Indian MOF Conference sets objectives for new future-ready infrastructure

The recently concluded 4th Regional Conference on ‘Futuristic, Resilient and Digital Infrastructure’ in Bengaluru identified the need for Indian infrastructure development to prepare the nation to capitalise on the opportunities that digital technologies and the 4th Industrial Revolution has to offer.

The conference identified three key objectives in achieving sustainable infrastructure development — integration in urban planning and transportation, inclusion, and building for resilience in design and operations.

Organised by the Indian Ministry of Finance in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), the two-day conference is a lead-up to the 3rd Annual Meeting of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in June 2018. Featuring delegates and experts from partner institutions, academia, civil society organisations, and industry, they shared their views on the opportunities and challenges a digitally enabled India could face in coming years.

In planning for new nation-wide developments, experts pointed out the rigorous new demands that new infrastructure will be expected to contend with in coming years.

The Role of New Infrastructure

One of the most pressing requirements of new infrastructure is the imminent need to alleviate congestion in the rapidly developing cities and towns in the Indian subcontinent. It has become imperative, particularly in recent decades, to leverage futuristic smart technologies, emerging digital technologies, satellite-based services, intelligent traffic and city management to promote further growth in these areas and achieve decongestion.

To maintain such growth and support flourishing cities, resilience of infrastructure has also become essential, especially in disaster prone areas. The conference stressed the need for new infrastructure and methodologies in planning for and dealing with these disasters — like purpose-designed hospitals, the creation of utility maps, and early warning systems that use digital technologies to predict storms, tsunamis, cyclones, and heat stress. It was also suggested that community level partnerships and initiatives would be important to promote integration at the ground level.

Integrating the vast and sometimes even remote areas of the country, a recurring theme during the conference, was identified as another key objective that new infrastructure will be required to address. Experts suggested that robust masterplans for city expansion that consider the cultural and anthropological characteristics of the geography will be crucial to ensure inclusive development and minimise exclusions across India’s diverse topology. Once again, the conference reiterated the role of digital technologies in fostering these connections.

New methodologies in urbanisation will be vital in ensuring the smooth transition into modernisation and expansion of tier-2 and below cities. Sustainability will also need to be considered in planning and erecting new urban landscapes and mobility solutions to fulfil current demands and to be poised to accommodate for future ones.

While the conference unanimously recognised the need for new digital infrastructure to pave India’s way forward in the tech focused economy and society, they also made special note of the pitfalls such a task would pose.

Challenges of a tech-enabled infrastructure

Financing the gargantuan task of futureproofing the infrastructure of the world’s seventh largest country poses the most significant hurdle. The conference suggested that in addition to the use of the existing private-public partnership funding models, the futuristic Infrastructure may also be funded through land value capture. Allowing land value to first increase then leveraging it for revenue apart from using pooled savings in the form of insurance and pension funds could offer a solution to the financing hurdle.

On the flipside, the conference also contended that the paradigms of infrastructure financing are also changing globally. Increasingly, infrastructure for competitiveness is being championed by multilateral banks like the Asian Development Bank.  

In addition, other challenges such as security, privacy, the future of work, market failure of futuristic innovations, and the concern over the rural-urban gap were also discussed.

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