I was in Goa to participate in the FSAI Conclave, last month. During this highly successful conclave, I had the opportunity to listen to an enlightened expert, Dr. Sudhir Krishna, former Secretary, Union Ministry of Urban Development & Chairman of the Expert Committee for Smart Cities, set up by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

While listening to his keynote address, I realised that what he said was the right scenario today, in terms of smart cities in the country. While referring to different perceptions, notions and ideas of different people, he said that – “From an Economist’s view point, smart city should be a money-spinner; from an Architect’s view point, it should be welldesigned one; the Planner would want integrated land use; a Technologist would want it Wi-Fi driven; a Sociologist would want social equity; the Environmentalist would want it to be green and Regulators would want it safe”.

While thinking on this, I recalled the story of ‘elephant and blind men’ where no one had seen the elephant and yet, they were talking about its shape and size, based on
their focus and perception. So, here is the first ‘smart’ question – what is a smart city? While browsing on the net, I could read a definition of smart city from New York city, which says – “A smart city uses digital technologies or Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to enhance quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.”

If we go by this definition as closest to smart city perception, the million dollar or billion dollar question arises, who will choose, run and/ or control the ICT? Because, it will need far superior and holistic knowledge of the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of technology. Because, it is not about Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi but it is about Sci-Fi world! If the person who decides on selection of technologies is less smart or if the technology supplier is extra-smart, we will be in a mess, for sure!

It s in this context, I remember what Prof. Christopher Charles Benninger had said last year – “One should understand that it’s not possible to have ‘smart cities’ with dumb administrators. There is a lot of incompetence at the administrative planning level.” This is really a blunt and bold statement and I tend to agree with him. Because, if smart decisions are not taken, we might end-up in a situation where the massive data generated by ICT will go in the hands of let’s say, some hacker or some ‘bad’ man. What will happen then? Is it not possible that the data is used, misused or abused for benefit of few? Will this be a smart move?

Considering such a huge threat against the very idea, Prof. Benninger also said – “To be honest, to manage a city, government needs to create a post of City Manager. In the US, we have such posts. Here, IAS officers are burdened with that responsibility. The poor guy can’t handle highly corrupt corporations. The government retains employees who are incompetent or indolent. That is why the hire and fire culture of corporates should be introduced to ensure a rapid progress.”

Now that 33 cities are selected to be developed as smart cities, let’s keep our fingers crossed and see, what happens. What else can we do?

Publisher - INSITE