Interview with the Director of Smart Cities, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India
Rahul Kapoor is the Director, Smart Cities Mission in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, India. He is also the Mission Data Officer, driving the data initiatives of the Smart Cities Mission. Rahul Kapoor has had varied experience in the field of Government infrastructure and finance, focusing on Public-Private Partnerships.
As a representative of the Indian Government in the Indian Leaders Programme 2022, how do you assess the current relations between India and Spain?
Lot of people don’t know about Spain in India. The relationship between the European Union and India is strong, and we have had several interactions with several of the EU countries. However, with Spain, although culturally there has been a strong relationship, in terms of business or economic relationship there is still a long way to go. There have been several successful cases of Spanish companies working in India or Indian companies working in Spain, but there is a huge potential to forge greater economic and business engagement.
India is trying to become a $5 trillion economy by 2030, which is a very ambitious but achievable goal, given the demographic dividend that India has today, the kind of programmes that are in place, and the way we have been growing in terms of revenue collection, or GDP growth. Therefore, it's not an extremely difficult task, but, of course, these journeys are not performed alone. India will need strong partnerships, and these partnerships with countries like Spain will certainly help accelerate the achievement of our goals.
Given that India has such ambitious goals for the near future, what would a partnership with Spain mean for India? Why is the relationship with Spain important?
India is looking to diversify in the new global order to secure its interests. It is key to have stronger relationships with all important countries and Spain is certainly a very important country, if we look at its economic size, or its global presence. We cannot fail to be better partners to achieve the economic objectives of our two nations, and that is why it is important that we deepen this relationship. So far, the approach has not been the one that both countries would like, but both countries have the will to strengthen the relationship. We share very strong cultural similarities, very family-oriented, and these cultural similarities help us understand each other better. Also, attracting investment is one of the main objectives of the Indian government today, which is a great opportunity for Spanish companies to come to India and diversify their portfolios, creating a win-win situation.
As the Director of Smart Cities at the Indian Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, what capabilities of Spain in innovation and sustainability would you highlight?
I was very impressed by the visit to the innovation centers in both Valladolid and Barcelona. Both cities have reached tremendous maturity in terms of hosting the right ecosystem to promote and foster innovation in their cities, and they have human resources that understand the world of data and technology, especially emerging technology, and these are enablers to achieve their goals of becoming more sustainable and efficient.
Also, both Valladolid and Barcelona are putting in place the right institutional processes and technology platforms to have a sustainable ecosystem of innovation and data-driven governance. We were able to see that in the Barcelona innovation center [Ca l'Alier], which has gone from being an industrial structure to a sustainable green building, and great value is being generated from it. These kinds of initiatives become benchmarks for others to replicate. Other cities can learn from these initiatives and the demonstrable effect of these projects is enormous. In terms of zero emissions and sustainable development goals, many countries can learn from the flagship projects that have been carried out in these cities.
Having visited different Spanish entities in the field of Smart Cities, what are the main sectors in which Spain and India can cooperate?
Mobility is a very strong area, if we look at the urban transport sector in Spain, such as rail and metro systems, and even non-motorized transport systems. Spain also has great expertise in technology, water management or renewable energy, and some of the companies we have interacted with have had a successful presence in many of the important countries in Europe and in the emerging countries in the South American region.
India offers a great opportunity to deploy these solutions, and, at the same time, Spain can also learn from a market like the Indian one. After all, the idea of smart cities is not to do business as usual, but to experiment with new technologies, new solutions and ways of doing things, whether in technology or otherwise, and to create best practices and solutions, which can be demonstrated and replicated. The scalability and replicability of these projects are very important.
What aspects should we promote to strengthen the relationship between Spain and India? What has the Indian government done in this regard?
There is still a gap in mutual knowledge between the two sides, although initiatives like the Indian Leaders Programme or the work being done by the Spain-India Council Foundation are efforts that will help us bridge that gap. For example, when we see any company trying to invest in an emerging market like India, there are a lot of apprehensions. Many of these apprehensions may be unfounded because they have already been addressed. These are not new concerns.
Spanish companies already tried to enter India two decades ago. There were many challenges at that time, and learning from those challenges and problems, several initiatives have been taken in the last five years, such as the creation of a separate Invest India programme, which seeks to create a single window to facilitate interactions with the various government departments or the various state governments. However, in terms of lack of information (who to reach, who to talk to...) the information probably doesn't get through properly and ends up becoming a missed opportunity for both parties.
How can we improve this information exchange?
We need to have dedicated teams of professionals and experts who understand the world of business development and have outreach programs with departments inside and outside of government. These dedicated teams working with the economic relations team in the Embassies of the respective countries could help convey information, such as what are the existing opportunities, what are the key investment sectors, or what are the different initiatives or incentives that exist to invest in India, whether it is the Indian Semiconductor Mission or the Smart Cities Mission (these are the sectors where the Government of India is promoting investment). A business development team at the Spanish Embassy in India would be of great help.
How does the ILP help bring India and Spain closer together, and why would you recommend it to future participants?
The Indian Leaders Programme gives us the opportunity to understand not only the companies and the business culture, but also the culture of the people. It is very important to get to know people: how they work, how they live, how they think, and once you have a better understanding, then it becomes very easy to take things through. The Indian Leaders Programme is going to be very useful for all the emerging leaders who are looking to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. This kind of exposure helps them to better understand not only a country or a culture, but also to incorporate the best practices of that country and culture, and to improve their own systems, as well as to foster the development of both countries. One should not lose the opportunity to be in a programme like this.