India unveils first 20 cities to get technology upgrade

Each city will be able to draw up to $42 million per year for five years from federal fund

India has moved forward with plans to improve the country's crumbling urban infrastructure, naming the first 20 of 97 cities to be upgraded with the latest technology.

The first batch of cities, comprising a total population of 30.54 million, includes New Delhi, Chennai and Ahmedabad, the tourist destinations of Jaipur and Udaipur, as well as the port city of Vishakapatnam in the south.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to transform them into "smart cities", with modern amenities ranging from guaranteed water and power supplies to efficient public transport, modern sewerage systems and plenty of green spaces. Each city will be able to draw up to two billion rupees (S$42 million) per year for five years from a federal fund of 480 billion rupees.

"This is one small step. It cannot be done overnight. It will take time but a beginning has been made," said Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu. "The smart city initiative is an ambitious game changer that seeks to transform cities into sustainable centres of economic activity providing an improved quality of life to it citizens."

Mr Modi tweeted his congratulations to the first 20 cities. Another 40 will be chosen next year and the remaining will be announced in 2018. Cities were graded on their proposals by three teams of Indian and foreign evaluators.

Bhubaneswar, among the 20 cities chosen, got the highest marks in the competition. It plans to upgrade 399ha, demolish old structures near the main railway station, create a new business centre, and regenerate a water body nearby as part of a 45.37 billion rupee modernisation plan.

Mr Modi has made improving urban infrastructure a key initiative and has reached out to countries, including Singapore, for collaboration in the smart city projects.

"There are 36 countries that are interested in the smart city project. We will float tenders and see how it goes," said Mr Naidu, on opportunities for Singaporean firms.

Singapore is already involved in developing Amaravati, the capital city of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Amaravati is, however, not among the first 20 cities. Surbana Jurong has created the masterplan. Singaporean firms said they were waiting for further details of the different projects.

"Governance and implementation are critical," said Mr Nirup Jayanth, head of business development at Jurong Consultants India (a member of Surbana Jurong).

"Each city would need an agency to execute, manage and integrate all the services, whether private or public."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'India unveils first 20 cities to get technology upgrade'. Print Edition | Subscribe