Analog Pasts and Digital Futures: Reflections on India’s Smart Cities Mission

India’s Smart Cities Mission (SCM) was launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in 2015 to improve infrastructure, enhance service delivery, increase citizen engagement, and meet sustainability and inclusivity goals through institutional and technological innovations. Over the last seven years, the SCM has been gradually implemented in 100 cities, with varied experiences and trajectories. The core SCM policy has also substantially evolved in its push for cities to ensure digitalization of municipal services and infrastructures and collecting large urban data (Parkar and Purandare, Forthcoming). Alongside city-level implementations and policy, literature on the SCM have also been diverse and evolving.

Early work unravelled the multiple interpretations of smartness in policy (Khan et al. 2018; Praharaj and Han 2019), highlighted institutional restructuring and rescaling through the Special Purpose Vehicles (Taraporevala 2018), suggested postcolonial imagination of ‘speed’ or ‘fast urbanism’ through a digital turn (Datta 2018), or as technological fixes (Khan et al. 2018). More recent work has tried to evaluate various trajectories of city-level implementations (Prasad et al. 2021), particular SCM infrastructures such as Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCC) (Praharaj 2020), or smart city responses to the pandemic (Datta et al. 2021) and suggested that the SCM drives fragmented placemaking projects (Prasad et al. 2022). Other literature has tried to unravel various actors such as consultants that are involved in the SCM from contributing to national policy to the ideation and implementation of city-level projects (Purandare 2021).

As the SCM approaches its end date in June 2023 and cities rush to finish projects, this workshop seeks to bring together varied strands of research that try to take stock of the mission. We invite papers that are interested in looking at the multiple facets of the SCM such as policy and legislation, governance institutions and their relations, networks of actors and agencies, implications of technologies and infrastructures implemented in various cities. We seek to organize papers through the following axes:

I. Governing Smart Cities: Actors, Institutions and Relationships of Power

The Smart City Mission introduced mandatory institutional conditions to plan and monitor projects. The creation of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) and the recourse to Project Management Consultants (PMCs) are instrumental in reshaping the boundaries between the public and the private sector, modifying the balance between scales of government, and in disrupting existing power relationships between and within the bureaucratic, political, and civil society realms. Adding on, the growth of digital solutions is likely to cause long-lasting impacts on organisational cultures and professional practices, leading to transformations in decision-making processes. Considering these factors, we seek papers that critically look at governance shifts at work under the SCM.

  • How do we understand the SCM impacts on the relationships between different scales of government and on the capacities of existing municipal agencies?
  • How do the networks of private actors such as PMCs, system integrators, and vendors shape implementations of the smart city?
  • What is the role of civil society and political actors in Smart City governance?
  • How do service and data centralization exercises through the ICCC shape convergences between multiple city agencies? Does the SCM tackle the problem of departmental silos, or does it enhance it further?
  • How can we locate the SPV between conventional governance agencies? What are possible futures of the SPV in municipal governance? What have been the impacts of SPV on procurement, financial practices and asset management?

II. Infrastructures and the Production of Cities

Cities under the SCM have substantially spent funds on redevelopment, retrofitting, and improving urban infrastructure. At the same time, cities have also invested in digital infrastructure such as CCTV cameras, optical fibre cables, sensors, and data centres. The SCM also gave rise to a new hybrid form of infrastructure which combined classical urban infrastructure with digital components through projects such as smart poles and smart roads. Further, the projects under the SCM involve creation of multiple apps and platforms that deliver or manage municipal services through automation and analytics. In this context, we seek papers that engage with infrastructures created under the SCM.

  • How does the SCM perform in infrastructure delivery in comparison to previous and contemporary urban development programs?
  • How do we conceptualise newer forms of urban infrastructures created under the SCM?
    What is the future of the SCM digital infrastructures within conventional municipal governance or under new forms of governance such as SPVs?
  • What are various spatial effects of infrastructuring and placemaking exercises under the SCM on city planning and allied practices?

III. Sustainability and Inclusivity in Smart Cities

One of the stated objectives of the SCM is to focus on sustainable and inclusive development by placing communities at the core of planning and implementation. It attempts to bring integrated and sustainable solutions through innovative methods and careful selection of technologies. Many cities under the SCM have proposals for the development of green and open spaces (Mundoli et al., 2017). Amidst recurring environmental catastrophes such as heatwaves, pollution crisis, and urban flooding, cities have also devised disaster management plans (Prasad and Alizadeh, 2020). There is focus on solar powered energy and emphasis towards a switch to LED light bulbs from incandescent, halogen and compact fluorescent lighting systems. There are also projects that promote active transport, dedicated bike lanes, and non-motorised and electric vehicles. In this background, we call for papers that focus on environmental aspects of the projects under the SCM.

  • What solutions do Smart Cities offer to global environmental challenges? How effective are these solutions?
  • How do the projects under the SCM address ecological and social concerns faced by the cities? What are the outcomes of such projects?
  • How do Smart Cities contribute towards reduction of carbon emissions and attaining sustainable development goals?
  • How is the technology leveraged to offer sustainable solutions? How do these solutions impact the people living in cities?

IV. Digital Democracy Futures

The SCM asks cities to engage with citizens in creating their proposals and implementing solutions that enhance participation. Notwithstanding questions of digital literacy, policy vocabulary suggests using digital tools to ensure transparency, bring about accountability and engage with communities, organisations, and academic networks. In light of this, cities deploy various digital solutions ranging from app-based taxation and licensing, online grievance redressal portals, to kiosks for accessing municipal services. At the same time, cities also make use of multiple surveillance systems such as CCTV networks and collect vast urban data through these infrastructures and platforms. With this understanding, we invite papers that address questions of democracy in the context of digitalization.

  • How have cities engaged with citizens in planning and implementing the SCM? What are the experiences in engaging with citizens groups, communities, and civil society?
  • In what ways digital interventions impact transparency and accountability in governance practices?
  • How has digitalization contributed to participatory processes of urban governance? What are its implications towards conventional offline access to elected representatives?
  • How does data collection and algorithmic automation shape citizen experiences? What are the impacts of surveillance systems created in the SCM?
  • What are the implications of datafication practices in the context of limited privacy laws and protections?

Workshop Details

The workshop will be conducted in a hybrid mode, but with a preference that participants are able to travel to Delhi to present their work in person. Partial funding may be available for participants who require travel support. We expect the papers presented in the workshop to lead to an edited volume.
If you are interested in participating in the workshop, please send your abstracts of between 250-300 words to by 14 October 2022. Please indicate your full name, current affiliation, and whether you will prefer to participate online or in person. If you would require funding to travel to Delhi, please indicate that as well.


Deadline for submissions of abstracts: 14 October 2022
Selection of abstracts: 21 October 2022
Full papers due: 18 December 2022
Workshop: 17 & 18 January 2023


Gaurav Mittal (Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)
Khaliq Parkar (CESSMA, IRD, Universite Paris Cite, Paris)
Marie-Helene Zerah (CESSMA, IRD, Universite Paris Cite, Paris)


Datta, Ayona. 2018. “Postcolonial Urban Futures: Imagining and Governing India’s Smart Urban Age.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 37(3): 393–410.
———. 2021. “Apps, Maps and War Rooms: On the Modes of Existence of ‘COVtech’ in India.” Urban Geography 42(3): 382–90.
Khan, Sama, Persis Taraporevala, and Marie-Helene Zerah. 2018. “Mission Impossible Defining Indian Smart Cities.” Economic & Political Weekly 53(49): 80–88.
Mundoli, Seema, Hita Unnikrishnan, and Harini Nagendra. 2017. “The ‘Sustainable’ in Smart Cities: Ignoring the Importance of Urban Ecosystems.” Decision 44(2): 103–20.
Parkar, Khaliq, and Uttara Purandare. Forthcoming. “Decoding the Digitalization of Urban Governance in India: Policy, People and Processes of the Smart Cities Mission and the National Urban Digital Mission.” Centre for Policy Research: New Delhi, India.
Praharaj, Sarbeswar. 2020. “Development challenges for big data command and control centres for smart cities in India.” In Nimish Biloria (ed) Data-driven Multivalence in the Built Environment. 75–90. Springer.
Praharaj, Sarbeswar, and Hoon Han. 2019. “Cutting through the Clutter of Smart City Definitions: A Reading into the Smart City Perceptions in India.” City, Culture and Society 18:100289. 1–10.
Prasad, Deepti, and Tooran Alizadeh. 2020. “What Makes Indian Cities Smart? A Policy Analysis of Smart Cities Mission.” Telematics and Informatics 55:101466. 1–15.
Prasad, Deepti, Tooran Alizadeh, and Robyn Dowling. 2021. “Multiscalar Smart City Governance in India.” Geoforum 121: 173–80.
———. 2022. “Smart City Place-Based Outcomes in India: Bubble Urbanism and Socio-Spatial Fragmentation.” Journal of Urban Design 00(00): 1–21.
Purandare, Uttara. 2021. “Who Drives India’s Smart Cities? Understanding the Role Of Consulting Firms in the Smart Cities Mission.” In Chris Hurl and Anne Vogenpohl (eds) Professional Service Firms and Politics in a Global Era: Public Policy, Private Expertise. 79–96. Springer.
Taraporevala, Persis. 2018. “Demystifying the Indian Smart City.” Centre for Policy Research: New Delhi, India, 1-35.

A Statement – 9 September 2022

9th September 2022

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Centre for Policy Research

South Asia Dialogue Series on Sustainable Development Goal 6

Watch this webinar series focusing on key challenges and solutions in reaching universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in South Asia. Produced in partnership with Athena Infonomics, Centre for Policy Research’s Scaling City Institutions for India Initiative (CPR SCI-FI), Sanitation and Water for All, UNICEF, Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA) and IRC.

WASH access in South Asia

In the past five years, South Asia has made good progress on improving sanitation. Access to at least basic water services is now also relatively high across the region, ranging from 99% in Maldives to 75% in Afghanistan. However, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of universal access to safely managed sanitation is a long way off, with 2020 Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) data suggesting that more than half of households in India, Bangladesh and Nepal do not have access to safely managed sanitation. Similarly, the SDG target for universal access to safely managed water is also off the mark, most notably in Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and Afghanistan, where three quarters of households lack access.

The 2020 JMP data suggest large variation in basic access to hygiene services across South Asia, with 80% of people in Pakistan able to wash their hands with soap and water at home, compared with 58% in Bangladesh. For countries in the region to deliver on their commitments to provide safely managed water and sanitation services to all by 2030, strong political will and adequate financing are required.
The South Asia Dialogue Series on SDG 6 is a joint initiative by WaterAid, CPR SCI-FI, Sanitation and Water for All, UNICEF, Athena Infonomics, FANSA and IRC to encourage evidence-based lessons across the region to facilitate discussions and address the challenges hampering progress towards SDG 6 in South Asia. The webinar series focuses on key challenges and solutions in the areas of: strengthening municipal finances; access to safe and affordable WASH services, and the impact of climate change on these; data systems and monitoring progress; and gender inclusion.

As the sector evolves, innovative solutions are emerging to help address some of the most pertinent issues. We look forward to encouraging and facilitating further discussions on these.

Webinar 1: Municipal financing for sanitation in small towns.

Webinar 2: Fostering robust local data ecosystems for sustainable sanitation service delivery in cities of South Asia.

Read a summary of the key takeaways from the webinars here.