Every time the adjective smart is added to a person, concept, idea, or a device, it has elicited general interest. However, more often than not, smart turned out to be rather dumb. Take the “smart” phone for instance, I have given up trying to tell it that “I really am wanting to type “of” and would you please let me do it? “ It has a mind of its own and will always try and change the “of” to an “if”!
Smart Cities are likely to face the same predicament.
To begin with, what makes a city smart? The underlying philosophy is that a lot of stuff would happen on its own. All that you need to provide is a power connection and a broadband pipe and lo and behold! You have smartness.
The reality is rather far removed. The first and foremost requirement of a smart city is the unification of thought amongst the various agencies: electricity distribution, sewage disposal, water supplies, road maintenance, law enforcement, traffic management, and the hundreds of government agencies that contribute in running a city.
Once this unification happens, then activities amongst these agencies would expectedly get coordinated and no one would work in isolation. From an Indian standpoint, there is little to show that such coordination is possible. The electronics and technology are the better manageable parts of the solution. Getting teams to work together is the complex part.
“Villages, being small units, do not have complex departments and bureaucracy. Secondly, the degree of smartness required would also be low to begin with.”
Which brings me to my core point. Why not make villages smart? Villages being small units, do not have complex departments and bureaucracy. Secondly, the degree of smartness required would also be low to begin with. One can start with electricity distribution, street lighting, public distribution, banking, post office, government services, health care, education (child and adult), farmers’ assistance, procurement, edutainment and infotainment. The list of things that can be automated and delivered to the village dweller at the village doorstep is long and of significant value to the average village dweller.
A direct dividend of making a village smarter is saving man-days and improving the average productivity of an individual. With this, an incentive is also available for people to not migrate to the cities. The domino effect of this process is an increasing entrepreneurship in the villages.
The cost of smartening up a village will be considerably lower as compared to cities. The key factor weighing in favor of villages is that laying a broadband infrastructure will be simpler. In most village environments a prudent mix of fiber, Wi-Fi, TV white spaces would be sufficient to build a robust network that can be back hauled via fiber to the village (FTTV?). Right of way approvals that are a bane to any project in cities would be non-existent in villages.
The other key ingredient is power supply. Here, most Indian villages get abundance of sunshine. Hence using solar power along with biomass based power can complement the power supply from the state electricity board.
Maintaining the system and its upkeep can be entrusted to the villagers as a business proposal, just like one would outsource the maintenance of a system in a city to an SI. This would create a demand for technical skill sets and generate employment for the local youth.
Hence making villages smart would help close the digital divide, reduce rural to urban migrations, improve productivity (and GDP), create jobs, improve the work life balance of the people.
That, I would say, would be a smart move.