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Smart Cities Mission puts spotlight on India's smaller cities

Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport, Lucknow. Photograph:( Others )

Delhi, India Dec 14, 2018, 12.55 PM (IST) Vandana Vasudevan

We often hear of Tier I and Tier II cities of India, but not many are sure on what basis cities are classified. There are two kinds of city classifications in India. One has been made by the various pay commissions to determine the HRA that government employees should receive. The latest such was made by the 7th Pay commission in 2017 according to which there are three categories. a) Category X (population of 50 lakh and above) b) Category Y (population between 5 and 50 lakh) and category Z (population below 5 lakh). In common parlance, these are called Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities respectively. According to the last census of 2011, however, there is a different classification in terms of million-plus agglomerations, which are 53 in number, including mega cities (population greater than 10 million) like Mumbai and Delhi. Then there are statutory towns - any town having a municipal corporation and at the third level are census towns having a population over 5000 people with most people engaged in non-agricultural work.

Hence, the classification of cities in India is itself not standardized. However, one thing is clear: Most of the infrastructure budget is spent on metros, BRT corridors and expressways in these cities of Mumbai, Delhi NCR, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, Tier II cities, such as Surat, Bhopal, Kochi, Lucknow, and Vadodara, continue to have poor public transport facilities and reel under alarming air pollution levels. Several of these cities are billed to be among the top 10 fastest growing cities of the world! It is worth examining if mere fast growth is anything to be proud of when quality of life for its citizens remains one of the worst.

Inter-city bus services are typically nonexistent except perhaps for state capitals. The municipality in Jalandhar has tried to run a bus service off and on since 2006 with little success. It outsourced the job to private players who abruptly quit in 2014 protesting against auto drivers who were taking away their business. Since then residents rely on shared autos or private vehicles to commute inside the city. The result is chaos and traffic congestion, a scenario shared with all smaller Indian cities. Public transport accounts for a mere 1 per cent of all trips in Surat. Skeletal bus services run in most Tier II cities where inter-city buses start from the main bus terminal.

These are run by the state road transport undertaking and private operators. Passengers hop onto these inter- city buses and get off on the way if their destination lies on the route, which naturally means there is limited connectivity. A good bus service in a smaller Indian city is rare to find, with the South faring better on this aspect.

Public utilities are poor. In Indore, only 60 per cent of households are connected to water supply provided by the public utility. Even if there is access, limited and unreliable hours of water supply in Tier II cities lead to some households depending on groundwater extraction using borewells, which, in turn, keeps depleting water reserves. This is also true of electricity where uncertain supply and power outages lead people to meet most of their electricity demands through diesel powered gensets, which has an adverse ecological impact. A few cities, though, like Pune and Surat have been innovative on the energy front, developing energy efficient programmes through renewable sources.

The most damning indictment of India’s Tier II cities is that nine of them fall in the ‘list of the world’s top 15 most polluted cities’. Agra, Lucknow, Varanasi, Patna, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Srinagar, Faridabad and, of course, Kanpur, which tops the list. Uncontrolled construction due to rapid urbanisation and in some cases like Kanpur, pollution caused by specific industries has bestowed these cities with this status.

Several of the Tier II cities feature in the 100 cities selected for the Smart Cities mission whose objective is “to provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solution”. The Smart Cities mission is good for Tier II cities because it turns the spotlight towards India’s smaller cities which are often left out of the conversation on urban development and urban renewal.

They will thus benefit from large resources that the central government has allocated for infrastructure and urban service delivery under this project. The challenge now is to empower local governing bodies and encourage them to innovate, relook at old models of service delivery and enable them to raise funds required for improvements. Given that the baseline of development is rather low, this would be a huge challenge for the city but one that is well worth undertaking to pull itself out of years of neglect.

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Vandana Vasudevan

The writer is an author and columnist

Story highlights

The Smart Cities mission is good for Tier II cities because it turns the spotlight towards India’s smaller cities which are often left out of the conversation on urban development and urban renewal.