“I think the Smart Cities are on the right track”

An interview with GP Hari, Kochi Metro Rail Ltd.

Kochi has been declared a Smart City – what does this mean?

Kochi is one of currently 20 Indian cities included in the first round of the national Smart Cities Mission, run by India’s Ministry of Urban Development. City improvement (retrofitting), city renewal (redevelopment) and city extension (greenfield development) are the strategic components of the Smart Cities Mission.

There are several reasons for turning Kochi into a Smart City. The city needs to become better connected and accessible, and be developed into a clean, green and healthy city that is governed in a smart way. Like the other cities that are part of the Smart Cities Mission, Kochi has set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Cochin Smart Mission Ltd. The SVP is responsible for implementing the Smart City proposal, commencing with preparation of a master plan and detailed engineering reports, fund management, financial modelling and establishing a self-sustainable, smart eco-system.

Kochi Metro Rail Ltd. is another SPV that was formed in 2012 to implement a Metro Rail system in the city of Kochi. Additionally, KMRL also work towards developing an integrated urban transport network, bringing together all public & freight transits under one governance umbrella, the “Metropolitan Transport Authority” (MTA)-Kochi. The advantage of this is that while this SPV can focus on public transport integration and mobile application based platforms for citizen and local governments interactions, such as dissemination of information like, tax or any other government notifications, awareness programmes, grievances redressal mechanism, payment gateways, utility bill payments etc., the smart city SPV can focus on all other citizen centric developments as envisaged in the smart city framework.

Smart cities seem to be able to solve a lot of problems. How come not all cities try to be smart cities?

Correct, the smart city initiatives can solve many citizen-centric problems to a certain extent. First of all, we need to understand the issues that citizens are facing in each smart city area. But in the Indian context, a smart city SPV alone will not be able to solve all the issues, as it requires converging the coordinated efforts of multiple govt. agencies at local and state levels for realising projects on time.  This SPV will face challenges in preparing the master plan and the implementation framework by bringing together the plans of various development agencies and also by incorporating the smart components into it.

The implementation of smart city components is tailor-made for each city and there is not a standard solution for all cities. Now Cochin Smart City is only a concept adopted for a relatively small area of around 19 square kilometres. During the interactions with the public, we have conveyed that the smart city initiative is aimed at enhancing the quality of life for citizens. Once it becomes successful and based on the key learnings, either the smart city area could be augmented or the government can decide to add more cities to its smart city frameworks.

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