India cities get funds to tackle woes from sewage to traffic

NEW DELHI: India on Thursday moved toward rebuilding its metropolitan areas as so-called smart cities by awarding 20 with funds to solve problems from shoddy sewage treatment to constant power outages and snarled traffic. The government plans to spend $15 billion to remake 100 cities over five years.

India's urban development minister, Venkaiah Naidu, listed the first 20 recipients, including the capital of New Delhi, the western cities of Pune, Surat, Jaipur and Ahmadabad, as well as six cities in the south including Chennai and Kochi.

While India has rapidly urbanized over the past few decades, most towns and cities are unplanned and lack the infrastructure required for the millions of poor who move into urban areas each year. Huge slums, lacking running water, electricity or sanitation, are in every city.

The smart city project pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to provide basic urban services, such as potable water, sewage and waste management, electricity and housing, as well as provide broadband facilities to bring these cities into the 21st century.

The cities were selected based on their proposals after more than 2.5 million Indian citizens weighed in on which urban problems should be solved first.

Regardless of whether the initiative makes Indian cities smarter, it has drawn millions of citizens into the discussion of how best to govern municipal spaces.

Some sent their ideas to city officials via Twitter, Facebook or SMS. Others entered local contests for designing logos or writing essays. Bhubaneswar, the capital of the eastern state of Orissa, unfurled a 10-kilometer-long canvas banner across the city and invited residents to scroll down their suggestions.

Many of the proposals mentioned a need for better transportation, sewage treatment or trash management.

The Rajasthani heritage cities of Jaipur and Udaipur, and Agra, the city of the iconic Taj Mahal, all wanted to clean up their downtown tourist areas, while people in Amritsar, best known for its Golden Temple and location near Pakistan, suggested CCTV cameras and an emergency call center to address their main concerns about safety and security.