Mapping the Smart City in West Bengal and Eastern India. An interview with Dr. Mainak Ghosh from Jadavpur University, Kolkata – Honorary Consultant, Webcon Consulting (India) Ltd.

 

Kolkata, India

Dr. Mainak Ghosh is an academician and consultant in the area of Design Thinking, Perception, Cognition, and Experiential Cybernetics. He has bagged double gold medals; well balanced between academics and industry with a robust experience, winning industrial innovation award. He is an international speaker spreading his research to Brazil, Singapore, France, Thailand, Bangladesh, USA, Canada, and the UK. Along with managing mega projects in the capacity of Co-PI, he has authored internationally coveted books/book chapters and has been an editorial member.

Dr. Mainak Ghosh, PhD, M.Des, B.Arch
Associate Professor – Architecture| Jadavpur University, Kolkata
Honorary Consultant, Webcon Consulting (India) Ltd., Kolkata
+91 33 2457 2820, mainak.ghosh@jadavpuruniversity.in

VG: Mainak, what do people mean when they describe a smart city in India? How is India’s approach different, and why it is gaining so much attention lately?

MG: As stated in the official portal of Smart City Mission by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India (http://smartcities.gov.in), for Smart Cities “the objective is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions. The focus is on sustainable and inclusive development and the idea is to look at compact areas, create a replicable model which will act like a lighthouse to other aspiring cities”.

Now as argued in my talk in the Smart Cities Congress 2015 in Paris, smart cities need participation from various stakeholders. Till the time stakeholders are well equipped with knowledge and know-how of functioning of various channels of a smart city it is rather going to be a phrase which everyone talks about but unable to explain. Case of India is no exception. General people perhaps cannot explain what a Smart City is. They do not know what to expect from it and neither very sure how to participate or make the best use of it. However, the list of cities with funding and scope of project initiation has improved since the inception of the mission. Over the course of time, people are aware of the term and learning through experiences through the small initiatives that take place in their city under the smart city banner.

VG: In your opinion, what are the main problems with the Indian smart cities as they are so far conceived?

MG: The most interesting perspective to Smart City mission is that most of the cities identified are of the lesser population compared the mega cities. On one hand, while it is easy to implement smart projects to less populated ones, on the other hand, they would start becoming tech-savvy while their populous counterparts would face various problems which smart city initiatives try to address. Thus the balance may get lost. In my opinion, the largest issue is the population in the country of Indian cities and combined is the lack of awareness of the functioning, utility, and monitoring of the smart city initiatives. In context to challenges of Smart Cities in India (Springer), Poonam Sharma and Swati Rajput (2017) in their book Sustainable Smart Cities in India mention “Building smart cities in India is tough without meeting the major challenges; like population upsurge and resource constraints. Economic restructuring, infrastructural crunch, environmental pollution (air, water, noise, etc.), aging populations, and pressures on public finances are also some challenges to be met. Old historical cities of India like Varanasi, Agra, Mathura, Chidambaram, Indore, etc., are having heritage sites, and buildings, unplanned road networks, small lanes, and haphazard growth. Such cities have areas that even lack basic amenities. The cities of Northeast India face various natural and environmental challenges that would need smart planning to overcome such hurdles of development. Moreover, the physical and socio-economic diversity of the country accompanied by the huge population cannot be fit into a similar model of development.”

VG: What are the main strategy and the strategic components for the creation of these smart cities in your area/region/ city? (you can choose any of these you feel more comfortable) and how this project affects or impacts the environment and the main challenges of the city? 

MG: The strategic components of area-based development in the Smart Cities Mission in India are (a) city improvement (retrofitting), (b) city renewal (redevelopment) and (c) city extension (greenfield development) plus (d) a Pan-city initiative in which Smart Solutions are applied covering larger parts of the city.

 Retrofitting will introduce planning in an existing built-up area to achieve smart city objectives, along with other objectives, to make the existing area more efficient and liveable. In retrofitting, an area consisting of more than 500 acres will be identified by the city in consultation with citizens. Depending on the existing level of infrastructure services in the identified area and the vision of the residents, the cities will prepare a strategy to become smart. Since existing structures are largely to remain intact in this model, it is expected that more intensive infrastructure service levels and a large number of smart applications will be packed into the retrofitted smart city. This strategy may also be completed in a shorter time frame, leading to its replication in another part of the city.

 The redevelopment will effect a replacement of the existing built-up environment and enable co-creation of a new layout with enhanced infrastructure using mixed land use and increased density. Redevelopment envisages an area of more than 50 acres, identified by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in consultation with citizens. For instance, a new layout plan of the identified area will be prepared with mixed land-use, higher FSI, and high ground coverage. Two examples of the redevelopment model are the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project in Mumbai (also called the Bhendi Bazaar Project) and the redevelopment of East Kidwai Nagar in New Delhi being undertaken by the National Building Construction Corporation.

 Greenfield development will introduce most of the Smart Solutions in a previously vacant area (more than 250 acres) using innovative planning, plan to finance and plan implementation tools (e.g. land pooling/ land reconstitution) with provision for affordable housing, especially for the poor. Greenfield developments are required around cities in order to address the needs of the expanding population. One well-known example is the GIFT City in Gujarat. Unlike retrofitting and redevelopment, greenfield developments could be located either within the limits of the ULB or within the limits of the local Urban Development Authority (UDA).

 Pan-city development envisages application of selected Smart Solutions to the existing city-wide infrastructure. Application of Smart Solutions will involve the use of technology, information and data to make infrastructure and services better. For example, applying Smart Solutions in the transport sector (intelligent traffic management system) and reducing average commute time or cost of citizens will have positive effects on productivity and quality of life of citizens. Another example can be wastewater recycling and smart metering which can make a huge contribution to better water management in the city. The smart city proposal of each shortlisted city is expected to encapsulate either a retrofitting or redevelopment or greenfield development model, or a mix thereof and a Pan-city feature with Smart Solution(s). (adopted from http://smartcities.gov.in)

 

VG: How do people usually get information about these new smart projects in your city? How do people react with this sector (the specific you mentioned earlier)? Are people willing to buy technologies or to participate in various smart city projects via their smartphones?

MG: http://smartcities.gov.in is the official Smart Cities Mission online portal for various information and communications. There is a link to Smartnet – solutions exchange for the urban transformation of India (https://smartnet.niua.org/) which is a useful resource to execute, contribute, learn, connect and explore opportunities related to smart projects in a city or area. One may register and log into this portal to leverage these benefits. There is not very robust reach out program for this. However people with specific requirement often visit this. There is a place for the weekly update on a national scale encompassing latest activities in various states. For example, Issue 73 dated June 17, 2019, announced that 5,000 electric buses to ply on Indian roads, thus it is assumed that technologies available on smartphones related to this
project would be accessed or bought by stakeholders. The buying behavior is very sporadic and depends from project to project and place to place.

VG: In your opinion, what kind of smart technologies are more attractive to citizens in
your city?

MG: In my opinion, citizens find the smart technologies, related to governance, urban transport, Reforms, Economic Development and Livelihoods, Finance and PPP, Health and Education, Housing, Energy, Water supply, Solid waste management, etc. more attractive.

VG: What about the specific projects on the creation of green fields that alter the environmental perspectives? Could you give us an example?

MG: There are plenty of proposals in India related to open spaces and riverfront development, these include creating parks, landscaped areas, urban forestry, green buffers, embankments, etc. The complete list of projects for various cities is available in this link: http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/Listof%20Projects_OpenSpaces_Riverfront.pdf. Some of these projects have improved the quality of life of the citizens and is well
appreciated.

VG: Do you observe a difference in the design process and perception of your city because of the smart cities? Have designers incorporated the requirements of smart products in the design process? 

MG: Not much change is observed, however many of the startups and young minds have started venturing into the realms of smart solutions for cities. Smart products are slowly picking up, but I believe it often faces a challenge in terms of greater initial cost, robustness, and testing. There are limited drivers, sporadic market and demands. There is also a challenge of copyright, patent issues and propagation of products from other sources.

VG: How does academic research is moving towards these directions in your city?

MG: Most of the institutions of higher education have moved into the domain of smart city as an important area of research. There is enhanced support and importance given to the same. For example in Jadavpur University in Kolkata, research funding under RUSA 2.0 (Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan) has demarcated ‘Smart and Intelligent Cyber-Physical Systems research’ as a major thrust area, which includes Smart Cities.

Valina Geropanta and Mainak Ghosh—

2 Comments

Add Yours →

Sir,
What type of mapping is this? Which criteria do you maintain? Is this a part of GIS based mapping of facilities-utilities of the Smart-Cities or perception-based cognitive mapping of the residents about the facilities – utilities of those cities?

Hi Tanmoy, thank you for the question. It is an important aspect. Smart cities are dependent on various tools, gadgets and services both digital or otherwise such as GIS or GPS. These are often mapped to user needs and requirements. Now that is definitely dependent on user perception, cognition, and even social data. Hence it is all kind of combinations you can think of. Not sure if this clarifies your query. Please feel free to ask more, will be delighted to answer.

Leave a Reply