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400 Smart Cities Mission Projects Worth Rs 22,814 Crore Miss Deadline: Parliamentary Committee

Madurai in Tamil Nadu only city amongst 100 to have met the deadline. Severe problems, including its definition continue to haunt the Modi campaign promise of "100 Smart Cities” with projects set to even miss the new deadline of June 2024, as per officials. 
The Smart City logo and the illustration used by the government in its  2015 report.

New Delhi: In its report on the Smart Cities Mission presented in the Lok Sabha last week, the committee said the ministry had informed it that 400 projects worth Rs 22,814 crore had already missed their deadline of December 2023. 

The Indian Express reports that the committee, chaired by Janata Dal (United) MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh, was “told by Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Manoj Joshi that the ministry did not want to extend the mission further.” Among reasons cited by the ministry for the delays were difficulties in resettlement of local population as well as some legal issues such as land procurement. Frequent transfers of smart cities’ CEOs were also cited and the “delay in projects that require convergence with other government ministries or agencies”.

The Smart City Mission report put out by the Union government in 2015, despite “100 Smart Cities” being a prominent part of the campaign promise, ducks the very definition of a smart city.

It writes, “…[T]here is no universally accepted definition of a Smart City. It means different things to different people. The conceptualisation of Smart City, therefore, varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the city residents. A Smart City would have a different connotation in India than, say, Europe. Even in India, there is no one way of defining a Smart City.”

Later it says, “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 parliamentary committee reports that “Progress of work is from 80% to 100% in 57 cities amongst which Madurai is the only Smart City which has completed 100% of smart city projects by December 2023. However, progress of work is 50% or below 50% in 14 cities.”

The outlay in the Smart Cities’ proposal has fallen from Rs 7,634 crore to Rs 7,535 crore in the revised budget last year, of 2023-24, The 2024-25 vote on account outlay has seen a major drop, to just Rs 2,236 crore.

The parliamentary panel has recommended the “appointment of dedicated CEOs with a minimum fixed tenure along with a clear and strong governance structure for the Special Purpose Vehicles or SPVs that also includes representation from the city administration, local self-government, experts in urban development and concerned stakeholders”.

Apart from problems with relevant appointments of those expected to steer the project, The Financial Express writes, “poor judgement in project selection” was also a reason weak coordination between the ministry of housing and urban affairs (MOHUA) and state governments, and the lack of private sector participation, among others.

The Hindustan Times in January had reported “an official aware of the matter” saying that “as many as 400 projects being undertaken by about ten cities under the Centre’s flagship Smart Cities Mission are unlikely to meet the extended deadline of June 2024.”

“The Smart City Mission is a transformative idea and needs smart governments to execute it. The ministry has allowed misconceptions to grow and it should have paid more attention to leadership development and stakeholder participation,” Jagan Shah, CEO, The Infravision Foundation, is quoted by the Financial Express as saying.

The newspaper points out that between 2015 and 2018, 100 smart cities were selected and then given a timeline of five years to complete the projects between 2019 and 2023.

There are about 7,991 projects commissioned under the Smart City Mission or SCM.

The delay has happened despite Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs allowing cities to drop or replace the challenging projects with new ones that can be executed in time.

After 2019, “several projects were shelved because of the financial, regulatory and technological hurdles in addition to the changes in citizens’ priorities during the course of the project execution.”

Out of 100 cities, nearly 50% smart cities have not implemented any projects under the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model. The total funding from PPP stands Rs 210,794 crore, for 207 projects, which adds up to just over one-fourth of the original plan, according to The Financial Express.

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