More autonomy to states for funding projects, greater clarity about the plans and initiatives of the government alongside an exclusive channel for US investors are the key issues the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) officials flagged in their engagement with India on the Smart Cities initiative.
“…what we continue to do is that we keep on inquiring have you set the SPV, what does the SPV mean…with the minister of urban development or the secretary or down through, we get different messages sometimes, too. I know they are working hard at it but they are saying now that we had this (smart cities) competition and the money has gone to the states, then we go to the states and some states say we don’t have the money because these things haven’t been done. What we do is just encourage more of that Centre-state work through your pieces there, because in the US government we do have this mission of national engagement where for some projects there are engagements with states as well, but what we do is that there is co-partnership to keep pushing on that,” Vinay Vijay Singh, deputy assistant secretary, US department of commerce, said.
Singh said governance is critical so that more can be done in enabling the cities. “Right now, the states have a lot of autonomy, but it’s the smart cities programme enabling the cities to have more of the autonomy to make more of these decisions,” he said.
While acknowledging the support received from the Andhra government, officials from AECOM, which is partnering with the Indian government in developing Visakhapatnam into a smart city, said that there is a need for clarity in governance for execution of projects as those involve huge amounts of investment.
“Clarity will be nice. In Vizag (Visakhapatnam), in particular, there were talks of a new airport. It would need significant investment, so clarity around these, what is in works and how are they working forward would be helpful for the business side,” Ashley O’Connor, vice-president, Region Business Line leader, AECOM said.
The USTDA officials also spoke of how an exclusive investment desk along the lines of the ones provided to Japan and Korea will be conducive for attracting investment from US investors. “A special cell will definitely help,” Devin Hampton, USTDA chief of staff, said.
The officials said recent initiatives such as a pilot for municipal bond issuance in Pune will also help in attracting more private investment in the smart cities. “…with our partners and the department of treasury, there is a municipal bond pilot happening in Pune and we look to foster municipal bonds or public-private partnerships but those are the things the governments behind the scenes are trying to enable initial funding to let the private sector then come in and actually support these projects…these are all things to enable and to get private sector get more involved. So, we are working with World Bank to channel their money as well to eliminate the initial risk involved in such projects…,” Singh said.
The USTDA officials sounded optimistic about retaining the current momentum of project implementation for Ajmer, Allahabad and Visakhapatnam, in which the country is partnering with India even as the US is in the transition phase for ushering in a new regime under President-elect Donald Trump.
“We are in early stages. Transition teams have come to department of commerce. We have shared our plans, initiatives and priorities. So those (smart cities projects) have been included,” Singh said.
As part of its initiative to develop 100 smart cities (the number later increased to 109), Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his meeting with the US President Barack in September 2014 had announced partnership plans with the US to develop three Indian smart cities of Ajmer in Rajasthan, Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, following which the USTDA had signed MoU with the three states.
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