In 1991 when we were building India’s first national equity exchange the OTCEI our challenge was to identify cities whose economy could support the investment market. We landed at 26 cities and one of the indicators we used were the number of telephone lines provided by the Department of Telecommunication, we found this to be a reliable indicator of economic activity. Subsequently we found DOT increased telephone density based on the revenue from the cities though national development compulsions forced them to provide loss making telephone services in many locations, this then subsidized by revenue earned from the 26 cities.
These 26 cities are even today on top of the pack, though their GDP and ranking in the list has changed in the last 25 years based on development, infrastructure and local government support and incentives. These cities are old dilapidated and have town planning concepts which are more than a hundred years old; none of these cities will support smart initiatives and even if they do they will be a huge investment with limited returns.
Take Mumbai for example, everyday someone dies falling off the footboard of the local train, metros take more than a decade to be built due to procedural and legal barriers, but still they do not have a parking place for vehicles defeating the very purpose of being a hub and spoke for local commute. The traffic continues to choke in Mumbai and sometimes it takes an hour to cover a few miles. Other Indian cities continue to choke in pollution, congested traffic, inadequate road, poor sewage and water supply and unhygienic conditions.
What India needs?
What India needs 100 brand new smart cities build on barren land with futuristic planning to last another 100 years or more. They need to be build first with smart technology build in from scratch, this will create employment and also investments into these cities. Though there are a few so called smart cities, most of them are in the outskirts of larger cities belonging to the original 26 cities, it is economic activity which will drive construction and habitation.
What India needs is 100 brand new smart cities, with its own airport, railways station, local metro, 8 lane unit-directional single lane roads in the main arteries and similar smaller roads four lanes and two lanes connecting these new cities.
Technology can be planned and built into these cities and the sites chosen must be at least 50 kilometres away from an existing city. Tax concessions and incentives must be provided to build these smart cities and provide for migration to these cities from the older cities by providing schools, colleges, hospitals, local governance and whatever else is available in an older city.
Every state and Union territory must be given a grant by the Center to build a smart city and the larger states can have more than one smart city.
This alone will truly make India smart, tinkering with cities which are mostly legacy of the British and the erstwhile Rajas but for the exception of Chandigarh will not make India a smarter place to live, rather it will be adding more icing to already a disaster known as Indian Urban chaos.