Smart Cities Challenge

The National Smart Cities Mission was launched by the Government of India in June 2015 with the aim of improving the quality of lives of citizens by transforming the areas of urban infrastructure planning and management through adoption of technology. The mission objective is unambiguous in its formulation as stated-

To drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local development and harnessing technology as a means to create smart outcomes for citizens.

The National Smart Cities Mission’s aim to develop 100 smart cities in India over a 5 year period 2015-2019 is underlined by multiple game changing interventions in the usual planning and implementation practices in India cities. These are-

Strategic Planning: A strategic approach to planning rather than the usual physical land use approach is advocated under this mission. It insists on cities to identify their strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats (SWOT); prepare suitable vision statements, make proposals and, implementation and financial plans for the same.

Convergence: The mission encourages cities to leverage their smart city proposals as natural convergence points for various other national initiatives, thus enabling an integrated approach to urban planning and a broader engagement with issues ranging from economic development (Make in India), adoption of digital technologies (Digital India) and housing(Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana) to urban infrastructure (AMRUT), heritage conservation (HRIDAY) and urban sanitation (Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan). Collaborative Competition: The mission is a departure from various national missions as it establishes a competitive process for the cities to engage in. It sets a broader framework for the cities to strategically develop their smart city proposals and enables them to innovate depending on their institutional, administrative and financial capacities. This competitive method does not penalise the weaker cities, in fact, it allows for cities with varying capacities to engage in a larger pool of collaborative learning by ensuring a handholding process by the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India for about a year before applying to the competition.

Demand Driven: The Smart Cities Mission puts a significant emphasis on strakeholder consultation, particularly involving citizens, businesses, academia, civil sector, media as important sources for needs assessment, project prioritisation and risk mitigation within the broader strategic planning process. This conscious top down effort to drive bottom up engagement was evident from the fact that the competition assigned 16% weightage to the citizen engagement process. The smart city proposal (SCP) mandates citizen engagement in three rounds – visioning the smart city, identifying area based development and pan-city solutions and during implementation of the area based development proposal and pan city solution. It provides the opportunity to use non-traditional information and communication technology (ICT) and social media technologies to reach a wider audience. It also allowed for wider concerns such as climate change, focus (or lack of) on non motorised transport, civic problem solving as priority areas that otherwise have not been incorporated in a top down approach to urban planning.

Special Purpose Vehicle: The special purpose vehicle (SPV) mechanism required by the mission is meant to facilitate the planning, implementation and resource management while quickening the process of learning, innovation and knowledge diffusion within the city agencies or ULBs (urban local bodies). The SPV is an integral part of the reform process for the ULBs to undertake tasks such as getting a credit rating, coordinating with other parastatal service providers such as state electricity boards, managing convergence of smart city projects with other missions and importantly monitoring and evaluating the city’s progress as a smart city. The SPV will be a Limited company incorporated under the Companies Act, 2013 and therefore expected to follow accounting and managerial practices.

Learning and Replicability: The mission by combining an area based component along with pan-city solutions facilitates generative learning that can be quickly scaled up for city wide replication. Three different options for area based development – retrofitting (500+) acres, redevelopment (50+ acres) and greenfield (250+ acres) allowed the cities sufficient options to tailor their area based approaches depending upon their SWOT, land availability, citizen preferences and financial capacity.


Given this paradigm shift and the federal nature of urban management in India (urban planning and city management are a state subject), the selection of the cities was done in two stages.

Stage I of Smart Cities Mission was completed in August 2015 when 98 cities were identified and nominated by the states to compete for the mission funding. The states identified these cities based on service delivery levels, institutional capacities, the ability to self finance and the track record in undertaking JnNURM reforms. Once identified, these cities were consulted in collaborative workshops through the year to address their queries about requirements for the next stage and to expose them to global best practices of area based development approaches, citizen engagement, place making and financial planning. Stage II had 97 cities submitting their smart city proposals for evaluation by a team of national and international experts. In this evaluation the city assessment and visioning exercise was given a 30% score, area based development took 55% and the remaining 15% was attributed to pan city solutions. The SCPs were evaluated also for the planning of financial resources and risk mitigation and an early list of 20 winners were declared in January 2016. Another 23 ‘fast-track’ cities were given an additional opportunity to improve their proposals and re-compete for the first year’s allocation. These 23 cities are currently revising their proposals and will submit them back to the competition by April 2016. The remaining cities will be improving their proposals for Year 2 of the competition.

The 20 lighthouse cities selected as the first winners of the mission are (1) Bhubaneswar, (2) Pune, (3) Jaipur, (4) Surat, (5) Kochi, (6) Ahmedabad, (7) Jabalpur, (8) Vishakapattanam, (9) Solapur, (10) Devanagere, (11) Indore, (12) New Delhi Municipal Council, (13) Coimbatore, (14) Kakinada, (15) Belagavi, (16) Udaipur, (17) Guwahati, (18) Chennai, (19) Ludhiana and (20) Bhopal. These cities are geographically spread across 12 states and have populations between 0.2 million and 5.5 million. The cities have proposed retrofitting and redevelopment based area development models and none have proposed greenfield development exclusively. The 20 cities have collectively proposed investments totalling Rs 48000 crores for developing smart areas over a period 2015-2019. Indore has the largest proposed plan of about Rs 5100 crores and Ludhiana has the lowest proposed investment of about Rs 1049 crores. The cities are now expected to begin the implementation of the plans after instituting the SPVs in their respective cities.