India’s cities are swelling and getting bigger than ever before at an unstoppable pace. The country’s urban growth in the last two decades has been rising. Nearly 50% of India’s population will live in its cities by 2050. Urban India is predicted to have 70 per cent of all jobs and be home to 590 million people by 2030.

Given this relentless growth and migration towards urban areas, cities are reeling under tremendous pressure. They need to keep up in their infrastructure and facilities to cater to the teeming mass of humanity who live, work and call cities their home.

India recognises that as a growing economy development in its urban areas is essential to not only ensure better quality of life but also to provide decent work conditions to its strong working population.

In an effort to improve infrastructure in chosen cities the country launched the Smart Cities Mission. According to the Mission’s official website, “the objective is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions. The focus is on sustainable and inclusive development and the idea is to look at compact areas, create a replicable model which will act like a light house to other aspiring cities.”

With a Little Help from France

France, a pioneer in sustainable urban development has been a key supporter of driving urban infrastructure in India. It’s public financial institution Agence Française de Développement (AFD) has been participating and supporting projects in India to this end. The institution shares a mandate in India defined in 2008 to financially and technically assist cities in three key areas: clean energy, sustainable urban development and protection of biodiversity.

Since Prime Minister Narendra’s Modi term in 2014, the relationship between India and France has improved. Renewable energy and sustainable development have been focus areas in the rapport the two countries share. India and France are founding members of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) formed in Paris during the COP21 to drive the growth of solar power.

France has been a keen supporter of sustainable development in urban India. So much so, that during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France last year France committed to doubling its AFD credit line from $1.09bn for 3 years to €2bn in order to help sustainable urban development and smart cities in India.

Last year, the AFD lent 50 million euros to Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), as credit facility for energy efficiency. which will allow energy savings by Indian municipalities, more specifically in the public lighting and buildings.

The AFD has also financially backed the metro construction project in India’s silicon hub, Bangalore. The goal has been to encourage public transport in the burgeoning city. In 2012, it provided a credit facility of 110 million euros for Phase I of the Bangalore Metro. In September 2015, AFD decided to extend help for Phase II of the metro project by signing a 200 million-euro project agreement.

In January 2016, ten French companies signed agreements with EPI (Engineering Projects India Ltd.), a public company owned by the government of India. The companies include Alstom Transport, CAN, Dassault, EDF Energies Nouvelles, Egis, Lumiplan, Pomagalski, Schneider Electric and Thales. They will participate in projects pertaining to the Smart Cities Mission especially in areas such as public transport infrastructure, energy and water solutions for cities.

Tale of Three Cities

Earlier this year, three cities- Pondicherry, Chandigarh and Nagpur, were picked to be developed as smart cities in collaboration with the French government. The AFD signed memoranda of understanding with local governments. Puducherry, a union territory in South India and formerly a French colony was chosen due to its strong ties with France; while Chandigarh, a city in the north that has the legacy of having been designed by the French speaking Swiss Architect Le Corbusier was also picked.

In Puducherry, Chief Minister V Narayansamy told the Indian national daily, The Hindu, that the main aim in collaborating with the French government was preservation of heritage buildings and finding solutions to water issues. “Another unique support the French government is extending us is the AFD project where 24×7 water supply for Puducherry and Karaikal region and also drainage scheme. More than Rs. 2,000 crore is given as long term loan by the French government to the Government of India and in turn given to the government of Puducherry as a grant. We will be getting rid of water supply and drainage problem. The French technocrats are assisting us in both the projects,” he said.

In Chandigarh, French Urban development experts will be based in the city to help with projects. The experts will contribute in the fields of urban transport, urban transport, water and waste treatment, solar energy, urban planning and architecture.

India’s growth implies that it needs fast, yet long term solutions that are sustainable and environmentally sensitive. The collaborations with the French government might not solve its myriad issues, but the efforts are certainly in the right direction – of seeking smart solutions for smart cities.

Elizabeth Raj | Blogger– Arsha Consulting

Image credit: Bernard Gagnon

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