get ready and reform. Earlier mindset was that government will do everything but today situations have changed. To become a Smart City, cities need to perform better, increase revenues and prove their creditworthiness. So, there is a sort of competition between various Indian cities to move ahead. First year, all these 100 cities were supposed to prepare themselves for the competition by December 15. Of these, twenty cities will be decided for this year, and forty each for two subsequent years. The response is enthusiastic. The project is difficult but doable.

What challenges do you see in the way?

Mindset is the main challenges. People have to follow civic rules. It can’t happen if you do not want to stop unauthorised construction and encroachments, to raise revenues or to avoid extra payment. The mayors don’t want to impose taxes because there will be some public reaction. We are trying to show them how the world is moving and then see the benefits. A Smart City is making urban life more comfortable, decent, with regular power and water, sanitation, solid waste management, good education, medical facilities and intelligent transport facilities like walk to work.

Do you see foreign participation in this project materialising?

The idea of Smart Cities is now catching up and Indian media is discussing a lot on this. Twenty-five countries, including France, have come forward to partner in the project. Also, 38 companies have been identified, who will be giving technical support. The French have a lot of expertise in this domain and I witnessed it myself during my visit to the smart city near Paris as well. So I expect to have them involved in this initiative in a big way.

How involved are the people in these initiatives?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a tremendous capacity to reach out to people. He has made an impact on their mind-set with regard to the changes that are needed. For instance, the planning commission has been replaced by NITI Ayog – the National Institute for Transformation of India. He wants to bring changes to every sector of public life, including sanitation, drinking water and many such factors. He has given a call for MISIDICI – MI means Make in India, SISkill India, DI- Digital India, CI- Clean India. This program has caught up the imagination of people. If people see good examples and they are properly educated, they will join this campaign. However, India is a huge country with a huge population. Therefore, challenges too are numerous. But with initiatives such as these, we will be able to catch up with others.

How does the ministry address the day-to-day challenges of urban India?

Power in future is not going to be a problem as power generation is happening at a faster scale. The government is also betting on solar generation in a big way; we also had a discussion with renewable energy minister regarding this. Transmission within the country is being taken care of and states such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh have 24/7 power supply and even Telangana and other states are catching up. Earlier it was little populist, free power first means low power and then no power. Now Gujarat example shows that people want assured power – rather than free power; they want quality power for which they are ready to pay.

Water, however, will be a major challenge for most of the world in future, particularly India due to huge population and climatic changes. As rainfalls are reducing due to the climate change, we want to use rainwater harvesting. There are good examples in Tamilnadu where chief minister Jayalalitha is immensely promoting rainwater harvesting. Now we have made it mandatory for every building (small or big) to install rainwater-harvesting systems. Another technique is water recycling for which Singapore can be cited as a good example. Most challenging is solid waste management – garbage collection, segregation, transportation and then its conversion. Many companies have shown interest. We have few success stories in it but it is crucial to keep moving ahead.

And how do we control the volume of waste?

India generates a lot of waste unlike the western countries. Changing the lifestyle habits and converting this waste into energy and into compost are required. I had a meeting with the renewable energy minister; they are bringing a new system, where it will be mandatory for distribution companies to purchase every unit of power generated by ‘waste to energy’ technique. Additionally, now as people are over-using urea, the government embarks on making the use of compost mandatory. If you want subsidy for urea then you will have to use the compost. Such incentives, disincentives, persuasion and also education are the methods for bringing change.

With regard to sanitation – Prime Minister’s Swacch Bharat (Clean India) is gaining people’s interest. By 2019, we want to make India clean, like Mahatma Gandhi’s dream. Now even the school children talk about Swachch Bharat; if some girl eats a chocolate and drops the wrapper then other girl stops her saying, “Hey! Swachch bharat.” This is what our PM wanted, to make it into a Jan Andolan – a people’s movement. Everybody from movie stars, icons in public life, cricketers, sports people, IT giants and business associates are getting involved. Religious and spiritual leaders like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Sikh Gurudwara Prabandh Committee, Jamat-e-Islami are showing interest too. However, reduction of waste generation and landfill are a few of the key concerns and we have to adapt to the new methods. For instance, I was under the impression that burning means more pollution but Tokyo is doing it through capturing carbon.

How does the government propose on financing the smart cities?

Now we are going to bring Municipal Bonds. It all depends on the creditworthiness of the city. We are asking them for a periodical rise in their revenue. If you are transparent, accountable and do good work, people are willing to pay. Surat for example, with a simple ring road made EUR 83 million; in addition to Hyderabad ring road. We also want to convert metro station and bus stands for generating revenues. The centre is giving EUR13 million per year; we have permitted the states and urban local bodies to use this as seed money to get funding.

FDI (foreign direct investment) is now allowed in the real estate sector. I hope in the coming days this will catch up – as I told you many companies are interested. Some of the countries are also showing interest in smart cities. If they come forward to take part in the transfer and bidding system and if we can showcase some cities to the people, other cities will follow. For the socially and economically weaker sections, you have to give certain amount of subsidy. My housing ministry is giving 6.5 pc interest subsidy – that will take care of their EMI (equated monthly installment). Secondly, the government is going to pump in more money into infrastructure that already received EUR 9.73 last year. In the coming days the funding will increase, once the economy improves. It is important to spend on cities as 31 pc people live in urban areas and it may rise up to 40 pc by 2020. That means you have to focus on creating urban infrastructure and improve the living standards in urban areas.

For smart cities, you need smart leaders; smart in their thought, vision, transformation and capable of taking tough decisions. There is a saying – “People deserve the government they elect.” So the PM is stressing on larger public participation. It should not be simply government creating some concrete infrastructure and then asking people to use it. At every stage, people have to be involved.

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