Smart Transition of India
Urban Development faces numerous challenges in India. Power, water, waste management and infrastructure are the key concerns. Cities need to be innovative for financing their transition into Smart Cities. The G20 countries can share their examples, says Venkaiah Naidu.
What changes is the new government bringing in urban development?
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 For instance, the planning commission has been replaced by Niti Ayog- the National Institute for Transformation of India.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 swachh bharat (clean India). He has given a call for MISIDICI – MI means Make in India, SI- Skill 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 such as clean drinking water, sewage management, solid waste management and power crisis?
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 J Jayalalithaa 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. It is now catching up for gardens and other facilities; although not yet for drinking water. Through this, we can save a lot of water.
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 is 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 Swacch Bharat; if some girl eats a chocolate and drops the wrapper then other girl stops her saying, “Hey! Swacch 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 like CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry), Assocham (Associated Chambers of Commerce of India) are getting involved. Religious and spiritual leaders like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Baba Ramdev, Gayatri Parivar, Shankaracharya, Sikh Gurudwara Prabandh Committee, Jamat-e-islamic 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 as most of the Indian cities are not even rated to raise such funding?
Now we are going to bring Municipal Bonds. It all depends on the credit-worthiness 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 INR 6 billion (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 INR 1 billion (EUR 13 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 INR 700 billion (EUR 9.73) last year. In the coming days the funding will increase, once the economy improves. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) chief, Christine Lagarde, recently said that the world is still under recession. China is going negative. The only island of hope as of now is India. If we get our act together and introduce institutional reforms, definitely India will raise its GDP and spend more money on infrastructure and services.
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 wher people migrate for education, employment, entertainment, economic activities and advanced medical facilities. If you create all this, you will have an orderly city life. 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.
Do you see a role for G20 countries to introduce best practices in smart cities?
Definitely, for that matter the whole world must come together. However, these G20 countries have to come forward and show good examples to others. You have to think 25 to 50 years ahead. I think G20 is a proper forum. It has technologically and economically advanced countries, and they are progressive in thinking. Moreover, apart from climate change or intelligent transport we must think about black money. It is creating many problems for developing countries. We must all come together and act. I am happy that the G20 countries also understand the need for it.