In 1984, a massive chemical leak from a pesticide factory left Bhopal’s soil and water toxic, and killed nearly 4,000. The damage scarred the city’s memory and it is determined to learn lessons.

The Indian city is now known to be one of the greenest in the country, dotted with lakes and ancient monuments. It is one of the first 20 in India to be selected for Prime Minister Modi’s 100 Smart Cities Mission. Bhopal’s vision is to “maintain the heritage and culture of the city and make the city more sustainable,” says Chandramauli Shukla, CEO of Smart City Bhopal.

GovInsider caught up with him to find out how he plans to keep the city green and make government services more convenient.

Green Bhopal

Buses are the main form of public transport in the city, and it is looking to cut pollution from these vehicles by switching to electric buses. “To start with we have asked for 100 buses” from the central government, Shukla says, which has given the city a subsidy of 1.45 billion rupees (US$22.4 million). The city is setting up new infrastructure like charging stations, and plans to start running them by June 2018.

The city has also started a new public bike sharing scheme, and its success has surprised city officials, says Shukla, a cyclist himself. “Within 100 days of implementation of the project, we had more than 36,000 registered users,” he says. Users must pay a subscription fee to use the bikes, and can then unlock their bikes using a smart card, their mobile phones or a login pin.

The next step for the city would be to integrate the bike sharing with buses. This will improve last mile connectivity, making it easier for commuters to ride a bike from their home to the bus station. Bhopal is also integrating payment systems so that the same card can be used to pay for both bikes and buses.

Another aspect of the city’s sustainability is its heritage monuments, built by the region’s 19th century kings and queens. “We started with the conservation of these heritage monuments so that they become a centre of attraction to people,” Shukla says. The city is installing beacons in these monuments, which will act like “automated digital guides”, he adds. They can detect visitors nearby and give them the buildings’ history via a smartphone app.

Analysing data

Bhopal plans to use data and analytics to improve government departments deliver services, Shukla says. “Earlier all the departments were working in silos”, he explains. Now the Bhopal Smart Map pulls together information from different government departments and is made publicly available for officials, citizens and businesses to use. For instance, citizens can look up information on their property or plot of land, while researchers and students have been using the data for architecture and urban planning projects.

Next year, the city will build an operations centre, taking this a step further. “The basic purpose of setting up a control and command centre is to do analytics”, Shukla says. The city has identified 26 services, such as police, transport, ambulance and fire, from which it will bring in real-time information,

The city plans to make some of this real-time data and analytics publicly available, he says. Data in the operations centre will also be used for analysis by the state government, along with that from six other cities in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Living lab

Another priority next year will be to set up the Bhopal Living Lab, where the city government will support startups to test technologies like sensors and drones.

Retaining tech talent has been a challenge for Bhopal, which is largely an administrative centre. The city has over 135 engineering and management institutions, but graduates generally move to other cities for jobs, he says. “The idea was how to nurture and incubate some of the ideas which are originating here [in Bhopal],” Shukla says. He believes the lab will attract talent and researchers locally and from other cities.

Bhopal and its people will never forget the tragedy of 1984. But the Smart City team is working to ensure that the city has a healthy future and another accident doesn’t go undetected.