Smart cities Transmotion: 100 smart cities by 2020 to 2023

Mahboob Hussain's picture
Mahboob Hussain Tue, 06/26/2018 - 04:09 smart cities, Modi Government

Former president, Pranab Mukherjee said in his autobiography that though he wanted to be the union finance minister in 2004 in the UPA-I government, he did not take it, as he had differences in economic philosophy with Manmohan Singh. Yet, five years later, in the UPA-II government, he took the finance ministry. Then he made a mess of it.

As Shekhar Gupta wrote in his National Interest column, “his stint in finance was a disaster, growth stalled, and hasn’t really recovered since. All the initiatives he took or pursued (Financial Stability and Development Council, Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, Direct Taxes Code, Government Debt Management Office) remained incomplete. His longest-lasting, and, unfortunately negative legacy is retrospective tax amendment, which he persisted with despite persuasion from Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Chidambaram, and Kapil Sibal.”

What happens to a career politician, who is given an important role, has tremendous work experience, yet does not deliver results and does not listen to the party president and colleagues on a very key issue? Well, as we see in the case of Pranab da, he was made the President of India in 2012.

In the corporate world, there is a term called ‘transmoted’, which is an amalgamation of ‘transferred’ and ‘demoted’. Richard Ritti explains “there are always some problem-people, managers who are otherwise productive but won’t go along with upper-management’s wishes. Or maybe they have allied themselves politically with a faction that has lost out; maybe time and technology have passed them by, and they are obsolete.”

There is a very interesting analogy with what con artists do. The victim in a con operation is called Mark. First, the fraud is executed; then the con operators give a consolation to the victim, which is called “Cooling the Mark.” Erving Goffman explains the whole operation as follows:

“The typical play has typical phases. The potential sucker is first spotted and one member of the working team (called the outside man, steerer, or roper) arranges to make social contact with him. The confidence of the mark is won, and he is given an opportunity to invest his money in a gambling venture, which he understands to have been fixed in his favor. The venture, of course, is fixed, but not in his favor. The mark is permitted to win some money and then persuaded to invest more. There is an "accident" or "mistake," and the mark loses his total investment. The operators then depart in a ceremony that is called the blow off or sting. They leave the mark but take his money. The mark is expected to go on his way, a little wiser and a lot poorer.

Sometimes, however, a mark is not quite prepared to accept his loss as a gain in experience and to say and do nothing about his venture. He may feel moved to complain to the police or to chase after the operators. In the terminology of the trade, the mark may squawk, beef, or come through. From the operators' point of view, this kind of behavior is bad for business. It gives the members of the mob a bad reputation with such police as have not yet been fixed and with marks who have not yet been taken. In order to avoid this adverse publicity, an additional phase is sometimes added at the end of the play. It is called cooling the mark out. After the blow off has occurred, one of the operators stays with the mark and makes an effort to keep the anger of the mark within manageable and sensible proportions. The operator stays behind his teammates in the capacity of what might be called a cooler and exercises upon the mark, the art of consolation. An attempt is made to define the situation for the mark in a way that makes it easy for him to accept the inevitable and quietly go home. The mark is given instruction in the philosophy of taking a loss.”

In the corporate world, Mark is not the victim of a fraud, rather he is a person who needs to be transferred and demoted, i.e., demoted. Here too, the mark has to be given “face-saving reasons for having been deprived of status or position”. Ritti states a few common procedures for cooling out the corporate mark:
● “Offering a position of similar rank, but in a function of less importance -- from finance to public relations, perhaps.
● Offering a position of unique merit and prestige, but no power. The Vice President for Engineering becoming a ‘Distinguished Company Scientist.’
● Being ‘kicked upstairs, possibly to a ‘newly created’ function, but with no power. Sounds familiar?
● Allowing the mark to keep the same role but carrying out in a ‘safer’ (that is, less powerful) context. For example, moving a sales manager from a crucial territory to a routine, less important one, where he or she functions essentially as an order taker.

Often, the transmoted mark is offered a bribe to accept the change without ‘squawking.’ This bribe is commonly in the form of allowing the mark to pretend that it was he or she who had taken the initiative in the matter.”

Let us now fast forward to the NDA government. The Smart Cities Mission was launched in June 2015 with the aim of converting 100 cities into smart cities. Their stated objective, as given on its portal, is “to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions.”

Then comes a problematic statement. The mission states the core infrastructure elements that a smart city should have; these range from adequate water supply, adequate electricity supply to affordable housing to digitization, health and education. This sounds plain silly. I mean, in the twenty-first century, do you have to make a “Smart City” in order to give water, electricity, health and education to its citizens? These are basic amenities for any dwelling of any size -- village, town or city and in this age and world, and governments should provide all the above to all urban and rural regions.

But that is not the main issue. The problem is the definition itself, which in this case is the lack of it. The mission states: “The first question is what is meant by a ‘smart city’. The answer is, there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city. It means different things to different people. The conceptualization of Smart City, therefore, varies from city to city and country to country, depending on the level of development, willingness to change and reform, resources and aspirations of the city’s residents. A smart city would have a different connotation in India than, say, Europe. Even in India, there is no one way of defining a smart city. “

This is a smart statement, well written and good to read, but in matters of governance and policy, we don’t need clever descriptions and flowery language. We need things that work. Instead of saying there are many ways to define a city and not using any one, the mission should have picked or crafted one definition that is the most acceptable and relevant to the Indian context and stuck to it with consistence.

Another option would have been to define different ‘Levels’ for a Smart City. There are different elements of a Smart City. We could say a city implementing a set of those elements has achieved a particular level of smartness. Thus, we would say, City A is a Level 1 Smart City and City B is a Level 2 Smart City and so on. This is akin to the CMMi model for quality systems in the software world.

The mission’s starting point is an ambiguous definition based on its axiom that there is no one way of defining a smart city. So, what’s the impact of starting a project whose core concept is not defined? As Persis Taraporevala dissects, “This ambiguity provides the mission with an abstract beauty that could cause it from accountability, in ways that a precise definition would have ill-afforded.”

It is disappointing that the NDA government positioned the mission in such a way that it could continuously change the goal post. Taraporewala traces the journey: “It first appeared in the BJP’s manifesto in March 2014 with the intent of ‘...building 100 new cities.’ During the July 2014 budget speech, this objective morphed into building ‘satellite cities’ and ‘modernizing the existing mid-sized cities.’ Finally, by 2015, when the draft smart cities note was circulated, the focus shifted to ‘compact areas’ within existing cities to ‘create a replicable model,’ which would inspire similar urban regeneration across the nation. Thus, the concept transitioned drastically from creating cities from scratch to improving small areas in existing cities.”

She criticizes the target solutions: “A majority of the products under the mission would be considered ‘unsmart’ as global definitions of smart city assume a high dependence on technology, IT and big data to solve urban problems effectively. The mission rejects this notion as the budget for IT in the top 60 cities is below 22%.”

Indeed, automation systems based on real-time data and IoT are key elements that incorporate real smartness to a city’s governance. Here are some examples extracted from The Smart City Playbook published by Machina Research
“Auckland: It has carried out an interesting multi-stakeholder market trial of broadband-connected bus shelters.
Bogota: Traffic management – To monitor congestion and keep traffic flowing, Bogota’s Mobility Department launched an IoT traffic management platform in December 2015 that integrates data from street cameras, traffic lights and bike routes.
New York: Incident detection – The city operates real-time gunshot detection in high-crime areas. The acoustic gunshot-monitoring equipment can pinpoint gunshots within seconds. An operator reviews the audio to confirm the noise before alerting NYPD officers on their smartphones or tablets.
San Francisco: Smart meters – In 2015, the California Association of Water Agencies expressed concern that there was an increasing risk of water theft with water tanks at schools, fire hydrants, lakes and rivers on public land being targeted. In response, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) installed automated Smart Meters for residents and in public buildings that alert the agency to abnormal water use in the district.”

The progress of implementation has been tardy and has been widely reported. As of July 2017, “only 6.3% of all projects sanctioned under the Smart Cities Mission were under implementation. Of the 2,895 projects worth Rs. 1.3 lakh crore, only 181 projects–valued at Rs. 6,413 crore–were under active implementation.” [7] “A ministry presentation to the parliamentary standing committee on April 26 disclosed that work has been finished only in projects worth Rs. 4,960 crore till now.” [8] The Standing Committee on Urban Development, in its fifteenth report on Demands for Grants, wrote that the Secretary informed that “Total approved Mission Allocation is Rs. 48,000 crore and so far, we have got Rs. 6,700 crore, although we are now in the third year.” [9]

The Smart Cities Mission could have been a star performing project of the NDA government. But what we have seen is a lack of clarity, changing objectives, slow pace of implementation and under-allocation and under-utilization of funds. The government doesn’t seem to have taken into consideration the time required for creating the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV)s and lack of coordination among various agencies, both public and private. So, the overall effect is that the government is unable to implement Smart Cities in the time window originally envisaged. The deadline was set to 2020 to make 100 smart cities, now it has been extended to 2023.

In the current NDA ministry, Venkaiah Naidu was the Urban Development Minister; it’s this ministry under whose purview comes the Smart Cities program. In 2017, Naidu was made the Vice President of India. That position could very well be called a transmotion in the illustrious path of Pranab Mukherjee.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of The People Post and The People Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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