AD_Op2

by Arati Davis, Vice President, Sweden-India Business Council

August 15th, 2016 marks 70 years of India’s independence. There have been many positive changes during this time, including huge improvements to the socio-economic fabric of the country. GDP continues to be strong at 7.4 per cent. The country has increased maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks and has a national identity scheme that allows for more direct benefits to those in need. India is a world leader in solar power, so much so that the International Solar Alliance will be headquartered in India. In August 2016, The Goods and Services Bill passed after a political journey of over 6 years, which will do much to the ease of doing business within the country.

But, having spent two weeks in Whitefield, Bangaluru, it is clear that the programmes like India’s SmartCities Mission will be critical for India’s urban centres, seen to be the country’s future economic engines for growth. Whitefield’s International Tech Park has over 10,000 employees, malls like Phoenix and VR house international brands such as Hamleys, H&M, Marks and Spencers. But residents and retail alike operate largely on generators, especially in the summer where power outages and water shortages are the norm.

For those that are not lucky enough to have access to generators, residents of Navgarpalya for instance, systems are in place to sell power by the hour, provided by middlemen. The luckier ones might get solar lamps that then provide insulation against the fluctuations of an unreliable grid. There are over 600 slums in Bangaluru with 760,000 residents.

Bangalore is not on the list of India’s 100 smartcities. This is because retrofitting is an expensive ambition. Newer cities, still with room to grow, have more to benefit than perhaps a pensioner’s paradise on a second wind. But residents of spaces like ITPL and Navgarpalya will make up all of India’s smartcities.

When we talk about off-grid, we think rural. But on closer inspection, urban islands are as energy starved and in need of attention. Innovation in smartcity thinking will need to reach these communities in order for India to continue its rise.