Bhopal is next on India's ambitious smart city agenda

An in-depth look at Bhopal's smart city program and what HPE will be adding to it

India wants to lead the smart city charge. It is in the midst of an initiative that will create 100 smart cities throughout the country, preparing it for a data-driven, sensor-laden future. The latest moves in this space come from the city of Bhopal, which awarded a contract to Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to build and deploy a new command control center to collect and manage the huge swathes of data collected in the city and surrounding urban areas.

It is working with an organisation called the Bhopal Smart City Development Corporation Ltd. (BSCDCL). The command centre will monitor the city’s civic utilities and services and can be deployed in a number of use cases, from smart energy-efficient traffic lights to tracking waste bin collection. For example, a city department could place sensors on waste bins on the street that monitor their usage, which will alert collection trucks when they need to be collected rather than using a single schedule.

Bhopal is the capital city of the state of Madhya Pradesh. The initiative with HPE will take in not just Bhopal but six other cities in the state: Gwalior, Jabalpur, Indore, Ujjain, Satna, and Sagar. The unified cloud command centre will handle and leverage data generated by these cities, which have a combined population of more than 20 million people.

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The command centre combines a number of solutions for collecting and analysing data: the HPE Universal IoT platform, industry leading servers, Edge compute systems, and HPE Pointnext services.

HPE has invested a lot of money and effort into its smart cities programs and has a track record with building the infrastructure and data centres behind Dubai’s smart city agenda.


Single point of control

The combined command centre approach adopted by Bhopal will save the cities on costs and time, claims Som Satsangi, managing director of HPE India.

“If you start creating [a command centre] for every individual city, you will have seven different frameworks and seven different vendors may pick up this order. Then you’re going to have a big challenge to integrate all of those things together,” says Satsangi.

“You’d like to have one common dashboard so you can see what is happening in each of these seven smart cities.”

The approach allows for greater flexibility and cohesion between different cities, especially as cities may be using different legacy systems.

“[A city official] will be able to see on one common dashboard all the services that are launched in the seven cities, what is the status, and what are the alerts for each of those. That gives him flexibility rather than going to each city, which can be time consuming.”


Privacy and security

In a world where cyber-attacks are never too far from the headlines, what protections does Bhopal Smart City have in place? A centralized system raises concerns over the data that may be at risk, so does this create single point of failure for malicious actors to exploit?

HPE explains the opposite is true, that while a single dashboard allows access to the information, the data is not held in one single point.

“In each of these seven cities, we are also creating a small data centre because data will be picked up near to the location,” says Satsangi.

“All the data and information will be done at seven different smart city hubs so for each of the cities we have created one small mini data centre which will host our hardware technology where a lot of security is built so they can avoid cyberattacks from outside.”

BSCDCL did not respond to requests for comment.


Smart cities for all?

India’s Smart Cities Mission is an ambitious urban renewal project instigated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that will see up to 100 cities revamped with new technologies like sensors, command centres, air quality trackers, and parking apps that make these urban areas more “sustainable and inclusive”.

The Bhopal project is just one cog in the bigger machine, but Modi’s plans have hit a number of snags along the way. The program was initiated more than two years ago but only about 5% of projects have been completed. The Times of India reported that around 72% of projects are still only at the preparation stage.

India’s smart city ambitions have regularly been on the receiving end of criticism. First is the term “smart city” and what that actually is or can be interpreted to mean. Secondly, the program has raised concerns over gentrification of cities and soaring housing prices as well as ignoring rural areas and regional towns that will be at risk of being left behind.

Housing and Land Rights Network, a Delhi-based non-profit, published a report last year that criticised the initiative’s reliance on tech-first solutions that are not inclusionary for all citizens, its dependence on too much foreign investment, and claimed that it potentially infringes on the privacy of citizens – a frequently raised concern for smart cities.

Privacy issues will continue to be a major bugbear for smart city proponents and the companies vying for these lucrative contracts.


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