Can India pass the smart laws needed for smart cities?

While India’s central government trumpeted plans to develop 100 smart cities around the country, there are concerns about the lack of a legal framework to manage and regulate these transformed cities.

An article in the Business Standard raised questions around India’s smart city strategy, announced last year.

The complexity of transforming into a smart city largely comes with the difficulty in harmonizing the myriad infrastructure elements involved into one big information technology family. These aspects usually include sanitation, housing, health, education, urban mobility, water and electricity supply, and security.

This complexity poses a headache for city leaders and legal experts who will likely find it too difficult to create over-arching legislative frameworks to cover the entire smart city. Instead they will probably end up tweaking the existing state and municipal laws.

“Considering the number of sub-sectors involved in creating a smart city, it is not possible to bring in an exclusive statute,” says Grant Thornton India director Padma Priya.

She added that a practical approach will likely involve each jurisdiction amending its individual statutes to fit the specific smart city plan and implementation framework for the region.

India will need better privacy laws to start

The huge increase in data that smart cities’ connected infrastructure will produce raises privacy issues that may be beyond the scope of existing laws.

“The current IT Act might not give adequate protection to the citizen data that smart cities will generate,” says Nishith Desai Associates partner Vaibhav Parikh.

And smart cities not only offer the potential for cost saving efficiencies, but also attractive targets for cybercrime.

“There is need to put in place an appropriate legal framework to address such activities in the smart city eco-system,” says Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court cyber law expert, who stresses that smart cities must work to be compliant under 2013’s National Cyber Security Policy.

City leaders have said that implementing India’s ambitious smart city goals will likely mean cities will need to boost revenues to cover costs of managing multiple stakeholders involved in smart city systems. This would require amendments to various laws including those governing municipalities and municipal corporations.

As well, Special Purpose Vehicles set up to guide the operational frameworks of smart city projects would likely need additional powers to facilitate quicker decisions in an integrated smart city.

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