New Delhi – “Smart City Expo” : towards sustainable Indian cities

The second edition of the Smart Cities India Expo was held in New Dehli, India from the 11th to the 13th of May. This event brought together 325 businesses from 40 countries to debate intelligent solutions to be into to develop sustainable cities in India.  Haruki Sawaruma, analyst and researcher for the Observatory of Emerging Economies of The Bridge Tank,  was present at the conference and noticed the maturity of the exchanges and innovation on the subject. 

In June 2015, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi launched the mission “Smart Cities” to assure the urban development of India, a country that today is very rural, but whose cities will have to accommodate more than a third of the population in 2050.

In this context, the 2016 edition of the Smart Cities India Expo offered an opportunity  for industry and institutional stakeholders to discuss the solutions to be included in the Indian roadmap to the sustainable city. The dynamic exchanges, the continuous support of the government as well as the well-attended exposition are significant signs that India has entered a new decisive critical phase for the future economic growth of its’ cities and the development of their business potential. 

This potential is already attracting attention. The presence of Taiwanese, Dutch, or Swedish pavilions has emphasised the desire of foreign stakeholders to be a part of this Indian movement towards a smart and sustainable urbanism.

Smart cities, Indian style 

However, while the momentum towards the “smart city” in developed is primarily characterised by the use of new technologies in the fully built cities that have plenty of infrastructure, in India the context and the concept differ. 

In Europe, for example, “smart” means “the sustainable development of cities that use ICT or the Internet of Things (IoT) to ensure a better quality of life for citizens by more efficiently managing basic infrastructure”. 

In India, the government has shared its’ definition of the concept of smart cities in a document. Thus, one discovers that a smart city means a city that can provide:

  • An adequate supply of water, 
  • A stable supply of electricity, 
  • Efficient urban mobility and a system of public transport, 
  • Affordable housing, 
  • A robust IT connection and digital tools, 
  • A sustainable environment, and
  • The security and well being of its’ citizens, women, children, and the elderly in particular

This is without including the availability of basic infrastructure. 

From dreams to reality 

When it comes to the development of Indian cities, their needs are therefore clearly more substantial and interdisciplinary. This is an essential context to capitalise on for the implementation of good solutions. One could, by the way, sum up the 2016 edition with the expression “from dreams to reality”.

The participating companies made their wildest dreams about India’s future known of course. Nevertheless, Mr. Neeraj Gupta in charge of investments for the International Finance Corporation (IFC) tempered these dreams in the name of financial realism, by mentioning “the role of the private sector in smart cities and the need for the EU as well as for the IFC to develop sustainable and competitive business models”. He also criticised “the money that goes towards dreams” but isn’t followed with results, because the sponsors failed to put the project’s sustainability in perspective. “Cities should be managed like businesses and should build win-win business models between themselves and business owners”, Mr. Neeraj Gupta continued, in order for businesses to be able to ensure the long term profitability of their projects. 

One of the responses to the question of how to bring suitable expertise to Indian cities, was to develop a stable and modest road map that links dreams and reality and is based on sustainable solutions, both from an economic as well as a commercial point of view. 

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