India. We think of colour, people, the Taj Mahal, the tigers and the heat. But there is also huge potential.
There exists the potential to overcome the current socio-economic challenges facing the country and the ability for India to grow and lead the world - just as the rest of the the world seems to be slowing down.
India is a country that is rich in resources, and as a member of the BRIC nations - beginning to find its feet as a global economic powerhouse. The disparities the population experience in health, wealth and education to name but a few are being targeted, with smart cities at the heart of addressing them.
100 Smart Cities
It sounds big, especially considering one probably doesn't truly exist yet anywhere. But that is the target India have set themselves (and also what they have called the project). Smart Cities are seen as a vehicle for improving quality of life - in all areas, something that India urgently requires.
India recognise that they cannot achieve this grand ambition all on their own. PM Modi has been on the foreign investment roadshow, with Japan, Singapore and the US already courted. The partnership with Japan in particular has already proved to be worthwhile with $34billion pledged in exchange for strategic ties. $4billion has already been allocated to the work taking place on the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor.
This is the keystone project in 100 Smart Cities with new cities being built alongside upgrades to transport, health and logistic infrastructure to turn the area into a 'Global Manufacturing and Training hub'.
There is also huge scope for members of the private sector to lend their expertise and services with Urban Development Secretary Shankar Aggarwal testifying to such.
Cisco have already broken new ground by conducting the feasibility study for DMIC and partnering Bangalore to create the Bangalore Electronic City. IBM haven't been quiet either, working hard to provide a Smart Cities blueprint for the Indian Government (The Centre), not too dissimilar to UrbanTide's work with the Scottish Government in fact.
The project is not universally welcomed however. On a countrywide level opponents believe that the country would be better served addressing issues such as basic sanitation on a village by village level. Commuter trains regularly break down in some of the most populated cities in the world and a government led project to clean the Ganges in 100 days failed and was abandoned. Smart Cities 100 is seen by some as a vanity project that won't address the key issues quickly enough.
More specifically there is an issue around the land earmarked for all this development. India has thousands of villages in rural areas and the land they inhabit is very strictly regulated to preserve them. However The Centre are making noises towards deregulation seeking to reduce red tape and bureaucracy for the project. Many Indians have deemed this move as unconstitutional and plan to fight it.
That being said, the current Central Government has only been in power since June. Time must be afforded before too severe a judgment is imposed and by pursuing an ambitious strategy with smart cities an holistic approach to solving the issues India faces is represented. To borrow a phrase one must 'speculate to accumulate', and to make India's cities and their surrounding areas more efficient and better connected will see the benefits disperse to the entire population far quicker and more sustainably than a piecemeal approach of tackling socio-economic problems one at time and one region at a time.
Things are happening on the sub continent, of that there is no doubt. Simon, alongside Scottish Development International, visited India earlier this month, meeting people, travelling to new cities and getting a feel for this extraordinary opportunity. Simon tweeted throughout the trip and he has returned excited by the huge potential that India's 100 Smart Cities programme has to offer.