India is building clean and efficient cities to improve the standard of living for millions
Imagine an Indian city where there are no power cuts, where you can drink water from taps, where all your waste disappears down chutes and is sorted and processed sustainably, where transport moves people efficiently, where offices and residential buildings are built on sustainable principles and where green spaces balance the built environment. Imagine state-of-the-art monitoring from a command centre ensuring seamless provision of the city’s essential services, as well as the safety and security of residents. Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? But this is the grand vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that is well underway in India and it is called the Smart Cities initiative.
Nearly Rs.6000 crore has been allocated for the development of 100 such ‘smart’ cities. The problem with existing cities has always been the issue of their populations growing faster than their infrastructure. By creating new smart cities around existing cities, this plan envisions easing the burden on these cities and providing new ways to manage public services.
Prof. Deo Prasad, CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL), a national innovation hub for the built environment in Sydney, recently visited India along with architect and PhD student, Malay Dave. Their aim was to explore opportunities for cooperation in science and technology in India, on behalf of the Australian Academy of Science, and the opportunities for partnering with India on the Smart Cities initiative.
“CRCLCL is where government, research and industries come together to try to solve problems and fix up cities,” Prasad says. “What we do here builds up Australian capacity and can also help other countries in the area of low carbon futures.”
When in India, Prof. Prasad had meetings with The Energy Research Institute (TERI) and senior officers of the Indian Department of Science and Technology in Delhi, and also visited India’s first smart city underway in Gujarat. This brand new city, called GIFT (for Gujarat International Finance Tec-city), is situated between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. It is estimated that GIFT will provide one million direct and indirect jobs and become a global financial and IT services hub, akin to Singapore and Dubai.
The CRCLCL team were awed by the grand vision of GIFT and by what has already been put in place. Before any construction was started on site, necessary infrastructure has been dug underground. An enormous tunnel that runs under the city will carry conduits for utility systems such as data cables, sewerage, waste and water. This lays the foundation for an intelligent city above ground, which aspires to be sustainable at the same time. Above ground works that have been completed to date include two office towers. The GIFT Project is being implemented in three phases of four years each and is currently in Phase I (2012- 2016).
Soon after PM Modi announced the Smart Cities initiative, NSW Premier Mike Baird was in Gujarat exploring opportunities for NSW to contribute to the grand plan. He signed an MOU with the Gujarat government to share knowledge in the areas of education, skills development, water security, urban technology and sustainable urban development. Prof. Prasad’s visit is the continuation of such a dialogue between the two countries. Later this year in December, an Indian delegation will visit Sydney to further continue this exchange of ideas.
Australia is not the only country that has expressed an interest in such collaboration. India has consulted with 14 countries, including Germany, France, China, Japan and Korea, in making the vision of Smart Cities a reality.
“Modi has a big vision for India and in its wake we will see impacts on many levels; investment opportunities, economic, social and environmental impacts,” Prasad says.
He likens it to John F. Kennedy’s vision of putting man on the moon.
“It was not just that small step. The journey towards this vision gave the US a big leap in industries such as defence, aeronautics and so on, such that it is still ahead of the game.”
Prof. Prasad believes Modi’s vision is probably greater and better than putting man on the moon as its impacts will be far greater for India. He is keen to inform Australian-based businesses about the enormous opportunities in India that this vision brings – opportunities to collaborate in the areas of ICT, building smarter buildings and renewable energy.
Futuristic cities are no longer fiction, but have well and truly taken off in India. This project is so big that lots of people can be part of it.
Says Prof. Prasad, “This vision will definitely prove to be a turning point for India.”