‘Inadequate infrastructure is a major obstacle for any city’

P Praveen Rao, Smart City Consultant, is a Security Expert/Consultant/Account & Project Management Professional, working for various Government and Semi Government projects across India. Having an experience of 11+ years in various technology practices like IT, Mining, Safe and Smart Cities, Praveen is engaged in various safe city initiatives across India and also with various SPV bodies, large public sectors, police bodies, municipal corporations along with state and central government units.

P Praveen Rao, Smart City Consultant
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    Smart City Consultant

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    IT, Mining, Safe and Smart Cities

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How smart are our cities today? What exactly makes them smart?

The smart city mission started by our current government is a historic step for the betterment of Society and country.

A 'Smart City' is a region that is highly advanced in terms of well-connected infrastructure and where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents.

Currently our cities are not yet become smart they are getting smarter day by day by taking right decisions with the help of technology. Taking right decisions at right time will make the cities smarter and safer.

This empowerment will bring accessibility adaptability with safety and comfort in the citizen’s life by using the smart elements provided to them. It’s a citizen driven approach with a right set of people using technology at right time. It is meant to make the cities safe and easy administration for the city administrators. 

Grappling with poor infrastructure, is it possible to make our cities smart?

No, first priority should be infra, we need to upgrade and set priorities like Roti, Kapda, Makan – Roads, Traffic, first.

Inadequate infrastructure is a major obstacle for any city as it seeks to increase its economic growth. Better infrastructure would help in improving regional integration and trade, diversify its economy, and absorb new residents into expanding cities.

Building infrastructure is very costly now but nowadays multiple public and private bodies are showing interest to bear the cost. Doing so in the heart of the city is costly, but there are many people who are going to share this infrastructure. People migrate from rural areas to metropolises to share the infrastructure and amenities in the centre of cities. Much of India lives in rural belts and bridging them with the urban chain, a great thought.

To make any city or region smarter the basic infrastructure is required first which will set certain benchmarks and on the basis of which various smart city elements can be applied. Gathering data is one thing, sifting through it is another. Implementation is most important.

Do we have the mechanism in place?

Yes we have that mechanism called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).

As per the current plan by Smart City Mission, Govt of India, the implementation of the Mission at the City level will be done by a SPV created for the purpose. The SPV will plan, appraise, approve, release funds, implement, manage, operate, monitor and evaluate the Smart City development projects. Each smart city will have a SPV which will be headed by a full time CEO and have nominees of Central Government and State Government on its Board.

These individual bodies (SPVs) are governed by State Urban Development Ministry. Now apart from the Public-Private Partnership bodies, citizens are also invited to contribute for the development of their own smart city. In a recent Proof-of-Concept (POC) event related to Panaji Smart City, so many citizens were invited to see the capabilities of the respective bidders. Implementation is people management.

Utilities, especially water and electricity, are low hanging fruit, perhaps?

Unfortunately yes, but SCADA and various artificial intelligence (AI) models helping a lot. Implementation of SCADA in smart cities has brought a big change in designing the models and also to make them work. The key attribute of a SCADA system is its ability to perform a supervisory operation over a variety of other proprietary devices. Both large and small systems can be built using the SCADA concept. These systems can control hardware software anything depending on the application. Some good examples of SCADA are:

• Traffic lights and parking sensor technologies which improve traffic patterns by reducing parking issues thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

• Smart dustbins with sensors, which can send signals to a central command centre as to when they need to be emptied

• Water pipelines installed with SCADA and leak detection techniques to measure the water quality and flow besides checking leakages, and

• Bus transit systems and metro stations deployed with passenger information systems to inform about the timing and arrival of the public transport in real time.

But such networks can also be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Are we prepared for that?

Yes, we are very much prepared through various security operation centres (SOCs), apart from upgrading the technology to fight with cyber-attacks. At the same time, creating stringent regulation would help. While the global initiative for securing smart cities has put forth Guidelines for Smart Cities, a regulatory body needs to be created. This would ensure that only well-secured cities are able to invest in this technology. 

Cities/SPVs need to create ERT (Emergency Response Teams) and security teams to properly test and secure these technologies. This will ensure that patches and system updates are adequately deployed. These teams can also be proactive in implementing strong authentication and encryption protocols too.

However, one needs to understand that updating technology creating innovations are not difficult because of the complicated layers that are involved in a Smart City's infrastructure. Going forward, vendors and government need to work together in Application Security Testing and afterwards, cities that adopt this technology must continue testing the parts to make sure that they interact with each other securely. This will help detect any vulnerability before any harm is done.

(This interview is part of the series on Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission and the progress made so far.)