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How sustainable are India’s Smart Cities?

Critically assessing the projects and politics underpinning the Smart City Mission

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Published on Wednesday, May 15, 2019


Faisant suite à une première réunion consacrée à la Smart City Mission en Inde en septembre 2018, l'objectif spécifique de cet atelier international est de se concentrer sur les questions de durabilité sociale et environnementale. Sur la base d'enquêtes sur le terrain, les intervenants évalueront de manière critique les expériences de villes intelligentes au fur et à mesure de leur déroulement. Parmi les questions à discuter figurent les suivantes : Comment l'engagement de l'Inde à l'égard des villes intelligentes se compare-t-il à d'autres cas internationaux ? Dans quelle mesure les projets en Inde s'appuient-ils sur des technologies de pointe ? Comment pouvons-nous caractériser la gouvernance et la politique de l'engagement de l'Inde dans l'urbanisme intelligent ?



India’s Smart City Mission was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 with the aim to promote intelligent solutions to improve urban infrastructure and services. It draws inspiration from globally-circulating ideas about digital and technology-driven urban innovation. Initially announced as a program to build 100 new smart cities across the country, the Mission finally took the form of a competition between 100 existing Indian cities, selected by the central and regional governments. Each candidate city proposes an urban project either to improve (retrofit) or redevelop certain areas, or to extend the city within the administrative boundaries (greenfield development). To design their proposals and strategies, candidate cities are assisted by consultants appointed by the state or by an external partner agency, such as the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank, or even "sponsor" countries including France via its Agence française de développement. The projects are then put into competition, and the winners can implement their proposals while the others are invited to review their strategic plan and resubmit it in the next round.

Early assessments of the Smart City Mission, including the various proposals made by the candidate cities, the first projects carried out and their reception by local authorities and residents have raised a number of questions about this new mode of city-building. First, the Smart City Mission must be understood in the context of the gradual adoption of the smart city concept in India, and it therefore engages with scholarship on the global circulation of models and their adaptation to specific contexts. Secondly, the Mission offers a compelling window through which to examine the transformation of modalities of state action in the urban domain, in terms of decentralization and changing scales of governance, but also with regard to partnerships between the public and private sectors. Third, since the Mission highlights popular participation in project design, it invites us to question the choice of audiences targeted by this type of programme as well as the relevance of the proposals in relation to local needs and realities. Fourth, the study of smart city projects highlights the gap between the ambitions of the central government and the technical skills of municipal authorities, thus raising the question of the differences between the scheme’s objectives and its implementation.

Following on a first meeting devoted to India’s Smart City Mission held in September 2018, the specific aim of this international workshop is to focus on issues of social and environmental sustainability. On the basis of field-based investigations, the presenters will critically assess the smart city experiments as they unfold. Among the questions to be discussed are the following: How does India’s engagement with smart cities compare with other international cases? To what extent do projects in India draw on cutting-edge technologies? How can we characterize the governance and politics of India’s engagement with ‘smart urbanism’?

Workshop organized by:

  • Loraine Kennedy (CNRS, CEIAS, EHESS)
  • Pushpa Arabindoo (UCL, IEA de Paris)
  • Marie-Hélène Zérah (IRD, CESSMA, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi)
  • Anna Dewaele (CEIAS, EHESS)


9:30 – 11:00  

Session I. Situating India’s Smart City Mission in international perspective

Morning Discussant: Pushpa Arabindoo, UCL, Institut d’études avancées de Paris

Cities and the (re)ordering of elite coalitions under advanced neoliberalism

  • Ipshita Basu, University of Westminster, London

Leveraging international support for SCM: which criteria guide lenders/donors?

  • Gautier Kohler, Agence Française du Développement, Paris

11:00 – 11:30 Break

11:30 – 13:00   

Session II. Cutting-edge or ordinary - how sustainable are SCM projects?

Analysing the ‘environment’ of Smart Cities in India: Issues of sustainability and equity

  • Seema Mundoli (Presenter), Hariprasad VM, Preeti Venkatram and Harini Nagendra Centre for Urban Sustainability in India, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru

Of photovoltaics and puffed rice: the politics of energy and climate change in India’s Smart Cities

  • Ankit Bhardwaj, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

13:00 – 14:30   Lunch Break

14:30 – 16:00   Session III. Smart Cities as political projectsAfternoon Discussant: Eric Leclerc, Université de Lille

Depoliticising Smart Cities in India

  • Persis Taraporevala, King’s College London

Countering the national Smart City Mission: alternative ‘green’ projects in Kolkata

  • Anna Dewaele, CEIAS, Paris

16:00 - 16:30 Break

16:30 – 17:15 Session IV. Exceptional instruments for governing the smart city

Exceptional governance structures at the heart of the SCM: an evaluation of Special Purpose Vehicles

  • Marie-Hélène Zérah, CESSMA and Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

17:15 – 18:00 Round Table Discussion / Q & AModerator: Loraine Kennedy, CEIAS, Paris

For more information, contact Loraine Kennedy: kennedy@ehess.fr


  • Wednesday, May 29, 2019


  • smart city, inde, smart cities mission, durabilité sociale, environnement, développement économique, développement urbain, ville, ville intelligente, technologie, urbanisme


  • IEA de Paris Information
    courriel : information [at] paris-iea [dot] fr

Information source

  • Élodie Saubatte
    courriel : elodie [dot] saubatte [at] paris-iea [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« How sustainable are India’s Smart Cities? », Study days, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, https://doi.org/10.58079/12sm

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