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Dr. Subhash ChandraGlobal Print Monitor meets Dr. Subhash Chandra, Chairman, Essel Group & Zee TV from India to hear more about the country's ambitious plan of building 100 smart cities. By Sabine A. Slaughter

Smart Cities is one of the top priorities worldwide as a lasting sustainability can only be achieved if and when all the relevant factors affecting their development are cohesively combined into collaborative action. No wonder that this was also a major topic at Hannover Messe, the biggest industrial exhibition worldwide.

One of the many exhibitors from India – the partner country at this year's show – was the Essel Group, a diversified conglomerate encompassing many companies in the print media, packaging, television, digital cable, education, theme parks, family entertainment, online gaming, healthcare, water distribution, utilities and infrastructure development. The company's chairman Dr. Subhash Chandra, often referred to as the media mogul of India, took some of his precious time away from his busy exhibition schedule and explained his company's concept in developing the smart cities and why India wants to be at the forefront when it comes to Smart Cities Developments.

GPM: Dr. Chandra, you started as media company with newspaper and flexible packaging – and now you are involved in so many areas that on first sight are not related to these businesses ....
Dr. Subhash Chandra: Well, from the outside it might look like this. However, all our activities are interrelated. For example when you want to watch television, you require power for it, and obviously cable or satellite for reception. In order to live modestly, you need adequate water, heating, cooling etc. So, in fact, all of our activities are aimed at improving the quality of life of the people in India. This also applies to our overseas businesses. Without the necessary infrastructure, living conditions cannot be improved. In India many people live in rural areas. The urban cities are expanding every day. It is predicted that in cities worldwide, especially in India the population in urban communities will double by 2025. This means that a lot of development and re-development needs to be done in order to accommodate all those people, and give them a good quality of life. Also this needs to be done in a sustainable way ensuring the resources be utilized to their utmost possibility. Today, India does not yet have the infrastructure it requires. This is something that needs to be developed. Our company Essel Infrastructures Ltd. is set up to do just that. We welcome the decision of the Indian government to build 100 Smart Cities in India and want to be involved in this project.

GPM: Smart cities is a buzzword nowadays, what do you imply when you say Smart Cities?
Dr. Subhash Chandra: For us smart cities are an essential part of India's way forward. The innovative technologies paired with the existing and/or newly developed housing and business areas form one aspect of it. And sustainable, performance-enhancing measures that enable people to enhance their living in all aspects are another essential part of it. We have developed a concept for smart cities in the country. This includes the three pillars that we have identified: competitiveness, sustainability and quality of life. We estimate that by 2050 about 70% of India's population will live in cities. We have to be prepared for this and also cater to the existing city populations. We need to work towards not only building the new cities in green areas, but also to cater to brown developments. We have to create a framework where everyone has access to clean water. India has abundance of water, however, that water is not suitable for household use in most cases. We need to change this, not only in existing areas but also develop a sustainable concept that provides the population with clean water 24 hours a day. That is why we are engaged in water recycling, waste management and the development of this infrastructure. Sewage and sanitation are essential for a healthy population and so is electrical power. Indians love to watch television, so new technologies like Video TV can be used during travel. Traffic management, transport and ICT (Communication Technology) are the essential parts of a smart city, as is sustainability. This then leads to education and social interaction – be it by participating in public life, in communities and/or being able to secure adequate working conditions. In such smart economy where income levels are bound to rise, the labor market provides more work which in turn enables more people to conquer poverty and raise their living standards.

GPM: Can you tell us a bit more about your concept of smart cities?
Dr. Subhash Chandra: Sure. The Essel Group has developed a concept and vision for smart cities for India that touches every part of people's lives through new ideas, technology and developed infrastructures. In a country where power supply for 24 hours a day is not a norm in many regions, there is a need to transform this by providing the infrastructure. We call this area Smart Living. It encompasses the basic necessities of life like sewage and sanitation, water supply, storm water drainage, housing, citizen safety and municipal waste, internet connectivity, cable and broadband. Those are the essential requirements in order to develop a smart city. As we build smart cities we will also have to take care of Smart Inclusive Development – that is taking care of the environment and watching the carbon footprint. This can be achieved collaboratively by the company as well as the citizens. The next feature that needs to be developed and which we have already started is Smart Mobility. There needs to be efficient mass transit systems, public transport and smart traffic management in order to avoid constant traffic jams etc. This is where the power of IT can be leveraged. Besides this, we strive to include Smart Economy enabling the population to raise their income levels by providing more growth opportunities. For this, our Smart People concept plays a critical role which includes providing education and enabling people to participate. Education will also lead to healthier living which, in turn will provide a Smart Environment with less pollution and sustainable resource management. An additional step is Smart Governance which includes revenue management, administration, grievance and disaster management and a clear policy. All these factors however, are not separated but independent and interplay with each other. We, the Essel Group, have invested substantial amounts into the first steps for such a development. As a utility provider, we have invested in available technologies such as solar panels, wind energy, power transmission and the urban development. In addition, our SBUs are active in the transport areas as well as within the environmental area which encompasses MSW, sewage, waste water treatment and desalination. We are striving to transform the peoples' lives this way.
As to what comes first in the development of Essel Smart City, well, it is the connectivity. Pipes and lines needs to be there first. That's what we are working on currently. In order to transform the existing cities to smart cities we have to provide the infrastructure first. This will make the lives of every citizen in that city easier.

GPM: The announcement of the government of India to build 100 smart cities, how are you involved?
Dr. Subhash Chandra: We are very excited about the government's plans and want to collaborate with the government on its vision and we believe that Essel Smart City will enhance on how the government can deliver governance and services to its citizens. The foundation for a smart city will be integrated services thus transforming delivery of citizen services from infrastructure to power and utilities. We have already announced the next phase of development of Essel Smart City thus committing to the government's ambitious plans. Our target is to provide the Indian population with transformed lives that enables them to live, work, play and learn in an adequate, modern and sustainable environment.

GPM: Your company is also active within the healthcare sector?
Dr. Subhash Chandra: Yes, we have Z living, a health and wellness network in 150 countries and we have just established our Z Living institute in the US. Many people live an unhealthy lifestyle and we are trying to bring our thousand of years old knowledge of living (and eating) in harmony with nature to the people. Our eastern philosophy can also be applied to the west and everyone can live healthy – with the mind, body and soul. As a global player we try to enhance lives of everyone wherever they are in the world.

GPM: Where do you and your company want to be in 5-10 years?
Dr. Subhash Chandra: 5,000 years ago the Indian habitat was sustainable. In the meantime it transformed to not such a positive environment. We need to pick up our legacy and get back to the sustainability and self-respect. People in the country have become complacent. This needs to change, but I do not think that I will still see this in my lifetime.
Our ambition as the company is that we want to build 10 smart cities in the next 10 years. We have already started with the two cities. The ideal development would be of those that are self-sustainable. We strive not only to develop new cities in the green but also transform the existing cities into the smart cities. From there on we want to expand and branch out to new avenues with newer plans that can be implemented.

 

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