US officials have confirmed that they will continue to assist India in the development of ‘smart cities’ in the region under the administration of president elect Donald Trump. During the reign of Barack Obama, India and the US signed a series of memorandums of understanding which was aimed at specifically developing three ‘smart cities’ in Allahabad, Ajmer and Visakhapatnam.
US officials agreed to help assist the cities in relation to a number of key areas such as project planning, infrastructure, development, feasibility studies and capacity building. There had been fears expressed among some leaders involved in the ‘Smart City’ movement in India, that the US would withdraw its support for the initiative – following the election of Donald Trump.
However, it has been officially confirmed that the US will continue to work closely with Indian officials in relation to the ‘smart cities’ development.
Deputy Assistant Secretary in the US Department of Commerce, Vinay Vijai Singh said initial discussions had taken place with a team of officials formed as part of Trump’s on-going transition into office – and he outlined some of the challenges that need to be urgently addressed in India.
Singh said, “We have held initial discussions with the transition team (under new presidency). It is still early stages but we have shared our plans and they have been included. Indian cities should be enabled to have more autonomy. The mechanics between the centre and states in India need to be worked out. I know they are working hard at it, we had this ‘smart cities’ competition and the money has gone to the states – then we go to the states and some states say we don’t have the money because these things haven’t been done.”
Further concerns have been raised by some businesses who are already heavily involved in India’s smart cities projects. One of these companies is Region Business Line Leader, AECOM. Its vice president, Ashely O’Connor expressed her concerns and has appealed for clarification to be offered on the smart cities project.
She said, “In Visakhapatnam, in particular, there were talks of a new airport. It would need significant investment, so clarity around these, what is in works, and how they are working moving forward would be helpful for the business side.”
Singh refuted suggestions that the US’s involvement in India’s smart cities project was politically motivated – and that the agenda was being driven by the US private sector which sees the region as a huge area for potential growth.
Singh added, “We will continue to engage with all stakeholders. We will also work with multilateral institutions to help eliminate the initial risk involved in such projects.”
Chief of Staff for the US Trade and Development Agency echoed the sentiments of Singh and declared the primary focus areas for the US in smart cities are in energy, telecom and the transportation sector.