Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Modi witnessed the signing of a historic partner city affiliation agreement between Varanasi (Kashi) and Kyoto for heritage conservation, city modernisation and culture. Varanasi would be India’s first “heritage smart city”.
Varanasi faces a number of challenges. Its basic infrastructure is inadequate and crumbling. The roads are potholed, traffic is a nightmare and the environment is polluted. River Ganges, its lifeline, remains heavily polluted and ghats are poorly maintained. The urban development has been haphazard, waste disposal is inefficient, corruption remains endemic and the city has not cashed on its tourism potential.
In contrast, Kyoto (city of ten thousand shrines) in Japan, has successfully balanced age-old culture, tradition and infrastructure with modern amenities and new technology. Kyoto would inspire Varanasi’s journey to a Smart City without diluting its heritage, culture and legacy.
The main pillars of Kashi modernization would be: smart, integrated habitat factoring in Kyoto experience and Indian ground realities, revamping and cleaning of streets, taking wires under-ground, managing solid waste efficiently, providing facelift to ghats, treating effluents adequately, overhauling drainage, creating high capacity water treatment plants, constructing new roads, bridges and flyovers, including a ring road. Development of a Greenfield city across the Ganges, multi-modal public transport (road, metro, rail and water), education and skills, sustainable practices, enhancement of cultural heritage, organised tourism, smart governance, aware people and sustainable revenue models would be central to the programme.
Cantonments as “smart cantts”
I have an idea! The government should identify a dozen cantonments (like Mhow, Deolali-Nashik, Ahmednagar, Pathankot-Mamun, Gopalpur, Leh, Tawang etc.) and convert them into bonsai smart cities or “smart cantts”. Cantonments have basic infrastructure, are clean, green and house disciplined citizens. Military engineers and strategic planners should work with global experts to create smart cants which would be embodiments of eco friendly and sustainable growth. Coopting military experts would ensure that higher operational and administrative efficiencies are achieved without compromising confidentiality and security. Above all, there is no one better than our soldiers to showcase and trigger the cultural change in our country which is essential for larger development plans to succeed. Social awareness and impact at its best.
From “Look” to “Act”
Prime Minister Modi’s high profile five day visit to Japan in from 30 Aug to 03 September 2014 marked the beginning of an important strategic shift in India’s policy towards East Asia. Japan has committed $33.5 billion in investment infrastructural programmes including smart city and bullet trains.
Modi’s intention to create 100 “smart cities” has evoked global interest. Smart cities would offer better life and focus on people, housing, transport, communications, water, energy, waste management, education, healthcare, safety, security, environment, business, commerce and livelihood. Japan, Singapore, China and developed countries have evinced interest in engineering/re-engineering smart integrated urban habitats in India. Home grown talent is in abundance.
Re-engineering of urban, rural, agricultural, industrial, digital and financial infrastructure would be a game changer. India’s new government has thus far shown great urgency to convert the Prime Minister’s vision and policy statements into specific frameworks, initiatives and projects. Jan Dhan Yojna has already enabled millions of bank accounts in less than a week. Modi’s call to provide separate toilets for boys and girls in each of India’s schools has received unanimous support from corporate India.
Kashi-Kyoto represents the beginning of a nation-wide “Smart Cities, Smarter India” movement. Properly implemented, Modi’s programmes could transform the lives of millions in rural and urban India.
The author, an entrepreneur with
rich global exposure and distinct
understanding of cutting-edge
technologies, Parag Agarwal is a
leading expert on “smart city and
urban planning”. He is an
acknowledged thought leader, speaker