How are CITIIS projects ensuring compliance with Environmental and Social Safeguards?

by Swapnil Saxena

Over the last year, the CITIIS program has fostered a shift from traditional ways of urban infrastructure planning towards, the creation of an urban ecosystem that promotes sustainability, innovation and participation. Through the implementation of demonstrative urban development projects the program ensures an adherence to Environmental and Social Safeguards across all stages of project planning and implementation.

The core objective of applying environmental and social safeguards is to prevent, minimise and mitigate the adverse impacts of development activities that impact the environment and society. It provides for greater transparency, non-discrimination, public-participation, and makes the project implementing authorities accountable to its end-users.

Ensuring SPVs Commitment to Objectives

The program’s commitment to adhere to international and national environment protection legislation and procedures is reflected in the multiple actions mandated for the project implementation authorities (the Smart City Special Purpose Vehicles or the SPVs) under the program. All the 12 projects have signed an Environment and Social Commitment Plan (ESCP) as a part of the contractual agreement between the SPV, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and the State Governments. The ESCP lays down the measures and actions that are required for the project to comply with environmental and social performance targets applied by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD). For the first time, the staffing plan for SPVs includes a mandatory position of an Environmental and Social Nodal Officer, who would be responsible to ensure E&S compliance for their respective projects and simultaneously steer all project activities. The Program Management Unit provides concurrent handholding and assistance with procedures, review and verification of project documents at all stages of the project life cycle.  The E&S Process Framework and Guidance Notes on Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and Management were prepared by the PMU, primarily to disseminate knowledge on E&S safeguards and related procedures at the International and National levels and in the CITIIS program.

Promoting Exchange of Experiences

The CITIIS program emphasises on working with cities to refine project quality through the mentorship program and on developing new strategies for partnerships and collaboration. The initiation workshop brought together SPVs and 14 technical experts from around the globe— with an aim to facilitate a common understanding of the program. An orientation was held that aimed at sensitisation of all on E&S compliance, procedures and planned activities throughout the project implementation. The focus on creating ‘networked cities,’ promotes peer-learning, exploration of common solutions to similar urban issues, and exchange of experiences — a simple visible change has been that E&S Nodal Officers have started to exchange knowledge internally and within their networks, which we at the PMU see as collaborations that would lead to a long term sustained change in the way E&S Safeguards in projects are ensured in the country.

Targeting Capacity Development across Program Stakeholders

The first training workshop held in October 2019 for the E&S Nodal Officers and Public Engagement and Partnerships Officers was one of the many steps aiming towards capacity development of the SPVs. Regular trainings on environmental safeguards, collaboration and engagement with the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC), E&S specialist from AFD, and from different organizations such as the World Bank, promotes collective learning and knowledge sharing about environmental and social concerns in projects across program stakeholders — a diverse group of people coming from different educational training, experience, age, and interests.

Reforms and Innovation in E&S Safeguards Approach

All environmental and social compliances under CITIIS would be monitored, assessed, and verified on the CITIIS Management Platform. This is a major reform that would streamline the E&S process, considering that the CITIIS program includes multiple cities and multi-thematic projects and that the information base would be vast.

Safeguards can help effectively anticipate and mitigate social and environmental risks. Therefore, the program’s focus on disseminating related knowledge, enhancing necessary capabilities and mandating environmental and social compliance, is envisaged as an outcome-oriented approach that would bring lasting change.

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