Smart City: ICT Beyond e-Governance

Information and communication technology (ICT) is a broad term that covers everything that enables users to store, retrieve, manipulate, transmit or receive information electronically in a digital form, e.g. personal computers, email, smart phones. ICT is vital for the economic growth and development of our cities. Telecom sector in India started evolving with the liberalisation of the national economy in the 90s. The last two decades witnessed major transformation, with India emerging as a source of ICT services as well as a consumer. The number of internet users in India increased 9 fold between 2003-2013 and it is estimated that India’s internet user base is currently overtaking the internet user base in the US. (Verma, 2015) All these changes have led to a change in approach towards the use of Information and communication technology in the development sector in India.

Electronic governance or e-governance is the application of information and communication technology (ICT) for delivering government services, exchange of information communication transactions, integration of various stand-alone systems and services between government-to-customer (G2C), governmentto- business (G2B), government-to-government (G2G) as well as back office processes and interactions within the entire government framework (Intekhab Khan, 2015). The primary role of e-governance is to simplify the process of governance, by making it more transparent and accountable using information and communication technology.

The National Smart City Mission in India is a program that works on an incremental approach with an intense top
down effort to build bottom-up stakeholder participation. It incorporates both ICT for e-Governance (from North America) and ICT for infrastructure and resource management (from Europe, Singapore etc). The mission builds a tripartite coalition between center, state and urban local body. It is competitive, convergent and driven by best practices from other previous and current missions.

Information and Communication Technology and e-Governance in India

Development of urban infrastructure in India was not a focus of the national policies for a long time. Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) of 2005 was the first programme of its kind, which addressed the issues related to building urban infrastructure. The main thrust of this programme was to ensure improvement in urban governance and financial strength of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). JnNURM used information and communication technology as a tool for implementation of e-governance reform at the local municipal levels. Previous acts and policies before built the framework needed for this step. The New Telecommunication Policy of 1999 addressed the convergence of IT, media, telecom and consumer an identified role of IT & Telecom in provision of good infrastructure, transparency and security of state. The Information and Technology Act of 2000 gave legal validity of electronic contracts, legal recognition of digital signatures, security procedures for electronic records and defined penalties against cyber crime. Under JnNURM, e-Governance was a of the mandatory reform for ULBs and its broad aim was to:

  • improve efficiency and effectiveness in interaction between local government and its citizens and other stakeholders,
  • improve quality of internal local government operations and management information systems to support and stimulate good governance
  • bring about transparency and accountability in urban local body operations
  • help improve reach of the delivery of services to citizens

Modules under the e-governance reforms are:

  1. e-Procurement
  2. Municipal accounting system
  3. Property tax and user charge collection
  4. Registration of birth and death
  5. Public grievance redressal
  6. Off Site Real Time Monitoring System
  7. Citizen Service Centers
  8. Building permit allocation
  9. Double entry accrual accounting system
  10. Council management system
  11. Health programme management and
  12. Personnel information system

Evolving Role of ICT

Over the last decade, the use of ICT has remained more or less the same – focused on e-governance reform through different programmes and initiatives. But now, this focus is shifting and ICT is being looked at as an enabler and a tool for problem solving. Its purpose is widening to include engagement of social entrepreneurs, social movements, enabling crowd sourcing of data, problem solving and a sharing economy. Perhaps the greatest asset of information and communication technology as a tool for development of our cities, is its ability to have large scale impact with small incremental interventions. JnNURM was followed by the National e-Governance Plan. Approved by the Government of India in 2006, it was the first attempt at a national plan and structure for e-governance in India. It was built on a three tier structure –

  • Common Service Centres (CSCs)
  • Front-end delivery points for a range of citizen services
  • Common and support infrastructure
  • Allows information to be shared electronically between different agencies of the government and with citizens.
  • Includes: the State Wide Area Networks (SWANs), which form the converged backbone network for data, voice and video throughout a state / UT and
  • the State Data Centers (SDCs) which can provide common secure IT infrastructure to host state-level e-government applications and data
  • 27 Mission Mode Projects (MMP)
  • Transforms high priority citizen services from their current manual delivery into e-delivery
  • Each MMP is owned and spearheaded by the relevant ministry/agency of the national government or by a state government
  • It is called ‘mission mode’ because it has a definite timetable, service levels, project implementation team, and process re-engineering plans

Rapid urbanization of our nation is putting immense pressure on our cities and its systems. Resource management and conservation will be the key to a sustainable future. Efficiency in our processes and harnessing the maximum potential of the tools at our disposal will define our growth and development. Information and communication technology is one such tool, and we must realise its true potential in the development of our urban infrastructure.

Role of Information and Communication Technology in Urban Development

Today, National Smart Cities Mission and Digital India programme are driving the agenda of ICT in urban development. They encourage cities to leverage the potential of ICT in improving quality of life through provision of core infrastructure to the citizens. The National Smart Cities Mission calls for a collaborative, interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach that encourages the cities to look at ICT beyond its traditional role of e-governance and citizen engagement. Elements of the national smart cities mission also act as the points of convergence with other national initiatives, providing the platform for solutions that cut across the traditional silos of the planning system. The purpose of Digital India Programme is to ensure that Government services are made available to citizens electronically by improving online infrastructure and by increasing Internet connectivity. It has three core components, the creation of digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally, digital literacy.
National Smart Cities Mission has 24 program areas. Proposals for different cities include area based or pan-city initiatives that address at 2-3 of these. The key focus here is that the implementation across the board is based on
ICT as a tool. The solutions can be as simple as sensors that turn the streets lights on or off based on daylight,
to complex automated tsunami warning systems. In addition to this, e-Governance and IT connectivity have dedicated program areas. Many of these solutions are already being used successfully in different parts of the world. Some of them are:

  • GPS based bus tracking system that intimates the user of ETA through a digital display, a mobile app or a computer screen – New Brunswick, New Jersey
  • Crowd sourced maps in disaster situations to aid in rescue operations. Nepal Earthquake, 2015
  • Open Data platform that shares socio-economic and physical datasets along with their unique spatial IDs. New York City, New York
  • Daylight and/or occupancy based sensor based lighting in public buildings to reduce wastage of energy
  • Air quality sensors

ICT has led to transformation of planning practices in the past, particularly in the field of spatial data analysis. The variety of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) platforms available today have critically reduced the time taken for scale spatial and statistical analysis. This has also led to the development of user friendly applications such as Google
maps which do network analysis and computation for easy path finding and navigation. Advances in information and communication technology have led to the propagation of this tool to widely accessible platforms over time, eventually making it an everyday tool, readily available to anybody with a smart phone, tablet or a computer. However, it is important to note that poverty and lack of education can keep some of the ICT based facilities and services from the citizens. This gap in the ability of the different segments of the society to access modern information and communication technology is commonly referred to as the Digital Divide. The Digital India programme addresses this issue through two of its pillars – universal access through mobile connectivity and public internet access programme.

Smart City Mission is about smarter ways of imagining and developing cities, using ICT is an enabler for strategic interventions. Through convergence with other missions, risk management and mitigation (citizens, finance and land), its role is to enable propagation of services and facilities across social, economic and physical barriers.

With all its given potential, use of ICT faces some significant challenges –

  • Digital Divide
  • Maintenance and upkeep of a complex system for all the services
  • Interoperability & integration of data
  • Privacy of the citizens
  • Security of the system & authenticity of information
  • Crossing the language barrier

However, upon addressing these issues, ICT can bring about transformation by

  • Empowering citizens by bridging the knowledge gap
  • Enabling data driven and evidence based planning
  • By bringing about large scale impact with incremental small scale, and
  • System reform, through transparency, efficiency and accountability

Information and communication technology is a powerful tool, which can empower people through propagation of information and citizen engagement. It build channels of communication and bring efficiency to systems. Indian cities have an opportunity to explore its application through the competitive process of the National Smart Cities mission. Successful implementation of ICT in urban development in India will cut across the traditional silos of the infrastructure, through sharing of data and promote a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and collaborative approach.