India is launching a US$7.5 billion effort to provide 20 cities with uninterrupted power and water supplies, proper sanitation and public transport, giving them European-level living standards.
Thirteen of these cities are among the 20 most polluted urban centers in the world, topped by the capital New Delhi, Reuters reports, citing a World Health Organization ranking.
They lack basic infrastructure such as toilets and are bursting at the seams with the influx of tens of thousands of people from the countryside.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to create 100 new smart cities by 2022 that will have internet connectivity, e-governance along with quality infrastructure such as waste management and efficient public transport.
The plan is also intended to boost investment and create jobs for millions of people but it has faced criticism for being a slow starter.
The federal government has struggled to pass reform legislation making it easier to acquire land and build roads and it was not immediately clear how it would be able to provide high-quality infrastructure to these cities within five years.
On Thursday, Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu named the first set of cities that will be targeted for a transformation.
These include Chennai in the south, which was ravaged by floods last year because of flawed urban planning, as well as a part of New Delhi.
Other proposed smart cities are the tourist destinations of Jaipur and Udaipur and Bhubaneswar in the east.
“This game-changing mission marks the end of a business-as-usual approach,” Naidu told a news conference.
About 35 million people live in the 20 cities.
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