Towards a Smart Tricity

Vivek Atray

In a way, the tricity of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali has always been a smart tricity. An aware populace, adaptability to new trends and innovative ways of living have been features of this habitat for decades.

The Smart City concept that is currently being discussed by planners is however a step ahead of the game as we have known it until now.

The Smart Cities Council states that a smart city is one that has digital technology embedded across all city functions.

Frost & Sullivan put it this way: “We identified eight key aspects that define a Smart City: smart governance, smart energy, smart buildings, smart mobility, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart healthcare and smart citizen.”

In that respect all Indian cities including this tricity have a long way to go. But the question to be considered here is whether the tricity has what it takes to achieve ‘smartness’ in the years to come.

If we take a look at the origins of Chandigarh and the manner in which it was planned to the ‘D’, there is no comparison in the modern era. The quality of life has indeed been unparalleled and although the growing population has strained the infrastructure and resources, Chandigarh remains a most comfortable city to live in. Panchkula and Mohali, though planned differently from Chandigarh, have also largely managed to follow suit in providing residents with living conditions that are superior to most Indian urban conglomerations.

However in order to achieve the objective of becoming a Samrt City, the tricity as a whole has to adopt certain measures that are currently not in place.

For Smart Governance to be successfully implemented there is a need for administrative reforms at the backend of the functional axis in all departments that deliver public services. Technology can then enable public service delivery that is seamless and smart. Even those departments that are not public-facing need to tweak their administrative processes in a manner that allows them to adopt technology more effectively in order that they function with greater impact.

Smart Energy can be the answer to many of the issues being faced by nations all over the world. The intelligent usage of available energy resources would not only ensure optimum utilisation but also protect the environment in large cities. For that to happen, much investment would be needed in energy related infrastructure as well as distribution methodologies.

For buildings to be smart there has to be emphasis on solar-passivity of new structures while using environment-friendly construction material. Thermal comfort and security need to be integral features of such buildings. Sanitation technologies and fire tackling methods also need to be modern and ‘clever’.

Smart mobility is vital to the context as well. The manner in which large human masses commute within urban areas determines how well a city breathes and lives. This tricity has a long way to go in order to achieve any degree of smartness in mobility. Traffic jams and uncertain means of public transport are not making life easier for residents and the problem will only worsen unless tackled expeditiously and comprehensively.

Smart technology cuts across all other verticals but is itself a challenge to implement. Making Wi-Max zones that are secure and safe as well as enabling access to technology to all sections of society are the goals that matter. Bandwidth should be available on demand and features such as smart cameras and smart identification have to be incorporated.

Smart healthcare and smart education are the bulwarks of the future. The key elements in our societal development are healthcare that is affordable and professional as well as education that is meaningful while being technologically facilitated. Without these two prime sectors being automated and modernised no significant progress is possible.

And Smart citizens are those who can make use of the features that their smart city offers. One suspects that the denizens of this area are already savvy enough to lap up any new types of ‘smartness’ that may emerge in future. However it is the lower end of the chain of digital evolution that truly matters in this context.

Each and every citizen must be able to jump on to the smart bandwagon that appears to be on the anvil in the years to come. And for that to happen there has to be viable and affordable access to technology. Education and training will also have to be major priorities in this regard. In other words, capacity building will have to undertaken at a mass level.

For the tricity to turn ‘smart’, therefore, concerted efforts are needed and it is not only the government that has to take the lead. All institutions and organisations have to follow suit. And common people need to realise that in order to be able to live as smart citizens of the future they have to upgrade their own skill sets and also do their bit to make their environment smart!

Vivek Atray is an IAS officer presently posted as DC Panchkula. The views expressed in this article are personal.