The reasons for important cities remaining out of the ambitious project vary from their low level of utilisation of existing urban renewal funds to scoring low on several factors
When Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu announced a list of 98 contenders last week to be part of the smart city project, exclusion of some prominent names such as Bengaluru, Kolkata, Shimla and Patna had come as a surprise.
Selection of only New Delhi Municipal Council, leaving out rest of the capital city, was among the other announcements that made many sit up.
Business Standard spoke to government officials across states on the story behind the story.
The reasons for important cities remaining out of the ambitious project vary from their low level of utilisation of existing urban renewal funds to scoring low on several factors considered for shortlisting, from state governments' wish to give a chance to less prominent cities to feasibility of handling issues in the case of those who've made it to the list.
For instance, Karnataka Chief Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee clearly stated Bengaluru did not meet the parameters for smart cities that were laid out by the Centre.
"We deliberately kept it out of the list," he said. The criteria included property tax collections, water cess, utilisation of funds under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the city's finances.
"Bengaluru is terribly managed. It did not meet the criteria for the top six cities."
Karnataka was asked to nominate six cities.
The state chose Mangaluru, Belagavi, Shivamogga, Hubballi-Dharwad, Tumakuru and Devanegere.
The Centre will provide Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) in phases for each of the cities with the remaining funds coming from states and private sector.
But, Mukherjee said, "We spend more than Rs 500 crore every year on Bengaluru."
Also, Shimla, a popular hill station in Himachal Pradesh, lost to Dharamshala, another tourist attraction, on the basis of scores in many parameters, said a state official.
"On the basis of criteria fixed by the Centre, Dharamshala scored 87.5 per cent, whereas Shimla scored 85 per cent.
A major reason for Shimla being placed second was extremely poor implementation and non-completion of projects sanctioned under the JNNURM," the official said.
While implementation of the scheme by Dharamsala was 100 per cent, in the case of Shimla, it was less than 20 per cent.
In addition, the elected house could not resolve if Shimla should be a smart city.
There was no community consultation, a mandatory yardstick, too in Shimla for smart city. Himachal Pradesh was supposed to nominate only one city for the project.
As for Kolkata being given a miss, a West Bengal government official reasoned that the state has satellite towns in the Centre's list.
"Modern theory of urban development says these satellite towns are those that need to be developed with increasing pressure of migration.
Kolkata was never a part of the plan," said a top official of the state urban development ministry.
Two adjacent cities on the outskirts of Kolkata -- Bidhannagar and Newtown -- have made it to the list of four in West Bengal.
While Bidhannangar is already equipped with many of the civic amenities a smart city would like to have, Newtown is an upcoming city and at the primary stage of being developed. The other two nominated in West Bengal are Durgapur and Haldia.
An official noted that West Bengal has announced its own plan to develop at least six smart cities.
One is Garia, in the southern part of Kolkata.
"Thus, Kolkata being left out of the Centre's smart city plan may not be felt much."
Even as many other states have nominated the smaller and less prominent cities to develop as smart, Delhi's case is different with only the Lutyen's area getting the benefit of the project.
Officials pointed out that although only one slot had been allotted to Delhi by the urban development ministry.
The city government sent two names, NDMC area and IP Extension (in East Delhi) to the ministry.
"Feasibility" guided the final choice of NDMC, according to an official. The NDMC is a relatively congestion-free zone and easier to develop.
The Delhi government, meanwhile, has its own smart plans, and wants to adopt solutions such as Wi-Fi for the city.
Incidentally, even Gurgaon (in Haryana) and Noida (in Uttar Pradesh), both information technology and industrial hubs adjacent to Delhi, are not part of the smart city list.
Chennai is the only metro city which has been named as a whole to be a part of the project.
Out of 100, 98 shortlisted cities were announced last week.
Jammu and Kashmir is yet to nominate a city and Uttar Pradesh has named one less than its quota of 13.
The top 20 for the smart city rollout will be chosen by the end of this year.
Reporting by Vijay C Roy and Kavita Chowdhury in New Delhi, Raghu Krishnan in Bengaluru, Probal Basak and Arindam Mujumder in Kolkata