A core issue in the development agenda of the Narendra Modi regime that has made waves in the recent months, is the decision to establish a hundred new “smart” cities, besides converting the existing metropolitan centres into such entities. This prioritisation is evidently rooted in the new found importance that Prime Minister Modi has brought to bear on the adoption of technology for a swift move towards the goals of Digital India.
However a smart city as a well-defined framework of planning worked out by the government on this project, has not reached the public yet. This needs to be done to enable the people to know what this initiative would entail for them and in what way it will carry the country forward. There are three facets of smart city that should be understood if this idea is not to get confined to merely installing some CCTV systems and introducing online connectivity with banks and hospital services.
But first, how does one understand the word “smart”? By definition, being smart means being able to produce more with the same resource — of money, manpower and time. A smart city applies this to governance, services for the people, and to the all-important sphere of safety and security.
A smart city aims at upgrading the system of governance that the citizens there have to deal with on a day to day basis. It seeks to provide better services to the public, ranging from transport, medical and communications, to business and banking. And finally it improves the safety and security of the people living there. In short, a smart city delivers better on both development and security parameters.
Local self government in India was generally weak because of the issue of accessibility people had with the offices of the government on account of widespread bureaucratic corruption that led to inefficient delivery. Computerisation of record, facility of online linkage with the government departments, and use of mobile phone for conveying progress of individual cases to the concerned citizens are the primary components of smart governance.
Public services define the quality of life in a city, and the first to figure amongst them are the road transport, access to hospitals in the time of need, and maintenance of the supply chain for essential commodities. Both public and private sectors are involved in these services and technology upgrade has to cover them both. PSU buses and private taxi providers like Uber have to equally measure up to the needs of a smart city. Government hospitals and private medical establishments have to become technology savvy in serving the people. The suppliers of commodities should have real-time tracking of their vehicles and maintenance of stocks on computer.
A big conceptual flaw in the understanding of a smart city is that it is not sufficiently realised that such an entity is not “smart” unless it is also “safe and secure”. The smart city project, therefore, must give priority to policing, which has a role to play not only in the maintenance of law and order, but also in securing the city against the threat of cross-border terrorism, organised acts of sabotage and drug peddlers, who often worked in collaboration with the external enemy.
“Safety” is protection against damage caused by the malfunctioning of systems due to human error, while “security” is protection against the covert acts of an “alien” adversary.
What would be the wish list of a police commissioner for keeping a large city in his charge safe and secure? A seven-point framework will cover it all.
First, there should be identification of road “access control” points for vehicles, so that these could be brought under coverage of CCTV and number plate recognition (ANPR) systems.
This enables follow-up on an alert about a suspect vehicle and occasional random checks, as well. Secondly, the arterial roads and roads in vulnerable neighbourhoods should be under video surveillance spread around traffic junctions, so that any vehicle could be tracked and traffic monitoring was facilitated.
Third is the security of identified vulnerable establishments required to be put under the “inner security cordon”, with independent “access control” mechanism.
They will include hospitals, universities, industries of strategic importance including banks, crowded places of worship, major market complexes, seats of government and popular convention halls.
The concerned management, in public or private sector, must review the security plan with the police and make sure that these establishments had a direct communication and video link with the master control and command centre (CCC) of the police commissioner.
Fourthly, the police patrols must be adequate particularly in dark hours and they should be in a position to trigger an emergency response to any event encountered by them.
Fifth, technically equipped quick response teams (QRTs), apart from a bomb squad, should be located at appropriate police stations. When in action, the police patrols, QRTs and the bomb squad should be in live audio-visual contact with the control centre.
And sixthly, the smart city should have a network of notification screens — and these should be carried also by major transport buses — for public display of any “alert” or “advisory” released by the control centre.
Finally, it is clear from the above that the key to a “safe and secure” smart city is in having a state-of-the-art master CCC to receive inputs and to direct and coordinate the follow up on any contingency. It should have technologically equipped “work stations” manned by trained staff under an officer who could take decisions about the first response — keeping the commissioner and the authorities above that, informed in real time.
A smart city is a composite project carried out with public-private partnership for upgrading the socio-economic life of its people. Standalone technology features not integrated with a control centre will not be able to deliver on this national objective.
D.C. Pathak is a former
Director, Intelligence Bureau