Faring Well: Emerging trends and upcoming opportunities under the SCM

Emerging trends and upcoming opportunities under the SCM

Under the Smart Cities Mission (SCM), the selected 100 cities have undertaken  short-term, medium-term and long-term projects. A large number of cities have taken up quick wins based around command and control centres (CCCs), of which 47 cities have already come up with their own CCCs, though still at a tendering or designing stage for the remaining. In the current Covid-19 scenario, these CCCs developed under the SCM are being used to monitor the lockdown and provide delivery of services such as pharmaceuticals and drugs at the doorstep. Meanwhile, the successful large-scale implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission has given a boost to the service delivery mechanism in cities. Therefore, bin management, door-to-door collection system, and tracking of vehicles have become a crucial part of the smart cities’ projects. The implementation of these projects has highlighted the issue of poor core infrastructure. As a result, most of the cities have opted for either fibre network or hybrid management for service delivery. While some cities such as Vadodara and Bhopal have taken up smart telecommunication infrastructure-driven projects, others have taken up purely fibre-led projects. Further, many cities have under taken up soft infrastructure projects such as public bike sharing, parks, retrofit sidewalks and walkways, and open gyms under the mission. These projects are quickly delivered, creating a connection with the citizens and hence, add value to the larger infrastructure. However, large infrastructure projects have not taken off in most cities, other than the top 20.

On the communication infrastructure front, most of the smart cities have had their use cases on global system for mobile communications technology, while others are putting up their own optical fibre. However, barring use cases such as video surveillance, a lot of devices falling under smart metering or street lighting solutions do not need that much bandwidth. Therefore, a dedicated network for end-to-end connectivity such as low power wide area network (LPWAN) and narrowband-internet of things have come in very handy for cities. Tata Communications has successfully deployed country wide LPWAN, which is currently live in 50 cities. Besides, in the past two and a half years, it has undertaken full-fledged city implementation of smart street light projects with large engineering, procurement and construction organisations. The largest project taken up is in Noida, involving the installation of 83,000 lights, put together as individual light monitoring as well as group-level monitoring. These street lights have rich features such as dimming, metering and automatic switch on/off. Over a period of time, depending on the voltage of light, smart lights can save up to 25 per cent of the cost.

SCM in Faridabad

Key projects undertaken in Faridabad under the SCM are revival of Badkal lake, development of smart roads and setting up of integrated ICCC. So far, about 50 per cent of the project implementation has taken place in Faridabad. It is in the process of finalising supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) for water and sewerage projects under Phase I. Faridabad Smart City Limited (FSCL) might consider setting up smart meters under the second phase later on. Further, it is installing 700 smart street lights on smart roads, with features such as individual dimming system, yellow-to-white light transition, etc. However, it is being undertaken as a part of the smart road projects. In the rest of the city, all lights have been switched to LED lights. FSCL is now in the process of making clusters so that these lights can be operated in clusters of 15-20 lights each. This will enable the operator to cut down the electricity cost by switching on and off the lights in clusters. Currently, the electricity bill for street lights is on presumptive basis. Once the system is put in place, the electricity charges will depend on actual usage. Smart water and sewerage projects are also being undertaken by FSCL for smart roads as well as under the area-based development (ABD) component of the mission. Under ABD, it has undertaken flow studies of water for smart road projects and tried to streamline the already existing water lines. Further, for sewerage management, it is setting up a 10-mld sewage treatment plant for Badkal lake. FSCL has also decided to install its own optical fibre network, inspired by the Gurugram model, as a long-term project. However, Gurugram has set up the network based on the public-private partnership (PPP) model, whereas Faridabad has decided to go for a capex model. Under medium-term projects, FSCL has picked up basic IT-based infrastructure projects such as water SCADA and sewerage SCADA. Under ICCC, FSCL has installed CCTV cameras, which are being used to monitor the lockdown. Later, it plans to integrate data on automatic challans and traffic signalling, water SCADA and sewerage SCADA into the system. As for the long term, the implementing agency has decided to rethink and revise its plans such as a bus service plan depending upon the ongoing Covid-19 scenario.

SCM in Surat

Of the 78 projects planned under the mission, Surat Smart City Limited (SSCL) has completed about 58 projects, while 19 are ongoing. Further, one project for IT infrastructure development for an ICCC is currently under the tendering process. The ICCC will also be used as an emergency response centre in the city. SSCL has its own open data portal and has already implemented intelligent transport management system (ITMS) and automatic fare collection system and developed its CCC. Besides, it has installed over 3,000 cameras under the mission. The implementing body has planned projects worth over Rs 20 billion for ABD under the mission. It has planned housing for the urban poor under the PPP model and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Besides, remodelling and restructuring of the existing 5.5 km creek passing through the proposed area has been duly appreciated by the citizens under the SCM. SSCL is undertaking beautification of both sides of the creek by construction of a footpath, cycling track and plantation. It is also undertaking a 24×7 water supply project, deployment of SCADA, installation of smart water meters and development of a 75 mld tertiary treatment plant, amongst others. Since Surat is a hub of textile and dyeing industries, water demand in the city for industrial use is extremely high. Therefore, it has planned to set up a tertiary treatment plant to meet the demand from industries. Besides, SSCL has already converted all the 92,000 street lights into LED, which are being controlled by the CCC and consumer complaints are directly dealt through the CCC. In the water segment, it has already started 24×7 water supply system under ABD and is now implementing it in the northern parts of the city. SSCL has used a mixed model for the development of the communication infrastructure wherein it has connected about 550 offices through a leased line, using services from service providers. At the same time, it is also establishing its own optical fibre cable network, which would run over 128 km, connecting all bus stops, mission zone offices, civic centres and traffic junctions. Apart from these projects, the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) has also planned a project to run electric buses in Surat as its bus rapid transit system (BRTS) is already working well. Because of ITMS, the BRTS project has been successfully implemented, boosting ridership and bus efficiency. Besides, the detailed project report for the metro project has also been sanctioned. In the power segment, SMC has undertaken green energy projects such as remote solar power generation and waste-to-energy plants. So, overall, it is generating 34 per cent of the renewable energy that is currently consumed, saving over Rs 500 million in the process every year.

Issues and challenges

Since its inception in 2015, the mission was off to a slow start and faced issues in terms of setting up special purpose vehicles, selection of project management consultants and fund generation. The SCM’s convergence with other schemes has resulted in coordination issues among different departments. Further, the role of PPP in successfully implementing projects under the SCM needs to be re-evaluated. Another major challenge that the projects have faced is delays in getting the necessary project clearances. This has impacted timelines as well as the financial aspect of the project as a whole. Nonetheless, new projects have been sanctioned, technology penetration has increased and the role of the private sector has evolved. Significant progress has been made with respect to the development of ICCCs, smart roads, smart water projects, solar rooftops and vibrant public spaces. A few initiatives such as making all clearances through online channels and setting up of a regulatory body for getting all the necessary clearances could go a long way in ensuring the success of the projects.