Uplink from Gujarat, India. Reporting on a Connected, Smart India

Rashmi Varma
Rashmi Varma


A digital native and a core techie with a deep rooted passion to creating innovative solutions and spectacular results. Coding, Designing, Algorithms, Strategy, Business, Writing, Educating & Speaking about Next Generation Technologies are Rashmi’s broad skills. Virtualization, Software Defined Networks, IoT, Deep Learning and Virtual Reality are the verticals Rashmi works with.

In her spare time, she is either building projects with her kids, playing with her dogs, sketching, traveling to experience foods & cultures or learning a new software language or tool.
~Our wonderful and exceptional friend Rashmi is visiting India, while she is there she has agreed to check out the massive Smart Cities undertaking currently happening there. 

Uplink from Gujarat, India. Reporting on a Connected, Smart India.

July 14, 2016

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has led several firsts in the state of Gujarat, in his previous reign as the state’s Chief Minister elect. His projects on infrastructure improvement included creating an eco-system for sustainable and green industrial utilities, public transport strategies to optimize city traffic patterns and myriad others. These projects eventually attracted an influx of both, investment into the state from companies setting up industries and a population looking for a higher quality of life.

As the incumbent leader of a burgeoning nation, Narendra Modi has now initiated the Smart City Mission with a massive funding of nearly 12B USD. The strategy to this project is unique. The Smart City Mission is targeting 100 Indian cities for development, of which 33 cities have been announced, with more to be named.

India’s Smart City Mission Logo
India’s Smart City Mission Logo

Reviewing the list of cities on the project, it quickly becomes clear that these are all cities with smaller populations, typically referred to as secondary cities in India. In discussing this information with Cynthia Heyn, Founder of SmartNTX, several questions emerged about how India defined the concept of “smart” and how did that definition equate to providing for basic infrastructural needs, which is a work in progress.

To know more about the Smart City Mission, I reached out to Manav Yagnik, an IIM-A alumnus and the co-founder of Decimal Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

Decimal (www.decimaltech.com) , is a pioneer in creating a platform that accelerates deployment of digital and mobility usecases for enterprises, and have been involved in their own way with the digitization of the banking enterprise workflow with “Aadhar”(see previous article published on this topic).

Mr. Yagnik made a kind introduction to Mr. Sudhanvan, President at Ispat Corp., who is leading an innovative collaboration to define ISPAT’s own and other smart city planning and development strategy.


Mr. BS Sudhanvan
Mr. BS Sudhanvan

Speaking with Mr. Sudhanvan made for a great discussion and was an awesome learning experience for me. Summarizing the key take-away from the discussion; India is at an intersection, where convergence of Infrastructure, Internet of Things, Data and People will create a new value proposition model for urban development. This integration, however, should be people focused, rather than technology centric.  Though data and computing has to provide real time intelligence, an emphasis on design will conform the intelligence as actionable and most importantly, acceptable by the masses.

An informative excerpt of the conversation with Mr. Sudhanvan is below:

Rashmi: We appreciate your time in answering our questions on the Smart City Mission, underway in India currently. For the benefit of the readers, please give us a little background about yourself, your career, your interests with smart initiatives and your personal mission in this area.

Sudhanvan: I started with a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering a couple decades ago and have been involved with a number of notable urban and transport planning projects, while working with major infrastructure corporations including Wilbur Smith, Reliance Infrastructure, GVK and now, Ispat.

I am amongst the first few people to initiate the introduction of Mass Rapid transits  into India, working with consultant engineers in the US and building alignments and master planning for metro transport, which was notably used on Bangalore and Chennai’s MRT rail system.

I have been involved with transport planning and modeling for flyovers, 4-6 lane toll roads and metro stations in cities like Bangalore and Chennai. I have also been involved in design of  Information Technology (IT) parks in India such as Infosys campus and have worked on commercial large scale factory design projects.

Currently, I head the smart city initiative for Ispat and am working on establishing a collaborative eco-system with public and private sectors including partnerships with countries like Germany, Spain and China.

Rashmi: Tell us about Ispat Corp. and its history.

Sudhanvan: Ispat means steel. Ispat is one of the oldest and biggest steel manufacturing companies in India. It was founded by Lakshmi Mittal’s father, M.L. Mittal, nearly 32 years ago, and the family has since, diversified into other businesses in India and abroad – textile, water purification plants etc. Though Lakshmi Mittal has been notably involved with steel manufacturing outside of India, Ispat was managed by the younger Mittal brothers, Pramod and Vinod.

Last year, under the guidance of Mr. Vinod Mittal, Ispat Corp. started the smart city initiative project.

Rashmi: PM Narendra Modi has announced a smart city initiative involving 100 cities. How is Ispat involved in this initiative?

Sudhanvan: Companies are involved at two levels with the initiative. There are some that are working on strategies with the Prime Minister and Smart City Mission cabinet directly. These are companies like PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers Pvt. Ltd.) and Ernst & Young.

Other companies, like Ispat are working with several planning commissioners and municipal corporations and providing feasibility studies and data on creating efficient, smart infrastructure and services for the residing citizens, after identifying local needs and issues, which are very unique to every city. For instance, Ispat is working with the municipal commissioner of Tirupathi. Tirupathi, is a religious place in South India. Ispat has studied the city and its religious tourism and has provided a master plan for how it can be completely transformed.

We operate in three independent, modular steps – Initial plan and feasibility, detailed design and execution. We can satisfy the complete workflow – develop, integrate and execute the project, as we have done for the river front development in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh or we can be involved in any of the three in collaboration with other partners.

Rashmi: Considering the fact that several in India are still awaiting an opportunity to access basic utilities and services, what is your definition of “smart” and how do you see “smart” accelerating access to essential infrastructure?

Sudhanvan: What is “smart”? That is a great question. Each country has its own definition for “smart”. ICT companies talk about “smart” as digital or IT infrastructure. However, in a country like India, where only 6% of people have access to smart mobile phones, “smart” stands for convenient, comfortable living at home with access to 24×7 infra, utilities like electricity and water, trouble free commute to work and giving people an opportunity to upgrade their socio-economic status without having to move to big cities.

There are three types of “smart” projects being developed: large scale greenfield deployments, a self-sustaining development on a smaller acreage or upgrading older areas.

Developing smaller 500-1000 acres is preferred and once the project is well established and we have enough data to retrospect, we can scale that project. Hence, your observation that the cities being considered by the Smart City Mission, are secondary cities. Solutions for bigger cities are more complex, harder to scale, and to get a buy-in from all involved, especially, the residents, who are the end customers of any smart city initiative.

In the case of Tirupathi, which thrives on spiritual tourism, we asked key questions such as how do we attract tourists to spend more time, once they visit? How tourism money is spent so that it becomes an income for the residents? Devotees donating hair at the temple accounts for nearly 100 tons, weekly. Incorporating a factory that produces wigs, was the most logical design for the city.

Every “smart” place develops locally. “Smart” should really be about incorporating local flavors. No, one size fits all. In the end, “smart” should be able to answer one key question – How it can improve socio-economic culture in India?

Rashmi: What are the strategies being deployed towards smart city implementation?

Sudhanvan: It is a work in progress. The central government has not completely formulated the financial model. They have provided suggestions and are conducting workshops. Each city is defining their usecases and identifying the funding and monetization models based on their needs.

Several public forums have been created to allow residents to participate. Debates are being held and public suggestions are being polled. Ultimately end users have to provide inputs.

Rashmi: As an infrastructure company participating in the smart city initiative, what trends does Ispat pay most attention to these days? Is it research in material science, technology, citizen involvement and feedback or political policies?

Sudhanvan:  There is so much innovation in progress. There are many key trends to focus on. For example, eco-friendly trends, agricultural trends such as intelligent farming etc.

Rashmi: Who owns the solution going forward to ensure that all the products stay compatible with one another as they are upgraded? What is the eco-system for collaboration?

Sudhanvan: The role of the integrator is becoming important. Integration is part of the smart city initiative and communication is key.

Tie-ups with several companies is in progress. We want to focus on proven technologies that are working well, so that implementation benefits are seen immediately.

Rashmi:  What is the most important thing to get right for the future of “smart” India?

Sudhanvan: What India needs as a priority, is improved public health.  If we improve the city’s (people’s) health, it collectively fixes a lot of issues. Productivity, empowerment, civic and sanitation awareness are all gains from such an initiative. To solve this, we need continuous data on the effectiveness of our sanitation systems, health education, stopping illegal construction etc. and correlation with public health issues. This will automatically allow cities to develop well.

In the last 20 years, I have not seen any issues with infrastructure growth or response time, or the time taken to implement major projects in India. The main issue is that of funding and adaptability.  Metro was found as the solution for public transportation, over a couple decades ago. However, it took 20 years to get implemented due to lack of funding. Besides, whatever I implement as “smart”, it depends on how people accept it. Though China is considered as the country with the highest population, population density i.e. the number of people per sq. km. in India, is higher compared to China. The population of Mumbai is greater than half that of Australia. Implementation strategy and how people use [smart], is a big question.  Whatever new systems are developed, people are encouraged to use it. Without their participation, there is no data.