The heritage corridor around Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri may be viewed as Odisha’s Signature Project on urban regeneration. This breakthrough makes me hopeful that such initiatives are possible in other places as well. So many towns and cities in Odisha are in need of improvement. While it is understandable that ancient urban centres like Cuttack and Puri would need urgent interventions to make them more liveable, we need to be equally sensitive to the fast deterioration of urban infrastructures even in not-so-old towns and cities. Bhubaneswar is a unique amalgam of the ancient and modern. Both segments of the city have areas of concern and need addressing. In this piece I write in some details about Bhubaneswar.
By and large there has been a soft attitude to the growing urban aberrations like footpaths becoming out of access to pedestrians; markets becoming centres of chaos and unauthorised structures mushrooming all over the city. Such aberrations have steadily grown in magnitude and made city life increasingly unhygienic and unsafe. While these areas of concern keep growing and need effective intervention with adequate investments, there are instances where huge public expenditure has been made on projects which were either avoidable or of marginal benefit to the public. The expensive Raj Mahal Flyover with a faulty orientation that finally emerged after cost and time overrun, serves little purpose. So also, is the elaborate pedestrian overbridge at Pal Heights that looks to me as the most expensive Bill Board ever built by any Municipal Corporation in India. In contrast, a credible Bus Terminal is yet to come up in the city.
The oldest Daily Market in the capital city that even sixty years ago hosted a well-designed goat meat sale counter where slain goat bodies always showed quality verification marks of the Health Officer, is in a shambles. The walled Daily Market and its surroundings extending to beautiful government quarters at the back, is a textbook example of urban chaos, squalor and years of government indifference. The place continues to remain highly vulnerable to fire hazard as well. The place where we have the plaque on the foundation of the New Capital suffers as a sore spot. The surroundings of the historic and beautiful building known as Sardar Patel Hall where Odisha Legislative Assembly had functioned, has degenerated with filth and shanties in abundance. A time-bound programme on priority basis should be taken up to redevelop these areas to appropriate standard.
Huge amount of public money has been liberally spent in a few new government office buildings without any benefit to the denizens of the city. This resource perhaps had better claimants like a Bus Terminal or Hospitals or new modern markets. Conditions around the city’s main Railway Station remain awfully disorganised. Public Tanks in the city, so essential for a city prone to cyclones when electricity supply remains disrupted for days, do not inspire confidence. Even the legendary Kedar Gouri Tank is in an utter state of neglect. These assets need immediate renovation for serving the needs of the community.
The city, now home to barely 1.2 million people, seems to be afflicted with premature ageing, primarily due to government apathy. Many arterial roads have proved inadequate to growing traffic soon after construction. The city has been rather unkind to the pedestrians and cyclists. Public spaces are shrinking due to increasing caprice and deficient enforcement. The malady is still remediable provided we address these issues with sensitivity and alacrity.
The city also needs to have a workable futuristic plan for long term sustainability. The city is richly endowed with water resources with Kuakhai and Daya Rivers flowing close by. Both the Rivers must have River Front Development programmes drawing from the experience of the Sabarmati project. In the case of the Sabarmati project, average width of the river channel was uniformly narrowed to 263 metres without affecting its flood-carrying capacity and the riverbed land reclaimed on both banks was used to construct long riverfront. It improved the environment by reducing erosion of the banks and flooding of low-lying areas of the city by walls constructed on both banks. The development enabled groundwater recharge. The Project boasts of a Lotus Lake, Riverfront Flower Park, an Urban Forest. Such projects for Bhubaneswar would make the city a lot more liveable and save both Rivers from ongoing unbridled defilement.
Lakhs of people rendering essential services in the city but economically of modest strength have preferred to live in shanties spread over large areas in many parts of the city. There is an understandable preference of such people to live close to downtown. The solution to this issue lies in having Condominia, with each Condominium housing hundreds of Apartments for such people.
Bhubaneswar enjoys a wide reputation as a greatly liveable Indian city with amiable people, soothing afternoon breeze, tasty drinking water and satisfactory air, road and rail connectivity. The city should grow to greater heights as a more planned city with cleaner roads, cleaner marketplaces and healthy public space. We should plan for a two million city with appropriate development of satellite towns like Jatni, Khurda, Barang and Pahala with healthy integration with the main city. We can ill afford to delay the regeneration programme. A soft approach to degeneration has snowballed to a situation where the capital city’s Raj Path has become almost impassable having been converted into a marketplace. We need to guard against the city turning wholesale into a Bazaar and lose its unique identity.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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