Dr R Meenakshi Sundaram, vice chairman, Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority talks about the vision, mission and challenges of making Dehradun a smart city.
Dehradun is among 23 cities which have been asked to resubmit their proposal for the smart city project by the ministry of urban development. The Uttarakhand government carried out an opinion poll to get public feedback, which would help in revising its proposal. As per reports, approximately 26,000 votes were received by the authorities. Dr R Meenakshi Sundaram, IAS, the nodal officer of this programme, talks about the vision, mission and challenges of making Dehradun a smart city.
What, according to you, is the definition of a smart city?
A smart city is where the lives of citizens are made easy through smart solutions to everyday problems. The concept of smart city is to develop the city around the citizens and not the other way round.
What are the urban challenges of Dehradun?
The greenery of the city has declined considerably. The number of private vehicles is on the rise, whereas public transport is almost non-existent. Pedestrian walkways are scarce. Twenty-six percent of Dehradun’s population lives in slums and urban housing is a challenge due to limited land availability.
What is your vision for making Dehradun a smart city?
We want to extend e-governance in the area of environment, education, ecology, etc. We are also focussing on sanitation, transportation and walkability. We have proposed building cycle tracks on all the major roads of the selected zone, introduce a bicycle-sharing system and promote only green means of transport by retrofitting regular transport with [components that run on] electricity and installing intelligent street poles which will be equipped with CCTV cameras and pollution sensors. We will be developing Dehradun One mobile app through which citizens can access any government service. We will be able to implement it within six months of getting approval under the smart city scheme. We want to dovetail the smart city scheme with other government of India schemes like AMRUT, Make in India, Skill India, and Digital India.
We will focus on improving public conveniences in Dehradun as it is the gateway to a lot of tourist places in northern India.
Existing fossil fuel-powered public buses will be retrofitted and converted into electric buses by the Uttarakhand State Transport Corporation. Also,
heritage conservation is a part of the Dehradun smart city proposal.
Have you considered mass rapid transit systems (MRTS) to address transport issues?
We have not considered MRTS as traffic density is very high and right-of-way is very limited. The detailed project report for personal rapid transit (pod taxis) is ready. But we are not taking it up in the smart city scheme as it involves huge investment. We will implement it separately.
How did you choose the area to be developed under the smart city scheme?
Citizen-stakeholder consultation is the main theme of our proposal. We have conducted elaborate citizen-stakeholder consultation using all the available platforms like the prime minister’s office website, our state websites, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We had also conducted workshops and door-to-door surveys on various themes. In terms of citizen interaction, Dehradun is number one in the current list of 23 cities selected for fast track.
We divided the entire city into four zones and conducted voting. The zone that got maximum number of votes, i.e., zone 4 – the core city area, was selected for area based development. It covers 4,000 acres.
What are the results of public consultations? How are you going to implement them?
We have had a very good response to the public consultations and we have meticulously noted every suggestion that has come from the people of Dehradun. We are taking views of a cross-section of people. The youth had focussed more on the improvement of education and employment opportunities whereas middle-aged and older people are more concerned about the ease in daily life. Every section will be taken into consideration before submitting the proposal.
How are you going to finance the smart city scheme?
Uttarakhand is a special category state. We are poised to get major funding from the government of India and the state government will also pitch in. The rest of the funds we will mobilise through public-private partnership (PPP), convergence with other government of India schemes and lending institutions. We are also hoping to generate revenue through user charges on services and advertisement. We might also consider taking loans from financial institutions which have been regular lenders to us.
Will you levy user charges for the services?
Yes, it is necessary to develop a sense of ownership among the people. For example, if someone is paying for waste disposal services, he will hold the garbage collector accountable if he fails to turn up on a regular basis. We will levy differential rates for different sections of people but the quality of services will be the same for everyone.
Water is in abundant supply in Dehradun but water supply optimisation is an issue. A large amount of water is lost between the source and the point of delivery, owing to old and leaking pipelines. Both electricity and piped water supply have 100 percent coverage. Sewage connection is very poor. Sewage from households mostly end up in soak pits polluting underground water or is discharged into two nearby rivers.
How are you addressing these concerns? Will the extension of these services be included in the smart city scheme?
In 2008, Uttarakhand signed an agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to optimise water supply and sewage connection in 32 cities of the state for '2,000 crore. Dehradun which is included in this agreement will get about '400 crore as it is the biggest city of the state. Sewage treatment plants have been constructed but are yet to be made operational and pipelines are under construction. In two years, the city will have a proper sewage system.
We are taking up infrastructure expansion under JNNURM, AMRUT, 13th Finance Commission (besides ADB) and most of the schemes have been sanctioned. We do not need to include these components in the smart city mission.
Uttarakhand also aims to provide houses to the slum dwellers living on the banks of Rispana and Bindal rivers. The target is to make the city slum free by the next decade. The state will reclaim land under the proposed riverfront development scheme and provide housing to those displaced by cross-subsidising middle-income and high-income group flats.
Why was Dehradun rejected in the first phase of the smart city scheme?
Dehradun has witnessed considerable unplanned expansion due to the rise in population. We had proposed the construction of a greenfield smart city to address this problem. Whether we will pursue the greenfield option in future, the government has to take a call.
(The interview appears in May 1-15, 2016 edition of Governance Now)