New Powers: How India’s Smart Cities are Governing and Transitioning to Low-carbon Energy
Despite the potential of cities to foster a low-carbon energy transition, the governance of energy in India broadly remains within the purview of central and state governments. However, the Smart Cities Mission, a new urban scheme launched in 2015, gives Indian cities new powers to govern energy, a surprising departure from previous urban and energy policies. We argue that this shift is significant and we therefore raise three questions: 1) what kind of energy projects are planned and what does it reveal about the cities’ vision towards energy? 2) does the Smart Cities Mission foster a low-carbon energy transition and if so, how is this transition envisaged? 3) and finally, what are the rationale and the drivers behind this apparent shift?
To address these questions, we build on a database of projects and financing plans submitted by the first 60 cities selected in the Smart Cities Mission. We find that cities have earmarked an immense 13,161 INR crore (~1.4 billion GBP) for energy projects, with most funds dedicated to basic infrastructure, primarily focused on enhancing the grid and supply. Cities also proposed projects in solar energy, electric vehicles, waste to energy and LED lighting, indicating their appetite for low-carbon projects. While cities were given institutional space to prioritise certain technologies, their interventions were conditioned by centrally sources of financing which were limited to certain mandated technologies. A focus on technology, rather than planning, undermined the role of cities as strategic decision-makers. What emerges is a dual faced reading of the Smart Cities Mission, indicating the potential and pitfalls of contemporary decentralized energy governance in the Global South.