Millennium Post

Smart cities need governance, civic sense

Thirty-one per cent of India already lives in towns and cities. It is expected that 40 per cent would be city dwellers in another 15 years. The country, according to the UN, already houses three of the world’s top 10 megacities. Yet the Indian urban infrastructure is nothing to write home about. Almost all civic services, from water supply, transport, garbage and sewage treatment to security and social services, need massive overhauling.

When the Narendra Modi government is drawing up a plan for urban regeneration through the creation  of 100 ‘smart cities’, experts are unclear about prospects of such cities if basic civic functions remain as they are. A draft concept note released by the ministry of urban development (MoUD) on 11 September, however, gives an optimistic projection of the government’s intent. 

That is a welcome nuance and what follows is a backgrounder on the state of the physical and social infrastructure in Indian cities and lessons from Asian and European cities. 

Water supply
Access to water in some of the top Indian cities is uneven at best. In metros while some residents may get over 1,000 litres a day, some do not get water at all. It is not because water is in short supply, say experts, but because of mismanagement. 

City authorities often depend excessively on reservoirs, instead of harnessing local resources. Any fluctuation in the monsoon season leads to a crisis situation. Waste water in most Indian cities is not treated and hence not reused.

Consider the example of the un-smart way in which water is managed by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB). In contrast to the capital’s demand for over 1,000 million gallon water per day, the DJB supplies 820 mgpd. Eighty percent of the supply becomes sewage. This translates into 650 million gallon of sewage every day. In addition, 300-400 mgpd water is sourced from underground aquifers. This adds another 320 mgpd to the sewage. However, Delhi recycles hardly a quarter of the 1,000 million gallons of sewage. It is important to note here that the aggregate design capacity of the 18 sewage treatment plants is just 500 mgpd. Their actual functioning capacity, says Himanshu Thakkar, a water conservation activist, is half of the designed capacity. The quality of treated water, he adds, is also unsatisfactory. The sewage, mostly untreated, eventually flows into the Yamuna.

Singapore, with a population of 5.56 million, offers key lessons in resolving the water supply problem. The country has been largely dependent on Malaysia for water supply – 40 per cent of its water needs are met through import. The city-state established its first water treatment plant in 2003. The treated water makes up for 30 percent of the island’s water needs at present. 

'By 2060, we plan to triple the current NEWater (the brand name of the treated water) capacity so that NEWater can meet up to 55 per cent of our future water demand,' says the public utility board, the agency responsible for water supply in Singapore, on its website. The quality of treated water, moreover, surpasses the country’s drinking water standards. Rainfall water and desalination meet another 20 per cent and 10 per cent of water demand, respectively.

Waste management
Household garbage and its treatment have become an overwhelming issue for city corporations. According to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), by 2047 waste generation in India’s cities will increase five-fold to touch 260 million tonnes per year. 

The situation is equally murky with millions of gallons of sewage. According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), less than 30 per cent of the country’s officially recorded sewage is treated in proper facilities. Delhi and Mumbai account for 40 per cent of the country’s sewage-treatment capacity. Surat is a rare example that treats its solid waste and also produces electricity out of it. The other city corporations, however, lack such ingenuity. 

The cities where vendors are paid for setting up a waste-to-power generation plant, the funding – usually in the form of capital subsidy given upfront for procuring machines – has not been linked to plants’ performance. Often the vendor avails the subsidy and the plant is shut after the contract term gets over. One such plant, says Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxics Link, a Delhi-based NGO working in the area of solid waste management, was set up in Lucknow in 2003-2004. It was shut down in 2008-2009 due to similar reasons. The fate of two plants set up in Haryana was no different. In Bandhwari, a waste-to-energy plant was set up to treat the garbage coming from Gurgaon and Faridabad. It closed in two years. Another plant in Karnal was also closed down.

In Delhi, local residents are reluctant to have such a plant in their neighbourhood. In the absence of mandatory emission standards and poor compliance, the plant ends up becoming an environmental time-bomb. There is also an acute shortage of laboratories to check emission control and there is a huge capacity and skills deficit in regulatory bodies.

German cities offer a contrasting picture. Like many other European and East Asian countries, the city governments in Germany follow a zero-tolerance policy towards non-compliance in pollution, emission and hygiene matters. Consider Zurich, in Switzerland, or Munich. 

One can find, says Ravi Agarwal, such plants in the middle of the city with children playing outside the plant. Waste is transported in completely covered vehicles.

Songdo, a newly built hi-tech city near Seoul, is another example. 'Here the waste disposal system has proved to be highly effective and efficient. The entire household waste directly reaches the waste processing centres from individual kitchens through a vast underground network of tunnels, where waste is automatically sorted, deodorised and treated in order to promote healthier living,' says a report by the national institute of urban affairs (NIUA), an organisation under the MoUD. 

Plans are also underway that would lead to the production of renewable energy from this waste. Likewise, Barcelona also has an interesting waste management system that detects all the dustbins across the streets when they are full and ready to be collected or if they exceed a particular temperature.

Unlike Indian cities, urban centres in Europe and East Asia have created dense and high-quality road and rail networks. It is also known as transit oriented development, or ToD. These cities- for example, Singapore, Seoul and London- have a unified authority for roads, bus transport, railways and metro, para-transport facility and taxis. It all comes under one authority, says OP Agarwal, director general, institute of urban transport (IUT).

In the South Korean capital, it is managed by the Seoul metropolitan government. In Singapore, land transport authority manages everything related to roads and transport. The city state has also resorted to ‘demand management’- a strategy to prevent people from purchasing cars and encourage use of public transport. Buying a car in Singapore is not that easy. Those willing to own cars must have a certificate of entitlement (CoE), which is auctioned. Agarwal says the CoE often costs twice the price of the car.

Road safety
India reported close to five lakh road accidents and almost 1,50,000 road traffic deaths in 2012. This is about 11 per cent of the total road accident deaths worldwide. According to a recent British Medical Journal study, 37 per cent of all road deaths are of pedestrians, with a further 28 per cent for cyclists and motorcyclists, and that 55 per cent of all fatalities occur within five minutes of the road incident. Ruchita Bansal, programme officer, right to clean air campaign at CSE, gives examples of how Sweden and Japan have tackled road safety.

Sweden, says Bansal, has a ‘vision zero’ road safety policy that prioritises safety over speed. Safer roads and crossings along with strict policing have halved the number of pedestrian deaths over the past five years. 

Japan has done a phenomenal job in reducing road accidents. It has taken steps like the narrowing of streets, priority to pedestrian and bicyclists, partial street closure, speed breakers and roundabouts. Between 1990 and 2011, accident deaths per one lakh people in Japan fell by 64 per cent and the fatality risk per distance fell by 67 per cent, she says.

In the European Union, fines are prescribed by the law. 'In Germany, a computerised point system for traffic violations is in place. One can incur up to three points if the offence endangers traffic safety. Once there are eight demerit points, the licence is revoked. To get it back, the motorist must pass a physical and mental status examination,' says Bansal.

Social infrastructure
The public health and education systems in Indian cities are deplorable. Government schools in Delhi, for instance, don’t have clean drinking water and separate toilet facility for girls. 

Teachers’ attendance and quality of teaching continue to be poor. The cities in East Asian countries like China or South Korea (which were at par with India in terms of development indicators in the 1960s) or in the European Union (not every EU country though), the government role in health and education has laid the foundation for their economic transformation. These governments have ensured quality health and education services at affordable prices.

European countries (excluding the UK) have provided their citizens with a robust health insurance schemes, ensured minimum wages, enforced strict labour laws, made municipal corporations economically viable and provided specific policy tools like innovation funds to promote city entrepreneurs. In France workers are not allowed to work beyond 35 hours. While unemployment allowance is given in almost all EU countries, Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark) have gone one step ahead- a citizen can voluntary chose to not work and apply for allowance.

By arrangement with Governance Now
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