Smart Cities Mission – Features, Current Status & Challenges

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Smart Cities Mission is a step taken by the Indian government to provide a better lifestyle and amenities to the people. It is considered to be a key player in the direction of comprehensively developing physical, institutional, social and economic infrastructure of the cities, that are all important in improving the quality of life and attracting people and investments to the city, thereby setting in motion a virtuous cycle of growth and development. Four years since its launch, there is no doubt that expectation will continue to be high. Technically, only one more year is left but a large number of projects are still under implementation. It is facing numerous challenges and these need to be addressed for this programme to yield the intended benefit.

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This topic of “Smart Cities Mission – Features, Current Status & Challenges” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

What is Smart Cities Mission (SCM)?

  • Smart Cities Mission is an urban renewal and retrofitting programme by the Government of India with the mission to develop 100 smart cities across the country to make them citizen-friendly and sustainable.
  • The Union Ministry of Urban Development is responsible for the implementation of this mission in collaboration with the state governments of the respective cities.
  • The “100 Smart Cities Mission” was launched on 25th June 2015.
  • The implementation of SCM at the city-level is done by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) created for this purpose.
  • The SPVs plan, appraises, approve, implement, manage, operate, monitor and evaluate their Smart City Projects.

How will Smart Cities be selected?

The cities will compete for the selection as a potential smart city in what is called a “City Challenge”. There are two stages in the selection process. They are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Shortlisting of cities by States:
  • The first stage involves the intra-state competition, in which cities in the state will compete on the conditions precedent and scoring criteria laid out.
  • These conditions precedent have to be met by the potential cities to succeed in the first round of the competition and the highest-scoring cities will be shortlisted and recommended to participate in stage 2 of the competition.
  • The cities that succeed in the first round of the competition will be selected by the State/UT as the recommended shortlist of the smart city to the Ministry of Urban Development by the stipulated date.
  • The MoUD will thereafter announce the list of 100 smart cities.
  • Stage 2 of the competition:
  • In this stage, each of the potential 100 smart cities prepares their proposals for participation in the “City Challenge”.
  • During this stage, each city’s Smart City Proposal (SCP) is expected to contain the model chosen, whether retrofitting or redevelopment or greenfield development or a mix thereof and must additionally include a Pan-City dimension with Smart Solution.
  • The SCP should also outline the consultations held with the city residents and other stakeholders, how the aspirations are matched with the vision contained in the SCP and importantly, what is the proposal for financing of the smart city plan, including the revenue model to attract private participation.
  • The evaluation criteria for the SCP were worked out by the MoUD based on the professional advice and this should act as the guide to the cities while preparing their proposal.
  • These proposals were submitted to the MoUD for all these 100 cities.
  • A committee consisting of a panel of national and international experts, organizations and institutions evaluated these proposals. The evaluation was based on the solutions offered for the urban problems, the processes that would be followed to implement these solutions, the feasibility of the plans and their cost-effectiveness.
  • Based on this selection, 100 cities were chosen to receive funding to implement their proposals in a project-based manner.
  • The deadline for the completion of these projects is set between 2019 and 2023.

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What are the facilities provided under this program?

All of the smart cities have the following core facilities:

  • Assured electricity supply
  • Adequate water supply
  • Sanitation facilities, including Solid Waste Management
  • Sustainable environment
  • Good health and education
  • Efficient urban mobility and public transport
  • Affordable housing, especially for the poor
  • Good governance, especially e-governance and citizen participation
  • Robust IT connectivity and digitization
  • Safety and security of the citizens, especially for the women, children and the elderly.

What is the status of this program?

  • A total of 5,151 projects have been proposed by the cities participating in the SCM.
  • Of these, 4,178 projects, that is 81% of the total projects worth Rs.1, 49,519 crores (73% of the total project cost) have been tendered out.
  • Cities participating in the mission have completed 25% of the total planned projects.
  • Of the tendered projects, work orders for 81% of the projects have been issued.
  • According to the data presented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, infrastructure projects aimed at improving the quality of life in cities are under various stages of implementation.
  • These projects are executed through the convergence of resources from the Centre, states and the local governing bodies as well as externally-funded schemes and projects.

What are the major issues and challenges?

The following are the major issues raised in various platforms on the smart cities concept in general and specifically SCM.

  • The Right Model for Smart Cities in India’s Socio-Political context:
  • Smart cities are largely being projected as an epitome of India’s educated citizens’ aspirations.
  • It is feared that this will lead to non-inclusive development.
  • The smart cities will meet the requirements of only the educated middle class and their aspirations and there will be profitable real-estate ventures in the form of restricted enclaves.
  • Opportunities for the marginalised cannot be created in such an urban environment as it may not yield economic returns.
  • There has been no consensus on defining the indicators for an Indian Smart city till date.
  • This may result in fragmented concepts of smart cities being implemented, leading to further exclusion.
  • Social Acceptability, liveability and Sustainability Concerns:
  • The SCM lacks clarity in its conceptualisation.
  • The focus seems to be on technology implementation, without an overall framework to understand the need and impact of the same.
  • There is no clarity in understanding the end (Smart City) and the means to reach the end (ICT).
  • The image of smart cities is projected as heavily instrumented and automated.
  • Also, there are concerns over the privacy and security of sensitive personal data being accessible to unintended users.
  • This raises issues related to liveability in a smart city and its acceptability in the Indian society.
  • The resource requirement, including energy and its associated environmental impact, raise concerns on the environmental sustainability of these cities.
  • Convergence with other Urban Sector Programmes:
  • There is ambiguity on whether the initiatives under SCM will be one time investments with asset creation as a goal or whether it will be an approach to introduce certain critical structural reforms in the way the Indian cities are planned and managed.
  • The recent developments suggest that there is some convergence between the SCM and the New Urban Rejuvenation Mission.
  • Similarly, programmes like the Swachh Bharat Mission should be aligned with and complement the Smart Cities Mission.
  • However, a well-defined plan is required.
  • Also, there is a concern about the clarity on how the smart cities programme will anchor and drive growth in the larger hinterland.
  • Roadmap, process and scale of the SCM:
  • If the SCM is an attempt to upgrade the existing cities and prepare them for the future, a universal approach/framework should be developed under the Mission.
  • The design and development of a sustainable, economically viable framework will help achieve the objectives of this mission in an inclusive and participatory approach.
  • Currently, there is no information about such a framework.
  • Furthermore, the on-ground projects of Smart Cities, across the world, show that India needs to appropriate internationally practised approaches to suit the scale, size and context of its cities.
  • It is widely believed that the selection of the cities for the SCM was under political influence.
  • There is a need for more objective processes to select the cities for a higher probability of success.
  • Funding strategy:
  • It is anticipated that developing smart cities would involve substantial investments, which would be locked-in for the long term and in turn shape India’s urban future.
  • According to the High Powered Empowered Committee on Urban Infrastructure (HPEC), Rs.7 lakh crore is required for the next 20 years to bridge the existing gaps in India’s urban infrastructure. This amounts to Rs.35000 crore per year.
  • Therefore, there is a need for private sector investment in urban development, including smart cities.
  • However, this may lead to private sector dominance due to the lack of urban development policy and an urban planning framework.
  • This is a challenge because:
  1. Private Sector (real-estate developers, IT companies etc.) investment will be ad hoc and will be driven mainly by a profit motive.
  2. The foreign capital will only target investments that have higher returns and many of the public services may not fall under this realm.
  3. Since there is no substantial share of funding from the Centre and the state governments, the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are in poor financial health. Therefore, they will be deemed as unattractive, even if there is growth potential. This may further lead to favouritism with more funds being given to richer states and ULBs.
  • Programme Design, Operationalization and Institutional Arrangements:
  • The problems with the previous programs that the Mission needs to take into consideration include:
  1. Lack of capacity in smaller cities to implement urban development programmes.
  2. The Central government’s control over the program implementation and sanctioning of funds may lead to delays. Studies have shown that the involvement of higher levels of government can increasingly impact the process of empowerment of the local governing bodies.
  3. Lack of use of the participatory approach in capturing a local community’s needs and local solution. The role of ULBs in programme design and operationalization is limited.
  4. The programme generally lacks critical inclusion aspects. More opportunities for livelihood do not automatically translate into inclusion.
  5. Fragmented nature of the program implementation led to the failure of some key agendas such as the creation of world-class cities.
  6. Sectorial-bias led to over-emphasis of certain types of infrastructure creation. For example, 63% of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission funding was received by water supply, drainage and sewage sector in the Mission cities.
  • The capacity of the Institutions to deliver Technology-centric Reforms:
  • The last decade saw the initiation of e-governance programmes as a part of the municipal reform agenda.
  • Though there were positive structural changes, some of the major challenges they faced are:
  1. Creating and retaining a capable human resource pool to operate new technologies, especially at the small and medium levels.
  2. Creating capacity and motivating staffs across Urban Local Bodies to use technology-enabled tools.
  3. Continuing the use of manual systems for capturing data and complaints in parallel with computerized systems, creating dual databases.

What can be the way forward?

  • Making cities smart will take time and effort.
  • It is vital to create an enabling policy and regulatory environment.
  • This will allow for a smart and yet sustainable roadmap for urban development.
  • Foreign investments are important requirements. However, the cities need to be given the power to decide on the specific aspects to invest upon, along with the modalities and timing of that investment.
  • It is crucial to show some actions happening on the ground to win the investors’ confidence.
  • An equal impetus should also be given to the advanced research in Urban Planning to encourage innovation and make investments sustainable.
  • There must be a fixed common definition of what makes a smart city so that it can be distinguished from the rest of the cities. In doing so, the limitations and need for changes can be identified so that the smart cities can be improved further.
  • There is a vast pool of knowledge resources consisting of different aspects of city planning and smart cities, both in India and abroad. These can be brought together under a common platform so that they can easily be referred by all and act as a guide during this mission.
  • Efforts and research work related to smart cities and urban planning are already initiated by various organisations. These efforts need to be brought to a common platform to identify convergence, deliberation and also to leverage their key findings. For instance, there are efforts towards arriving at smart city indicators and smart city standardisation in India. These can be a supplement to each other.
  • A national-level capacity building programme is vital to scale up the plan-making and implementation of the SCM.
  • There is also a need for institutional and financial convergence across schemes and programmes to avoid multiplicity of bodies that exist today.
  • Coordination between different institutions under the SCM needs to be ensured.
  • An assessment needs to be conducted to identify the necessary changes and implementation of India’s urban planning.
  • Technology application-related domains also need to be assessed for this programme to be successful.
  • Expert groups at the national and state levels are vital.
  • They need to be further supported by a Smart City Working Group under the Department of Urban Development in each state. This will ensure better coordination among the various stakeholders at the national and state levels


Smart cities are vital for a sustainable future and this mission is a step in the right direction. However, there are numerous limitations in the current juncture and they need to be addressed for it to be of successful.

Model Question

What is Smart Cities Mission? What are the major challenges faced by it and what can be done to address them?

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