The Smart City series: Young at 60, Bhubaneswar gears up to challenge with new district - Firstpost
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The Smart City series: Young at 60, Bhubaneswar gears up to challenge with new district

By Debendra Prusty

When the Union Minister for Urban Development Vekaiah Naidu was reading out the first list of Smart Cities officials in Bhubaneswar were in for a big surprise- the city got the top spot. Even the minister himself was surprised. He said it aloud. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was overjoyed in expressing his feeling on Twitter.

But what is that smart city? What difference will it bring to the residents of Bhubaneswar? Not many are convinced with the concept. Bhubaneswar being the new capital city—it is only six decade old—how smart will it be after this announcement?

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. PTI

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. PTI

Just before 1 April 1948 Bhubaneswar was a nowhere in the map of Odisha. It was known as Ekamra Kshetra surrounded by historical places like Shishupalgarh, Dhauli, Khandagir and Udaygiri. It was also known as temple city with more than hundred temples, the biggest being the Lingaraj Temple. Besides these places were many villages surrounded by dense forest and separated by river Daya, Kuakhai, Kushbhadra and Gangua. The area was known in history by various names-Toshali, Kalinga Nagari,Nagar Kalinga, Ekamra Kanan, Ekamra Kshetra etc. The place has a history of more than 3,000 years. The place was associated with the King Kharvela and Ashoka.

It was one of the first modern cities of Independent India. It was designed by the German architect Otto Konningsberger along with Chandigarh and developed after Independence. When in 1948 the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid its foundation, the city was planned to accommodate only 10 thousand people. Now the population of Bhubaneswar is well above 10 lakh.

Being the capital city and of late developed as an IT hub of the country it has everything including an international airport, a modern rail station, a national highway, a wildlife sanctuary and a zoological park of national importance. Still, the city lacks in many things. Be it the environment, the traffic, the transport, the parking, the drainage system, the recreation centres or the parks all are in shambles. Urban planning, waste management and citizen friendly administration are in disarray.

So when Prime Minister Modi announced his idea of smart cities, the Bhubaneswar Muncipal Corporation and Bhubaneswar Development Authority took the challenge and prepared a smart plan for the city. This plan got 78.83 points and got the top place in the Central list of first 20 smart cities.

The state government and Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) had unveiled a series of public campaigns over the last one year to bring in people to participate in the smart city campaigns so that their feedbacks could form the basis of its plan. The online and offline polls conducted by the BMC had at least three lakh people voting strongly in favour of an improved urban transport and mobility system. Close to two lakh participants wanted reforms in drinking water supply, waste and energy management systems of the City. Many others pitched in for more open spaces and plans for heritage hubs of Bhubaneswar.

BMC Commissioner Krishan Kumar said this campaign based plan has put Bhubaneswar on the national stage. "With Bhubaneswar emerging topper in the first list of 20 cities selected under the Smart City Mission, the Temple City has come to the national stage. Now people will closely watch every activity of the project and the real challenge will be to achieve the milestones in time," he said.

Terming the result a big surprise, Housing and Urban Development Minister Puspendra Singhdeo said though the government was confident that Bhubaneswar will find a place in the first list, it did not expect the top slot. Mayor of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation Ananta Jena said now it is the responsibility of all stakeholders to make the Smart City happen.

The BMC plan, already submitted to the government, is a Rs 4,537.15 crore proposal for the Smart City project. The major component of the proposal is construction of the Bhubaneswar Town Centre District (BTCD), a 985-acre project which will be developed as a model area with better urban mobility and waste management system.

The budget requirement for BTCD has been estimated at RS 4,094.89 crore and for the pan city solutions, Rs 442.26 crore has been estimated. The Housing and Urban Development Department will set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to execute plans for development of BTDC. While the city will get Rs 1,000 crore over next five years with the Centre funding half of it, the real test will be to get finance from different sources to implement the project.

The project funds will be sourced from Smart City Mission Fund, Central schemes, public-private partnerships, Infrastructure Development Funds and through commercial borrowings Asian Development Bank. To monitor the spending of fund, a vigilance and monitoring committee will be set up. The BTDC will be taken up as pilot project for implementing smart ideas and later, the plans would be replicated across the city. The city will get Rs 200 crore from the government of India in the first year to begin the process of converting it into a smart entity. Thereafter, it will get Rs 100 crore each over three years.

The city administration will build cycle tracks along the town centre and will also open cycle rental centres in the area. Development of facilities such as drinking water and sewerage has already been taken up under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (Amrut) scheme. Besides planning to roll out a fleet of 565 buses to connect all the 67 wards of the city, the administration is also promoting non-motorised mode of transport. The corporation has already started organising events such as Raahgiri to promote no-car days. Pedestrian-friendly traffic signals will also be introduced. Open spaces and parks to be developed to make the city ecologically sustainable.

Safe refuse points will also be introduced for female commuters. By pressing a particular button, those in need of help can inform police. The city administration will also install at least five surveillance cameras at 26 major traffic junctions to check crime. An online parking ticket system will also be introduced at three multi-level parking lots here.

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