Semantics Ist Challenge to Modi’s ‘Smart Cities’ - The New Indian Express

Semantics Ist Challenge to Modi’s ‘Smart Cities’

Published: 30th August 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 29th August 2014 11:12 PM

SINGAPORE:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project for 100 smart cities needs Singapore to be in the director’s chair. But, both still have to grapple with the first step that will define the whole project-- how to define a smart city?

Since Modi came to power three months ago, the South-East Asian nation was also quick on the take, with three major bilateral visits already taking place. And discussions on ‘smart cities’ was the common thread running through them.

But, there is a lot of gap to bridge before the collaboration can take off. So far during preliminary talks, it has become quite evident that it means different things for Singapore and India.

“We got the impression that Indian officials think of smart cities in terms of IT-fying, broadband, fibre optics,” said a senior Singaporean government official.

In contrast, the starting point of the city state’s concept of a ‘smart city’ is the environment. “Remember, we never call Singapore a smart city. We call it a garden city,” he said.

The other pillar of a ‘smart city’ is “good governance”.

“Even if the infrastructure built is great, it doesn’t matter if from the Chief Minister down to the lowest official don’t know how to run it,” said the Singaporean official.

So the first step is to thrash out the concept of the ‘smart city” with urban development experts from both the countries. And this will be followed by the drawing up of the master plan, consultancy and components of foreign investment. 

“PM Modi has to get one city off the ground,” he said.  The NDA Government had earmarked `7,060 crore for the smart cities’ plan in its maiden Union Budget, which is clearly only for the preliminary stage.

According to Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ ambassador-at-large, Gopinath Pillai, it is doable, as long as the parameters are set out.

“It (smart cities) is a feasible concept, as long as you clearly define what it means,” Pillai,seated at the colonial-era redolent Singapore Cricket Club, said.

The Prime Minister had made his first visit to Singapore in 2004 at the invitation of Pillai, who is also chairman of National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies.

“It had raised eyebrows then.. but I saw signs of business vibrancy in Gujarat,” he recalled.

Pillai, who is a doyen of Singapore’s foreign policy establishment, said that Narendra Modi, who has visited the city state thrice, is probably impressed with the stress on enforcement of rules.

“You have so many rules, but they are not implemented,” he said.

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