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States get four months to identify potential smart cities

Nivedita Mookerji/New Delhi 27 Jun 15 | 12:43 AM

The Union government has indicated timelines for its smart city project to take off. Going by these, said a source, the first list of 20 such places to be chosen might be finalised by March 2016. States and Union Territories have got four months to come up with their list of places which they think deserve to be among these 100 smart cities, it is learnt, by October-November 2015. A valuation of the plans will determine the final 100.

After which, the second round of competition will begin, to decide the top 20 to get central funding for the current financial year, a meeting of government representatives and other stakeholders clarified on Friday. These 20 cities will be eligible for the next year's central fund only if they show adequate progress in the project. Another 40 cities will be selected in 2016-17 and 40 more in 2017-18, if things go by the plan.

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In April, the Union Cabinet had cleared Rs 50,000 crore as central assistance for 100 smart cities. Each city can get Rs 100 crore of central funds annually for five years; the rest has to be financed by states, local bodies and private parties. No timeframe has been provided for completion. Pratap Padode, founder, Smart Cities Council-India, said a new project might take up to 20 years and a retrofitting or expansion of an existing one from seven to 10 years.

Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated it on Thursday, Ajay Maken of the Congress party had termed the project "elitist". A day after, urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu responded by asking ministers, mayors and municipal heads attending the consultations if it was. "Do you feel the proposed smart cities are elitist and pro-rich, and will not benefit the poor? If any one of you feels so, please raise your hand and kindly speak out your mind." None did, it appears.

The minister also cited a report where Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav was quoted as demanding more smart cities for his state, over and above the 13 assigned to it by the central ministry. UP's is the highest allocation, followed by Maharashtra at 10, based on urban population and number of designated cities/towns in a state.

Naidu said, "If the smart cities benefit only the rich, are there so many rich in UP, and why is the CM asking for more?'' Elaborating on the benefits that smart cities will offer to the poor, the minister said, "The rich like the Ambanis do not need smart cities. They are already living smart (sic). The present urban scenario is benefiting the rich and we are keen to change it in favour of the poor."

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