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The government of West Bengal has taken proactive steps to insurehousing for all in urban areas of the state. In an interaction with Manoj Padaliya of ‘Governance Today,’ Debashis Sen, Principal Secretary – Urban Development Department of the West Bengal sheds light on the approach of the state towards smart city project.

Debashis Sen
Debasis Sen, IAS, Principal Secretary, West Bengal

98 smart cities have been named, including 6 from West Bengal. What according to you should be the approach towards affordable housing?

Affordable Housing is a key component of urban development component and government must interfere positively to create space for the lower income group (LIG) people andeconomically weaker sections of society (EWS). In West Bengal, the new township policy mandates that 25 per cent of the dwelling units created in new townships must be for the EWS. In the Smart City framework of Central Government, convergence with other schemes including Housing-for-All is the key. However, what we in West Bengal are targeting in the smart city framework of GoI is to have more than one pan-city solutions so that all sections of the township get a benefit.

What are the major drivers of urbanization?

There is a long list as to why people migrate to cities. Prof Edward Glasser, an urban economist, in his book “Triumph of the City” elaborates that besides the three Es (Education, Employment and Entertainment), networking opportunities make cities great. The world just became urban in 2008 and so will India and its States within two decades or so.

ICT is the prime tool for establishing a strong base for building a smart city. How are you working with ICT players?

In West Bengal, we are collaborating with NASSCOM and also with various Chambers of Commerce including American Chamber of Commerce in India (AmCham India), Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and others. New Town Kolkata have signed anMoU with Future Cities Catapult, a UK government funded organization, who have held workshops and are bringing in concepts and possibilities specific to New Town on a pro bono basis. A number of other organizations are also in touch with us. Most importantly, we are tapping in ICT organizations operating from the smart cities so that there is deeper insight and are themselves stakeholders.

Is your department collaborating with any corporates? Could you name and elaborate?

Each of the smart cities of West Bengal have engaged consultants from the list prepared by the Ministry of Urban Development. They are helping each city to make their Smart City Plans. No collaboration with any corporates has been made at this stage.

According to you what will it take to help cities in deploying solutions for modern urban infrastructure?

In the new township policy of the Government of West Bengal, all new greenfield towns must have an economic focus, a theme. Six such theme cities on government land are just launched. Examples of themes include, Education, Health, Senior Citizen Living, Sports, Industry and Culture.

This is based on our belief that towns with an economic focus function better. And a city that is financially sound can mop up resources more efficiently to create modern infrastructure, either by the PPP route or by improved revenue earnings.

Green building devices, smart home devices, smart living solutions, building efficiency systems are just some of the primary elements for smart urban housing. How will your department move ahead in providing all these necessities?

We wish to move forward through a mix of regulatory, citizen and private sector based participation. Municipal rules already encourage green buildings by giving extra 10 per cent FAR. For large buildings, solar rooftop installations are mandatory. With rainwater harvesting, tax incentives are available.

Citizens are being involved to adopt sustainable practices such as in solid waste management and clean cities. Private sector is being approached for win-win solutions such as free Wi Fi in public spaces and roads in exchange of laying rights of optical fibre on road flanks, mobile apps to help the senior citizens call in help and generally creating an atmosphere that will be smart and commercially viable.