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Setting Cities Smart and Sustainable on Digital Platform

The smart cities business unit of Tata Projects have been recently awarded the Bharat Net project, in the state of Chhattisgarh. Please elaborate to us on what major initiatives have been taken and are in pipeline for the successful rolling out of the project? What is the financial value of the project? Would you be able to elaborate on the fund allocation process for various initiatives under this project?

The Bharat Net project is an initiative launched by Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. In fact, BBNL (Bharat Broadband Nigam Ltd) is an ambitious and visionary project aiming to connect every town and village of the country to the information superhighway. These projects will enable high speed digital connectivity using the latest IP-MPLS technology, to bring learning, tele-medicine, e-governance and security to the most remote and far-flung corners of our nation. 

Tata Projects is proud to have been awarded the contract for the state of Chhattisgarh. This project comprises around 26000 km of fibre-laying along with state-of-the-art data network technology. Tata Projects will also operate and maintain this network for a period of seven years post completion. The project value is around Rs. 3000 crore. The funds are made available from the DOT through use of initiatives like the USOF (Universal Service Obligation Fund). 

Tata Projects brings its best-in-class project management, procurement and high-quality O&M (Operations & Maintenance) abilities to deliver the best-in-class services to Chhattisgarh. A full-fledged team of more than 100 specialists is already in Chhattisgarh and being assisted by a diverse team of fully qualified subcontractors. This project is monitored at the highest levels by Tata Projects to ensure adherence to delivery timelines and quality parameters. 

Tata projects has been one of the biggest players in the country’s Smart City market. Please elaborate to us in detail about what key innovations and initiatives are taken in the smart space by Tata Projects?

Tata Projects has been a thought-leader and visionary in the smart cities space. We have invested deep thought, time and resources to understanding the needs of cities and communities. We have recently won the Patna ICCC with a City Surveillance project in a competitive bid scenario. Prior to this, we have led the way with award-winning LED street lighting projects (Pune, Noida, Ludhiana and recently Nashik). We have also participated in the emergency response domain with our integrated Dial 112 service in Chhattisgarh. Additionally, Bharat Net completes our portfolio bringing in fiber and connectivity. 

We are the only comprehensive, one-stop service provider that can and does deliver all the needs of cities in a holistic and comprehensive manner. We have pioneered the LoRA (Low Radiation) WAN network to connect our sensors and IOT devices. Furthermore, we have also completed a wonderful, first-of-its-kind, river rejuvenation project in the city of Jaipur that has converted a sewer drain into a beautiful flowing river with public spaces and amenities. 

Our unique way of thinking and putting the needs of residents the first approach makes us distinctive from our competitors. We will continue to drive cutting edge innovation in traffic management, IOT based city management platforms, AI and ML-based surveillance and security systems and other offerings that shall keep our cities safer, cleaner and enhance liveability. 

The Government of India’s ambitious plan to set 100 smart cities in five years. What’s your view on the same? Is the ambitious plan set right? What could have further better strategies to have our smart cities in better positions?

The Government of India’s smart cities initiative is the world’s largest and most ambitious program. It was also very well aligned with the Swacch Bharat initiative which focused on cleanliness and waste management - this is the need of the hour for most of our urban areas. This program has created huge awareness among ULBs (Urban Local Body) as to how they can transform the lives and experiences of their residents. 

Many cities like Bhopal, Indore, and Pune led the way with well thought out and execute projects for command and control, city surveillance, LED lighting and traffic management. Some other cities have struggled as achieving consensus at the local level has not always been easy. Overall in our view, given the size, scale, and level of ambition of this project - the results are encouraging and have blazed a path that would continue to drive cities to do better. 

There could have been improvements in the way tenders were formulated. Each city had different needs and aspirations. Yet most went with a one-size-fits-all approach and sought to copy RFP features that aren’t likely to succeed. Additionally, the priority of needs and work to be taken up are different in each city. 

We are seeing that many cities are adopting a more flexible approach. There is also a need to move to outcomes rather than merely infrastructure creation. The role of PPP is also currently under-leveraged. If more PPP activities are brought in with less stringent conditions – it will lead to greater transparency and the results would be far better.

Do you trust the government’s procedure of selecting smart cities to be fully integrated and seamless? What more could have been done towards this to scale the process further right?

The approach of the government to bring cities on digital platforms is the correct one. As cities grow in size, population and challenges - there is a need to bring all the command and control including disaster management and emergency response under one umbrella. This initiative is to be lauded and supported but taking too long to roll out. 

Many projects suffer long delays as specifications are hard-wired and deviations for better products or more innovative approaches cannot be secured. The legacy of tenders based on OEM inputs continues with some OEMs having a disproportionate say in the specifications to the disadvantage of other OEMs. The playing field is often not level and considerations that are not merit based do creep in from time to time. All of this can be easily rectified if the tenders would move to SLA and outcome-based metrics with MSIs free to choose the best-suited OEMs for delivering those SLAs and outcomes. 

For example, there is hardly a need to specify what sort of four-port switch (costing less than Rs. 1500) would be used. It is a commodity IT item and there are several dozen vendors for this. Yet we often find that when tenders are formulated several such items are hard wired and the ability to find plentiful vendors is severely restricted. The delays are also attributable sometimes to the MSI and that is largely due to a tendency to set unreasonable time-lines which should be a process involving the MSI as well as the city. 

What are the key projects for smart city initiatives and innovations that are in the Tata Projects pipeline?

Having secured the experience and credentials for all the pillars of smart city, we will now seek to grow and expand each business line aggressively whilst of course, exceeding the high expectations that clients have from us in the landscape of the current project. 

Tata is committed over the past 150 years to improving the quality of life of the community which is the most valuable stakeholder we serve. To this end, our smart cities practice will focus on traffic management, safety, security, data management, command and control, disaster management and predictive analytics. 

We are also keenly aware of the challenges that global phenomena like climate change will bring. Hence, we are already innovating low-cost and practical solutions that balance the community’s growth aspirations while preserving our fragile planet for future generations. 

What Smart Solution are Tata Projects rolling out for safe and secure cities?

We have an entire suite of solutions for safe and secure cities. In Chhattisgarh, we are already operating the Dial 112 service which integrates fire, ambulance, and police. With a tracked and timed response, we have managed to save hundreds of lives of those affected by accidents, injuries or crimes. 

In addition to this, we have recently won the Patna ICCC (Integrated Command & Control) which also integrates city surveillance. Nearly 3600 cameras will be rolled out across Patna in the next 18 months along with advanced analytical and storage capabilities that will identify the perpetrators of crime. 

We are also looking to participate in women’s safety using LoRA wearables and furthermore utilizing street lights as the ‘hub’ from which to locate and serve those in distress. Our innovative and zero-based approach can help cities to identify the best solutions for their own unique challenges. 

Would you share with us how Tata Projects is working in lines with the Digital India initiative of the Government of India?

Tata Projects is fully committed to Digital India and this is evident from our Bharat Net Project which will bring state-of-the-art digital connectivity to the state of Chhattisgarh. Nearly 6000-gram panchayats are covered, including remote and far-flung corners of the state which will soon enjoy high speed and reliable broadband connectivity. 

Additionally, we leverage the strengths of our partner Tata Communications to bring alive the cloud-based disaster recovery and real-time replication solutions needed to support the deluge of data from the IOT and 5G world. We are thinking about what’s next for five years and 10 years time-frame because the data management challenges that will come up in the IOT world would make today’s issues seem trivial. 

We need to scale up and prepare with edge data networks, liquid cooled servers that have higher efficiency, fault-tolerant and self-healing systems that can work for years without any maintenance requirements. In addition, these high-reliability systems can be the backbone of the city’s digital infrastructure. 

As ‘One-Tata’ we have access to a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience from TCS, TCL, TASEC and other members of our Tata Family. This entire body of capability is at the disposal of cities that wish to improve the quality of life for their residents. 

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