Prime Edition

Smart Varanasi will be Kyoto’s sister city

Government is in the process of giving final touches to a plan to constitute a Smart City Corporation.

Pankaj Vohra  New Delhi | 30th Aug 2014

aranasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to be declared a sister city of Japan's Kyoto. A partnership agreement facilitating cultural exchanges between the two cities was signed on Saturday by the Indian ambassador, Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa and Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Shinzo Abe of Japan at a state guesthouse in Kyoto.

Kyoto, which is the first stopover in the packed five-day itinerary of the Prime Minister, has successfully balanced age old culture, tradition and infrastructure with modern amenities and new technology. The proposal to classify Varanasi as a smart heritage city had already been cleared by the Centre, which has sought Tokyo's help in meeting the challenges faced by this ancient pilgrim centre of the Hindus. The formalisation of the Japanese collaboration is thus on expected lines. Modi had earlier witnessed a presentation by the Kyoto Mayor and other dignitaries on how the ancient Buddhist city had managed to retain its cultural ethos despite modernisation. He is keen that this model is replicated in Varanasi with some alterations to suit local conditions.

Modi is keen to demonstrate to people in the country that he was honouring his commitment to the residents of Varanasi. Though there are other cities too which have been included in the Smart City project, the political message to voters on the eve of the Assembly elections is that being a man of action, Modi wastes no time in honouring his promises.

Highly placed sources said that the government was in the process of giving final touches to a plan to constitute a Smart City Corporation (SCC), which will serve to be the main agency integrating the vision, policy, financial requirements, technological know-how and implementation and creation of smart cities. Jorbagh based India Center Foundation, which is acting as a consultant, made a PowerPoint presentation to the Prime Minister on 22 August to highlight the Vision for Smart Heritage City, with a case study of Varanasi. Modi also has held a series of meetings with senior officials and functionaries of the Urban Development Ministry. The last meeting was held hours before he boarded the flight to Kyoto, where he gave his inputs to the minister, secretary and other officials who were present. The idea is to make Varanasi as the first project of the new corporation which is to be created in partnership with Japan. The Prime Minister's Office is also toying with the idea of posting a senior official from New Delhi to Varanasi to monitor the progress of the implementation once all hurdles have been cleared. A team of officials from the PMO had visited Varanasi earlier in the week.

MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, while explaining why Kyoto was the PM's first destination said two days ago that as a smart city, which was modern and had yet preserved its cultural heritage, Kyoto fitted in to Modi's own vision of building 100 smart cities in India. Some of its features could be used in the rejuvenation of Varanasi.

The India-Japan Development Framework has been established for new initiatives in India along the lines of Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) in various areas like infrastructure, agro-economy, healthcare, transportation and urban re-engineering.

The proposal for the structure and modalities of the Smart City Corporation lays down 26% holding for Japan and 74% for the Central government, state governments and financial institutions. Each Smart City project will be treated as a Special Projects Vehicle, with Varanasi as the SPV-1. The requirement to make the projects successful has been spelt by four points: Strategic Patient Capital, Planning, Political Will and Execution Capability.

Varanasi has been showcased as one of the world's oldest living cities with glorious confluence of religion, tradition, legends and vivacity. It has a rich tapestry of music, art and education and is an important tourist destination.

The problems in Varanasi have been identified as lack of basic sanitation, pollution, inadequate infrastructure, haphazard development and the absence of any revenue generation model for the city. The base of new urbanisation will be energy efficiency, environment responsibility and sustainability. This will involve implementation of smart technologies for e-governance, traffic management, infrastructure development, education, skill development, healthcare and tourist support. Enhanced business development plan for the city will be the cornerstone of sustainable urban development.

There are several suggestions and proposals being studied by a special team of experts constituted by the Prime Minister. One such plan is to develop a new satellite city — Navi Kaashi — located on the other side of the Ganga. Construction and development of residential spaces, dedicated commercial area, schools, hospitals that follow environmentally friendly practices and are sustainable, are also on the radar of the experts. In order to accommodate the increasing traffic, construction of new flyovers and a ring road along the ancient Panchkosi and Panchtirthi pilgrim circuit are under consideration. There is a plan to revamp the existing public transport system with the introduction of Metro and monorails as also a scheme to develop waterways, promotion of water transport on Ganga as alternative means.

Japanese assistance will also be sought on solid waste management programme with cutting edge technology. The byproducts will be used as an alternate energy source. There is a suggestion for the setting up of pre-engineered toilets in the city, especially around the ghats as part of the facelift of the ghats, and a complete overhaul of the drainage system. The Japanese will help in the development of a feasible and efficient water treatment plant so as to minimise the contamination of water table. As a part of the cleanliness campaign in Varanasi, tiling can be done to give a new character to the littered and overcrowded streets.

The Centre also proposes to set up a new institution of ancient Indian knowledge and practices such as Ayurveda, Yoga and Vaastu Shastra. Giving a boost to the Banares Hindu University is also on the anvil. The new evolved business model for Varanasi will be managed by the Special Projects Vehicle (SPV) under the newly formed SCC. The idea, which is a part of the BJP manifesto, is that "to build a Modern India, the best foundation is our own culture; the best tool our own hands, and the best material our own aspirations".

The Prime Minister's Japan visit could also lead to agreements amongst other issues on Trans Asian Buddhist corridor, healthcare cooperation, bullet train introduction, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, smart knowledge and agriculture corridor, energy security solutions, etc.

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