Relevance of information technology and urban planning in India: An innovative approach

Mar 2015 | No Comment

The extensive usage of ICT technologies are continously transforming our cities and making them more advanced, habitable and livable

Prof Sangeet Kumar Gupta

Dean of Academics & Director, Amity School of Architecture & Planning, Amity
University, Haryana, India

Shashi Mehta

Assistant Professor, Amity School of Architecture & Planning, Amity University, Haryana, India

In the mid 1980s, cities around the world had experienced unparalleled changes in their economy, society and environment due to globlization, modernization and urbanization. The process of urbanization is growing rapidly in Indian cities, and it happened for the first time in history that India will have five large states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab in terms of urban population.

Consequently, these five states undoubtedly enlightened the growth trend of the country’s urban population statistics. According to the census, urban population in India increased from about 19% in 1951 to 30% in 2008, and it is expected to increase upto 40% by 2030.

It has been envisaged that the scale of India’s urbanization and modernization will be massive in the coming years. India will have 68 cities with a population of more than 1 million, 13 cities with more than 4 million people and 6 megacities with population of 10 million, in which Delhi and Mumbai will be among the five largest cities in the world by 2030. In addition, cities will account for nearly 70% of India’s GDP by 2030.

After observing figure 3, it is observed that the gap is continuously widened between the infrastructure services and population growth and its mismatch will lead unendurable development for the future prospects. Presently, Indian cities are facing economic, environmental, social and mobility challenges such as unemployment, improper tax collection, lack of coordination among different agencies, excessive use of energy, inefficient buildings, pollution, natural hazard & risks, solid waste, traffic congestion, parking, increasing number of private vehicles and so on. The current performance of India’s cities is poor across key indicators of quality of human life.

After visualizing the above current trends, it is obvious that quality of urban services will deteriorate quite sharply by 2030 and this depreciation of the condition of cities will raise several questions before economists, planners, architects, and policy makers, such as how can a city accommodate such a huge population with its limited land resources. Who will be accountable? Where will resources come from? What will be the sector policies regarding economical growth, affordable housing, environment sustainability and infrastructure services, etc. Accordingly, two important changes within the city government is required in order to tackle the above questions. The first shift recommends that cities must become smarter using ICT as both an enabler and provider of city services, the while second important shift lays emphasis on the fact that cities should become more agile or lively, faster and more flexible in identifying challenges, sourcing and implementing new solutions by adopting new faster technologies.

Existing planning mechanisms and tools

Presently, the concept of urban management became a key issue in front of the Indian planner which lays emphasis on rational utilization of resources and sustained growth of urban areas. Although, planners have always offered their best in order to improve the current situation of cities and make them habitable, cities are still growing faster. Planners always promote planned development but in actual, the situation is different on ground, where cities and towns are developing in a haphazard and unplanned way. Similarly, planners always insist on housing to all but the number of people who do not have a shelter keeps on increasing day by day. Consequently, a huge gap has been observed between what the planners had supposed and what happened in reality, and this gap creates a hurdle in the planned development of cities and keeps adding onto the existing challenges instead of resolving them.

For instance, the informal sector is the only key sector that helps in improving the city’s wealth and provides livelihood opportunities to the poor. The workers of this sector are mostly employed in construction, manufacturing, trade and other activities. However, the informal sector has a predominant place in the Indian economy in terms of its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment. According to the National Sample Survey (NSS) in 2004-05, out of the total workers about 82% in rural areas and approx 72% in urban areas were engaged in the informal sector. Despite such a huge contribution in GDP and employment, this sector has always been abandoned by the policy makers. As a result, it constantly keeps adding to the burden of
the urban dilemma over the years. Thus,
in order to make a city’s development
more vibrant and productive, it becomes
essential to cater to this sector in the
process of planning and decision-making.

The other important aspect is the master plan that is regarded as a tool promoting planned development of a city. Currently, cities are transforming swiftly because of growing concern towards environment and the use of information technologies that made Indian cities more progressive. But in this progressive phase, the master plan seems helpless due to its inflexibility and limited scope. Additionally, it also gives importance to preparation of land use plan rather than addressing the economic, social and environmental issues of the cities. Apart from the above instances, there are several other negative aspects of planning such as lack of people’s participation, ineffectiveness of urban governance in terms of financial and technical, urban poverty and slums that need to be considered before preparing a plan. So it is necessary to reexamine the existing planning mechanism and tool in order to check the current as well as future challenges of urban areas.

Information technology led sustainable urban development

Sustainable urban development means to attain a balance between the development of urban area and protection of environment with equal distribution of employment, shelter, basic infrastructure services, social infrastructure and transportation in urban areas. Presently, cities became known for the hub of environment degradation, depletion of natural resources and the main reason behind this depletion is high densities of Indian cities due to high migration process and natural growth. Thus, in order for an urban area to be sustainable it needs to manage basic infrastructure services in a better and smarter way. Even the basic objectives of the 12th Five Year plans also appeal for a faster growth, inclusive and sustainable development. The whole attention in the plan has been given towards the problem of sustainability and assured that environmental concern is a must in the development process. To attain sustainable growth, the plan has laid down a number of targets such as affordable housing, sustainable livelihood & enterprise, universal access to water and sanitation, affordable public transport, and clean & healthy environment.

Moreover, some strategies have also been given in order to achieve the above target such as strengthen local governance systems, integrate planning organization & process, build capacity across all levels, empower Urban Local Bodies financially, and encourage innovation and technology in urban management. Undoubtedly, the last strategy that promotes innovation has been more effective in transforming the Indian cities for the past few decades.

At present, cities are evolving into such a place where institutions, civil societies and citizens are supported by information and communication technologies. This innovative approach has altered physical communities into the connected ones that will contribute in establishing economic, social and environment sustainability. Thus, it is clearly evident that Information and Communication Technology based techniques have become the key drivers in order to nurture a city’s progress towards sustainability.

ICT in Indian context

A shift has been observed in the country’s economy from industrial based to knowledge based over the past decades. New strategies for economic and social development are emerging rapidly due to increasing urban growth and introduction of new innovative approach, such as concept of green building, stress on the use of renewable energy & alternative fuels, apply information and communications technologies, low carbon city and so on. Information and communication technologies have provided a stable platform where local authorities can supply better services to citizens by monitoring sensible use of resources across cities. India has been ranked 121st among 157 countries in terms of progress in the area of information and communication technology. This ranking is based on ICT development index which in turn based on three sub indexes which relate to access, skills and use.

The best example of usage of ICT in India is the agenda of E-governance which is considered as the only means of taking IT to the common man. E-governance offers a new style of leadership, new ways of debating, deciding policy, accessing education, listening to citizens, organizing & delivering information and services in order to provide transparent, effective, responsive, efficient and accountable governance to the community. This innovative move demands to incorporate inclusive approach by taking into account the voices of the most vulnerable group of society in the decision-making process. Although, the e-governance initiative has commenced in every state, some of the states have implemented this project successfully and sets an example in front of the other states.

E-Governance projects implemented by various states in India

Green buildings

The construction industry in India is one of the largest economic activities growing at an average rate of 9.5% as compared to global average of 5%. Buildings made under this industry are predominantly influenced by green building movement has gained immense popularity in the world over the last decade. According to the Indian Green Building Council, India has 1.2 billion sq ft of green buildings being built right now, and it is expected to increase up to about 80 billion sq ft by 2030. The reason behind this boom of green buildings is due to the upcoming India’s largest infrastructure project, i.e., DMIC which emphasises on maximum use of energy efficient technology and installation of related equipment in the buildings in a smarter way. Mumbai city has India’s maximum number of environment-friendly buildings as per a list released by the Indian Green Building Council. The city has more than 60% green building projects compared to Delhi and Bengaluru. With the help of ICT, green building design focuses on maximum use of renewable energy which in turn reduces fossil fuel energy consumption. ICT also helps in building orientation in order to utilize more natural conditions, including sunlight for lighting and heating, and wind for cooling. Once the buildings are completed, ICT will support the maintenance with features like sensors to control design efficiency and energy use.

Smart Grid

Smart grid is emerging as one of the most efficient and reliable technology in the power sector. It works with the grid to respond digitally to the consumer’s dynamic electricity demand. ICT-enabled smart grids increase the efficiency of existing power grids by collection, storage and distribution of energy. Smart grid can act together with building control system to provide efficient building heating, cooling and lighting. The Uttar Gujarat Vij Company Limited will initiate India’s first modernized electrical grid or the smart grid in Naroda and Deesa in North Gujarat. The aforesaid project will study consumer behavior of electricity usage and propose a tariff structure based on usage and load on the power utility. New meters along with sim card will be installed in about 20,000 residential and industrial units in Naroda in order to monitor data within every 15 minutes, or get to know how a particular consumer uses power.

Smart City

In the Shanghai declaration on better cities and better life, it was emphasized that cities should distinguish that information and communication are a must for the vibrant social, economic and cultural life of the city. Every city should link information and communication sector with other multiple sectors to build a strong digital data system for smooth running of urban operations. For instance, Rio De Janeiro city was facing the problem of landslide and flooding due to intense rainfall every summer. In order to get rid of these regular incidents, the city implemented strong ICT-based system to manage disasters and emergencies in a better way. This system prepares the city to respond to flood related incidents while coordinating with multiple agencies on the basis of dynamic data generated from weather sensors, video surveillance and field personnel. Another example of a smart city is Dubuque that led to one of the fastest urban economics turnaround in the US. In 2006, the city introduced a sustainability model with three important premises namely Economic Prosperity, Socio-cultural Vibrancy and Environment Integrity. The 11 principles of this model were smart use of energy, water, power, mobility and other resources, green buildings, etc. Similarly, for the first time in the history of any Indian city, seven smart cities have been proposed in different states with varied locations along the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor and application of ICT has been highly recommended in their evolution process.


Thus, ICT gives new revolutionary ways to our cities in the form of green buildings, intelligent traffic management, new efficiencies in energy consumption, waste management, exchanging information & knowledge and establish communication link among the people. ICT can provide simulation software that can help planners and architects to set up the optimal locations of buildings, schools, health services and public transportation routes to reduce mobility needs and eventually support low-carbon lifestyles. The use of ICT by planners in the field of planning are known as E-planning which presents a platform for using easily accessible public portals in amalgamation with Geographic Information System (GIS) and also facilitates the citizens with the opportunity to participate in urban planning processes.

E-governance is considered as another approach of ICT which allows access to information, time-saving convenience for citizens, and conveys efficiency and transparency in the system. ICT technologies permit cities to save capital expenditures while transforming government employees and citizen behavior to become more sustainable over time. Through E-governance, local governments can become more efficient both in terms of internal operations as well as through their relationships and transactions with citizens, businesses and other levels of government.

Presently, ICT has changed a city’s image from being a common city to a virtual city due to the extensive use of Internet. A good website with meaningful content can be a powerful tool to attract business, residents, educational institutions and tourists. At this time, cities are moving towards adoption of new technology, while protecting and preserving the environment, and these technologies have made the city more vibrant and lively. For instance in Spain, a phytokinetic bus has been designed that will have a green roof; plants on the roof of the bus will absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen and will also increase the efficiency of buses by reducing use of air conditioning. In the same way, Waka Waka foundation has initiated mobile phone charger powered by solar energy for the power crisis area, especially rural areas. This device can easily be carried in a pocket. A number of smartphone apps came into view as an eco-driver in the market to monitor fuel consumption, reduce carbon footprints and check speed, etc. A network of smartphones powered earthquake detectors can be used in urban areas to identify the worst hit areas. Thus, the extensive usage of ICT technologies are continously transforming our cities and making them more advanced, habitable and livable in terms of economically, socio-culturally and environmentally as compared to earlier cities.


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