School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal, India
Surat, India as an example of a smart sustainable city
Surat (population 4.4 million, 2011) is a rapidly growing city in Gujarat, India. Long known as one of the prominent diamond, textile and jewellery manufacturing hubs in India. Before mid-1990s, Surat was notoriously dirty and facing several management problems due to the rapid influx of migrant population, thereby resulting in reduced hygiene and low quality of life in the city. In 1994 the city suffered an outbreak of pneumonic plague and resulted in loss of many human and life. This prompted the municipal government to undertake a wide-ranging set of actions to improve the urban environment, including the transformation of water management system by involving the non-governmental agencies, civil society and the private sector working together. It took about fifteen years to transform Surat as one of the clean, livable city through a broad approach to environmental management including smart initiatives in municipal sewage management.
Surat is the first city in India introduced four sewage treatment plants (STPs) with biogas energy (methane recovery). These plants are currently running through supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. As a result, the entire work is online and every equipment, gates, aerators, blower, pumps etc. controlled from one place. It generates electricity used by the STP, thus mitigating greenhouse emissions that would have resulted from dependence on the fossil-fuel-based grid power supply. By fulfilling the main of methane recovery used for power generation, a wide range of co-benefits associated these project including increased employment and public savings, production of organic solids for fertilizer, reduction in water pollution and vector- borne disease. At present one STP started with tertiary treatment process, and three more plants are under commissioning stage.
The municipal government received funding support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and national government under various urban missions for implementation of environmental improvement projects. Preparation of detailed master plan for comprehensive sewerage network, the creation of multiple zones and decentralization of powers to the zonal commissioners for fast pace development has made Surat a role-model. Multiple partners including international agencies, national governments, national level technical (National Institute of Technology, Surat)/scientific institution (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore), private sector etc. are involved in various operational and maintenance aspects of the project. Visionary bureaucratic representatives and elected politicians have played a crucial role in bringing the change. Climate-resilient city plan prepared by the municipal government gives a clear direction for overall environmental improvement including smart initiatives in municipal sewage management. Central, state, and the municipal government worked hand in hand to achieve this success.
Human resource shortage, higher cost of technology and lack of technical expertise particularly at the municipal level are always a significant challenge. Many times STP operation affected due to systems failure and at times service providers are outside India. For example, the generator was imported from Italy due to lack of gas-based electricity generators in India.
In the year 2015, Government of India launched Smart City Mission. The Mission will cover 100 cities over the five year term, including Surat. The mission proposal aims to improve public services and citizen interface. The idea is to integrate various sectors through pan-city and area- based development proposals. Apart from recommendations related to waste water management, a wide range of projects includes integrated traffic and mobility administration center, Smart city center for delivery of civic services, common city payment system, citizen interface mobile application etc. It will take some more time to access the benefits of smart city projects. Also, it appears that the mission is on the lines of sustainable development in its approach but still lacks in achieving sustainability and inclusiveness. The success and transformation of Surat city particularly environmental management including smart initiatives in municipal sewage management can be a learning example for many other municipal corporations in India and abroad.