Smart Cities & Managing COVID-19 – COVID-19: India Fights Back – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • May 14, 2020
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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Smart Cities & Managing COVID-19


TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Global crisis – COVID-19
  • Governance – Smart Cities

India’s Smart cities have used various technological solutions to tackle Covid-19 and manage the situation on the ground. Slowing down the spread of Covid-19 is going to require, among other things, a heavy reliance on India’s data infrastructures – providing real-time data readings for critical decision making – and its Smart Cities Mission.

India launched the Smart Cities Mission in 2015 to deliver liveability, economic-ability and sustainability to its urban residents through adoption of context-specific solutions supported by robust IT connectivity, digitalization, and improved e-governance in 100 cities. India’s response to Covid-19 now depends on the successful use of its smart cities investment.

Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs)

As of today, 45 cities have operational Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) set up under the smart cities mission, a further 31 cities are in the process of constructing theirs, and 18 more are issuing tenders. 

  • ICCCs act as 24/7 nerve centres for city managers creating a situational awareness and real-time coordination of emergency response services. 
  • Cities are having to creatively deploy the ICCC infrastructure – control rooms, web portals, sensors, drones, public address systems, surveillance cameras – to coordinate activities related to information, awareness, collaboration, management, predictive analysis and implementation of lockdown. 
  • Covid-19 tracker applications, monitoring quarantine/isolation cases, apps for coordinating city departments and logistics, and telemedicine for medical appointments, are some of the manifestations of technology which stand out.

Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh are among the states that are using the command centres for closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance of public places, geographic information system (GIS) mapping of Covid-19 positive cases and global positioning system (GPS) of healthcare workers.

India’s response to Covid-19 spearheaded by few of its smart cities

Tracing and treating the affected: 

  • Most smart cities have leveraged their citizen engagement tools at the ICCC comprising city portals, citizen apps, variable display boards, public address systems, push notifications on mobiles from citizen database to disseminate information and create awareness amongst the citizens on the disease. 
  • Some cities have introduced apps through which citizens can respond to 4-5 questions, based on which it can be determined whether they are at risk. If any respondent is assessed to be at risk, connects are made for digitally consulting a doctor over phone or meeting platforms and if required, guiding the person to testing centres in their locality.
  • Accordingly, city health workers engage with the person identified at risk and guide them on isolation, quarantine or hospital facilities, which are already mapped across the city, by location. The concerned city health workers remain connected with the person and monitor & record his progress till the person is given an all clear. 
  • The information from the app is aggregated at the ICCC for city authorities to get a city / specific location wide view of the status of persons identified at risk and determine the hotspots for further action which includes sanitizing the neighborhood, informing citizens staying in vicinity of hotspots, taking decisions on containment measures, etc.
  • Smart cities like Pune, Surat, Bengaluru, etc. are tracking the status of the disease spread and identifying localized hotspots through integrated data analytics monitored at their respective ICCCs. Planning response through coordination amongst various state/ city authorities is being supported through the ICCC. Analysis of data integrated at the ICCC is also helping the cities with predictive analytics for containing the spread of the virus.

Managing lockdown: 

  • To get citizens to comply with lockdown, city authorities have to ensure that essential services including groceries, milk supply, medicines are made available at the citizen’s doorstep. This requires that neighborhood shops providing these goods are provided with necessary permits by city authorities for bringing in stock and citizens are aware of the stores which are operating along with timings. 
  • The registration, permit issue, and dissemination of information to citizens is being done through the citizen portals, apps such that citizen have view only of operating stores within the vicinity of their residences. 
  • The cameras across the city meant for traffic and safety & surveillance are being used to monitor vehicular and people movement in the lockdown areas at the ICCC. Based on incidents of lockdown violations viewed at the ICCC in particular locations, police are informed for ensuring enforcement.

Some examples…

Vadodara – Smart surveillance

Installation of a helium balloon attached with two cameras for surveillance on lockdown violators. The balloon also has a public address system attached to it.

Bengaluru – Real time dashboard

Model COVID-19 War Room at Bengaluru – COVID-19 data dashboard of Karnataka inaugurated. This dashboard will be the single source of all COVID-related data which includes people under quarantine, their contacts, medical personnel on the ground, hospitals, taluk-wise & City-wise data & beyond. This real-time data is being put together with a host of software and applications

Kalyan Dombivali – Social Media usage

  • Awareness videos are published on KDMC (Kalyan Dombivali municipal corporation) Facebook page
  • To constantly keep citizens engaged, the Facebook page has published a daily routine of activities has been designed from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm. 
  • The city has identified local experts from different fields such as Yoga, Culinary Art, Aerobics, music, poetry, ghazal, Kathak and Bharatanatyam, philosophy and allotted time slots to each of them, in which they come live in Facebook Page of KDMC during scheduled time slots. 

Agra – Tele-medicine

  • E-Doctor Seva a tele-video consultation facility launched with medicine delivery from the Smart Health Centre-Pharmacy.
  • Smart Health Centers established under Smart City scheme help in spreading awareness about various Do & Don’ts of Corona, 
  • 1015 sanitizers and 935 masks were distributed at subsidized rates 
  • Launched an innovative video surveillance solution to effectively monitor the various locations in Agra city to manage the crowd and fight COVID 19. The latest in this effort is the AI-based Analytics, the first of its kind combat COVID 19 in Agra. An alert is instantly generated to help the authorities to strictly maintain social distancing in Agra. The alerts are configured through an App on the field staff Mobile phones and help the Police Administration on the ground. Agra lockdown monitor App will be available to all thana in-charges and any other police personnel as required.

The Way Forward

Spatial analytics, likely aided by drones and high-res satellite imagery, is critical to aid isolation strategies. 

  • To determine wash-sites, in responding to critical patients, and to do all this in real-time and in light of the impact of the impending monsoon. 
  • The rains will change drainage and access patterns, and soil conditions, particularly in informal settlements, and will increase the risk of other vector borne disease, such as malaria or cholera. 
  • Spatial analytics will also be essential in planning, designing, and building urban infrastructures over the longer term.

E-Governance and e-Banking will be essential in dealing with the aftermath of the lockdown. 

  • With livelihoods on hold, and destitution in slums rising, savings are being depleted but a temporary spike in prices and a breakdown in market supply chains is expected when  lockdowns end. This means cash transfers and access to credit will be essential. 
  • Distribution and monitoring cash transfers will need to be agile, while eGovernance infrastructures will need to be relied upon to identify and address grievances as they arise.

Categories of technology-based Covid-19 proposals and ideas are emerging

  1. Contact tracing; testing and responder capacity
  2. Early warning and surveillance
  3. Quarantine and social control
  4. Research
  5. Cure

Smart cities need to invest in safeguarding citizen rights and in trust building so that we emerge sager and more resilient, and avoid draconian surveillance. ICCCs can become the centres of coordination and consensus building that they were originally conceived to be.

Challenges vary from one city to another and so do solutions

  • Key capacities must be reserved to document best practices and for open-source platforms to share and scale up initiatives. 
  • Lesson sharing across countries and continents will be key to the global fight against Covid-19.

It is expected that the experience gained in responding to this pandemic situation will help cities further develop the capabilities of their ICCC to become responsive and resilient in any challenging situations that may be faced in future.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. The Smart Cities Mission of India seeks to experiment with a new grammar in our urban governance narrative. Discuss.
  2. How was the technology infrastructure of Smart cities repurposed for containing COVID-19?
  3. The new War Room: Smart Cities
  4. Essay: Responsible residents are not asking what their city can do for them but asking what they can do for their city.

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