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Will Smarter Citizens deliver Smart Cities?

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By Manoj Chugh, President – Group Public Affairs; and Member, Group Executive Board, Mahindra & Mahindra

There has been quite a lot euphoria around Smart Cities and what they mean to the lives of citizens. In the recent budget speech of the Honourable Finance Minister, five more have been announced. Any new initiative of mass appeal, raises huge expectations. The initial announcement of a 100 smart cities was no different. Dream lit eyes imagined utopia, green walkways lining the way to work, the miraculous disappearance of treacherous traffic as if it was magically transposed to underground tunnels, the dream of waking up in the morning to the chirping of myriad birds, everything within walking distance- home, school, office, shopping, movies, parks and entertainment. Walls and parks decorated with art, squares hosting cultural events and feet tapping music fests keeping the heart and buzz alive.

Topping all this with smart homes, smart metering and high tech enabled everything. What excitement. Sigh…this phase of momentary romanticism soon gave way to disillusionment, followed sadly by a sense of resignation, ending with the penultimate wise proclamation that “nothing will ever change.”

Well for the naysayers, there is some news. Cities are finally waking up to the fact that they need to get smarter and that that citizens are getting impatient and pushing harder, demanding an improved quality of life.Ease of Living is the new mantra and Smart Cities are at the heart of it. As Smart City projects get implemented, several make a modest beginning by focusing on less complex “beautilities,” by combining beauty and utility.

They look for pragmatic use cases which have an immediate and meaningful impact. A good use case to kickstart the journey is Solid Waste Management. Linking fleets of vehicles to dispose off waste efficiently, once the bins fill up, is a good place to start. In Indore, vegetable waste from the mandi is converted to Bio Gas and Compost. The Bio Gas “feeds” buses that bring passengers to the mandi, a very unique ecosystem, which reduces the cost of transport ( Bio gas will cost half of regular fuel), whilst ensuring a clutter free, clean mandi.

A good example of the circular economy, as some pundits will call it! Top this up with our Nation’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goals and we have a winning recipe. Indore’s example will get replicated in many developing Countries around the World. Now, imagine if cities pick up municipal waste from bins that are “sensorised” and “connected” to garbage trucks, which in-turn deliver the waste to recycling units that generate valuable Biogas and Compost, using biological processes, we have made a great beginning. An end to end sustainable ecosystem gets created.The garbage fleet could run on the same very Biogas, generated by processing the garbage they collect! Technologists will jump with joy- a real pragmatic implementation of IoT.

What if we also introduce Blockchain, we would then perhaps be able to link the piped Biogas which lights the gas stove in the kitchen, to the very garbage that was collected from the counter underneath. The “clean fuel” journey of a few feet being enabled by a round trip across the city.We will pat ourselves on the back and feel less guilty about generating mounds of rubbish and polluting the environment. A way of “giving back” perhaps?The good news is that the journey has begun.

Moving on, traffic woes have become the bane of most cities. Unless one is smart enough to sneak in at the wee hours of the morning and sneak out when the World has gone to sleep, it is Hobson’s Choice but to go through the harrowing and tortuous experience of an endless wait in smoke filled streets.Intelligent Traffic Management provides a ready answer, helping citizens make their way through the city, quicker, better and faster, through better co-ordination of intersections. Many lives will be saved as green corridors get enabled for Emergency Vehicles. In addition to traffic, parking is a nightmare. Going around in circles, looking for a spot has become a national hobby.

Hopefully finding vacant spots, through a mobile app, will alleviate some of the issues here. Traffic and Pollution are often inter-linked. Whilst BSVI compliant, low emission vehicles will help solve the problem in the distant future, but the fumes from tens of millions of old vehicles still needs to dealt with. Pollution Monitoring in real time, which is integrated to a command and control centre, is a good place to start. This will help administrators make real time decisions on steps that need to be taken to reduce pollution levels to acceptable thresh holds.

Use cases like Water Management that help save this precious resource through optimized storage and distribution and monitoring of leaks,will enable longer hours of availability of this elixir of life. The Government is already providing access to a plethora of services through Online Portals. Benefits of this are already accruing.

The areas where Smart City applications can impact the quality of life of citizens is astounding. The question we often ask is, if we have access to the technology( which we do have indeed), have the capability to implement and have the funding to implement, why have we not moved faster?

Where things have got accelerated, it has only been because of a high level of partnering between the local Government and the Systems Integrator. Rather than finger pointing, resolving issues with a positive mindset, recognizing that there will be glitches and that they have to be maturely handled and not “battled over,”form the bedrock of success. A positive attitude,focused on the larger cause of Citizens has helped cities succeed.

Kanpur is a shining example of how a Smart City project implementation can be done in double quick time. What remains to be seen is the manner in which citizens accept the new ways and leverage the prowess of technology to improve quality of living. Whilst many sceptics exist, I remain optimistic that once citizens are shown the way, they will kick their age old habits and embrace the new, for the sake of a better tomorrow. After all, railway computerization, did teach all of us how to stand quietly and respectfully in queues!

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author. They may or may not reflect the opinions or views of the author’s organisation)

Other articles by Manoj Chugh

New Year Wish: CIOs, May Your Tribe Increase!

The Second Renaissance – Seize The Moment


If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at [email protected]

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