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With 1.2 billion citizens India is home to the second largest population in the world after China and it ranks seventh place in terms of landmass with the size of 3.2 million square kilometres. Along with Pakistan it is also home to the Indus Valley that we’ve covered in our previous article 

Though the cities India are a far cry from being the worlds smartest cities, we believe that the recent commitment for the very top echelons of government is worthy of mention. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plan of building 100 smart cities in India is admirable.

$7 billion has been earmarked by Prime Minister Modi’s central goverment for smart cities. His adminstration called on cities to compete for grants on the following categories

  • 24-hour water and electrical supplies
  • State of the art transportation
  • Education System
  • Enviromentally Sustainable Solutions
  • Mobile apps for efficient governance [clear]

India delhi

IESE’s Insights ranked Delhi which is the province in which its capital city is situated is ranked at 133th. Falling behind its neigbours like Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore

Delhi scores very low on all aspects especially on environment, urban planning and human capital


There are several very key issues that is the bane to the Indian urbanisation but in the interest of keeping this article concise we’ll stick to talking about 3

1. Mobility and safety

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10 percent of the world’s road fatalities (130,000) occur in India alone. Traffic crashes occur every minute, and a life is lost every 3.7 minutes. Though India has the 4th largest rail network that transports 8.224 million passengers per year and only 10 percent of the Indian population, traffic still remains a big issue for India. This is largely due to low lane capacity of its roads that are severely under maintained coupled by the  rail network facing increasing capacity constraints from swelling urban population.


2. Sanitation

In India, far more people have mobile phones than toilets. Look, I like my smartphone as much as the next guy, as much as I can’t imagine life with a smartphone, it’s even harder to imagine life without a toilet. On average every person as 1.2 mobile phones whereas 60.4% has no access to toilets in India. To put things into context, gather 10 of your colleagues, randomly strip 6 of them of their toilet “privileges” in the office now mutiply that by a billion people. That’s how bad the situation is.

 “It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet.”

–  Zafar Adeel, Director of United Nations ,the Institute for Water, Environment and Health

Here are some not so fun fact, 1600 people die daily from diarrhoea. It is clear that there urgent need for attention to be paid to this area.

3. Natural Disasters

The recent Chennai flood was considered amongst the worst in the history of India both from a humanitarian and financial stand point. Over 400 lives were unfortunately lost, 1.5 million people were displaced and the city suffered $3 billion in losses

It is clear that India like most nations are vulnerable to man-made and natural disasters. According to UNDP, 70% of the Indian population are at risk to floods and 60% of them are at risk to earthquakes. Urban areas are especially vulnerable thanks to the density and overcrowding.

To the Indian goverment’s credit  Chennai proved to be very resilient, with transportation restored to normalcy and energy supply recovered at record timing of course credits are also due to Chennai’s citizens who rose up to the occasion resulting in large amounts of volunteer forces

Adequate attention has not been paid to develop large macro level drainage plans. Urban planning should take into account all the drainage of the area

– said Vikram Kapoor the Commissioner of Chennai at an interview with BFM

Just on those 3 reasons alone it is clear that the need for India to be smarter nation is apparent. Though many industry players believe that Prime Minister Modi is taking a step in the right direction, his ambitious plans are not without opposition.

Critics in the twittersphere are doubtful about Prime Minister Modi’s Plan, pointing out that as the Chief Minister of Gujarat he was not able Gujarat any smarter, if he’s not able to even do that the critics wonder how he will turn 100 cities into a smart city in 5 years

Some critics are also alleging that Prime Minister Modi’s plans are not apolitical and only the cities that voted for his parties are being selected to be transformed into smart cities

India’s case of smart cities can serve as a very powerful lesson to other city leaders, very often when we look into smart cities a very top-down approach is taken. As we can clearly see from India’s example there are some clear disadvantages to this approach.  We often focus on urban design and technology to create a smarter city while failing to realize the importance politics in implementing these transformations In order to avoid a political lightning rod, it’s important for city leaders to remember that the cities of tomorrow must also be built for the citizens of yesterday. Whether the initiative will be successful remains to be seen but let’s remain hopeful towards a brighter future for our friends in India.


About the Author



Vincent Fong is the General Manager of Knowledge Group and a self-proclaimed pundit of Smart Cities


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