New Delhi, Feb 20 : The Smart Cities Mission of the government is just a starter to India's urban transformation and the plan won't be limited to just 99 designated areas, says Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri.
"Transforming entire existing cities has never been done in the history of the world," says Puri.
"You can build new cities over time, but fixing old cities requires a strategic vision and a carefully planned outlay of resources."
In an interview to the journal India Review (and) Analysis, Puri, who holds independent charge of the ministry, also noted that the mission to transform Indian cities is an innovative intervention to address "some of the most chronic problems" in the management, planning and finance of cities.
He said the overall purpose to transform urban India would benefit from the Smart Cities Mission as it would create "lighthouse cities" like the innovation labs for the urban sector.
The mission, he said, "will create the proofs-of-concept, the models and best practices that other cities around the country will learn from.
"It is important to note that the smart cities represent the full spectrum of the urban sector in our country," he said, referring to the 99 cities that have been nominated to be developed as smart cities across the country.
"There are cities of all sizes with all kinds of economic activities and a diverse range of social and cultural contexts."
He said the mission is fundamentally "an innovative intervention into the long-neglected urban sector" of India.
It is "to target some of the most chronic problems in the management, planning and finance of cities and seeks to address those problems".
Asked about a common concern that designating an area as a Smart City would increase the inequality gap, the former top diplomat, who retired as India's Permanent Representative at the United Nations, dismissed it as a "common misconception".
"We must understand that transforming entire existing cities has never been done in the history of the world.
You can build new cities over time, but fixing old cities requires a strategic vision and a carefully planned outlay of resources.
Starting with one area does not mean we will limit ourselves to that area only. In fact, that is only the starting point."
He said the government was also cognizant of the issues related to urban migration for which it constituted a group of experts and officials to deliberate on the subject of migration and its impact on housing, infrastructure and livelihoods.
"The recommendation was to integrate migrants into the urban economy, especially by addressing their housing needs, which have a direct impact on their access to livelihood and their ability to access other services like healthcare and education for their families.
In terms of housing, for those who migrate to our cities and can't immediately purchase houses, a rental housing policy is also being drafted."
He said the government's National Urban Livelihoods Mission also aims to integrate various kinds of workers into the urban economy through skill-building and other initiatives.
"Contrary to the dogma that has prevailed for many decades, the migrant is the person who brings new ideas and energy into urban societies.
Most importantly, as our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) once said, a poor migrant gets accommodated and assimilated into the urban economy -- thus, cities are able to 'digest' poverty."
The principle of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' "will be manifest in all aspects of our work in the urban sector", Puri stated in the interview.