Emerging Themes: Role of ICT, From Governance to Planning and Beyond


The National Smart City Mission has been unique from other global smart city movements especially in defining the role of ICT in smart cities. The mission has attempted to converge both the ICT driven governance model (mostly in North American cities) with the ICT driven city planning and city operations model (mostly in East Asian cities such as Seoul, Singapore) thereby expanding the benefits of ICT.

The ICT driven governance or e-Governance model has been entrenched within India’s public  service delivery and public administration for some time now.

The National Telecom Policy (1994), the New Telecommunication policy (1999) and the Information and Technology Act (2000) provided for the enabling policy frameworks to address the role of telecom connectivity and information technology both as export services and integral components of India’s infrastructure growth story.  The National e-Governance plan of 2006 was the first comprehensive approach for making governments services available to the people through electronic media. The plan identified 27 mission mode projects to be implemented at center and state through deployment of common backbone infrastructure and making the services public accessible through Common Service Centers (CSCs).

The Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) of 2005 provided similar mandate and momentum for the urban local bodies to provide government services through use of ICT technologies. The e-Governance Reforms formed one of three main strategic reform areas that had to be undertaken at the ULB levels. The idea was to bring about changes in traditional methods of management, administration and operation of the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) with respect to service delivery by simplifying the process of interaction between the internal and external stakeholders.  This reform area identified six areas of intervention for implementing ICT platforms for delivery of government services. These were basic services such as birth and death registration, revenue earning services such as property tax and licenses, development services such as water supply and other utilities and building plan approvals, efficiency improvement services such as procurement and monitoring of projects and finally for monitoring the citizen grievance redressal process.  Of the 65 cities that reported the status of JnNURM reforms, 32% (21 cities) achieved all and 58% (38 cities) achieved at least 75% of the stated e-Governance reforms. Cities such as Nasik performed exceedingly well by implementing about nine modules dealing with property and water tax, accounting, birth and death, online citizen grievance, solid waste tracking etc. The JnNURM mission was partly yet importantly successful in establishing and developing the administrative capacities of the ULBs to adopt ICT driven governance.

Globally during the same period (mid 2000s onwards), cities such as Barcelona, Rio De Janeiro, Singapore, Amsterdam, Seoul, Tokyo started experimenting with wider adoption of ICT technologies to manage city operations such as traffic management, water and energy metering, public transport integration  and solid waste management. There was a definite and conscious acceleration towards being counted amongst various typologies of the connected cities – knowledge cities, broadband cities, digital cities, eco cities, ubiquitous cities etc. Whatever the final notional ambition, the ponderance of ICT technology in every day urban planning and urban operations demand management was evident. Entire new cities such as Masdar and Songdo were developed on this paradigm of ICT to plan urban infrastructure and manage the demand for these urban resources.

ICT in Smart Cities Mission
The National Smart City Mission too aimed to combine ULBs’ already existing capacities to leverage ICT technologies, till now limited to e-Governance and expand them to the planning and managing of Indian cities.  Transportation management, metering of water, energy and air quality and disaster management allowed for quick learning from global examples and adoption to Indian cities. Moreover, the cities were challenged to learn the ‘beyond’ implications of ICT penetration within the city infrastructure, ranging from innovation hubs and disaster response to knowledge based entrepreneurship to social media outreach.  The benefits accrued by integrating ICT within city development planning now expanded beyond transparency and accountability, ICTs were now being deployed for resource and resource utilization mapping (water and energy), for mitigating climate change risk (early warning systems), for altering citizen’s role in urban problem solving (through open data and mapping systems)  and facilitating shared economies (AirBnB, car and ride sharing such as Uber, public wifi sharing).

The 20 lighthouse cities have recognised the important components required for successful integration of ICT within the urban fabric; the need for ubiquitous broadband networks (11 cities), the deployment of sensor based systems to reside on existing and new infrastructure (20 apps), the development of city apps, city dashboards and open data to facilitate the understanding of everyday city operations (20 cities), the provision of spaces (innovation hubs, public spaces, command and control centers) for stakeholder collaboration and collective problem solving (15 cities) and finally the need for local government policy to leverage the use of ICT through capacity building and public outreach (6 cities).  As expected, government policy to leverage ICT has the smallest number of takers currently and a wider formulation of government policy will occur only on a living and breathing ecosystem of ICT in everyday city operations.

Mobility and climate change mitigation has emerged as the primary beneficiary program areas of ICT interventions in the first round of the Indian Smart City Mission. The 20 lighthouse cities have proposed to invest $900 million and $550 million in ICT based technologies for climate change and mobility respectively over the next 5 years.  The cities are more inclined to invest in smaller areas for ICT interventions for climate change adaption; 60% of the investments are identified for area based developments. On the contrary, mobility projects dictate city wide adoptions to achieve efficiencies of scale. Pan city proposals therefore have 72% of the investments targeted for ICT based solutions for mobility. The climate change adaption projects use ICT technologies predominantly for street lighting, extreme weather response and disaster management, solid waste management and renewable energy production using rooftop solar panels. As seen in the previous section, traffic management through intelligent signaling, common ticketing systems, smart bus shelters, web based apps are some of the wider applications proposed by the cities for ICT based mobility solutions.


In summary, the national smart cities mission has been able to help cities in visualising the usefulness of ICT adoption in areas beyond governance. As cities begin to integrate ICT within their urban infrastructure and urban planning systems, they will have to adopt a flexible (scalable in components) yet an integrated (resources needed for ICT deployment) approach to address emerging issues of digital inclusion, data privacy and collective decision making.