Ease of Living Index (EoLI)-2020 is a futuristic tool that forms the basis of a report prepared by the Government of India. The latest one has surveyed nationally and deduced that Bhubaneswar is the second most liveable city among the small cities of India. Smart City Bhubaneswar was the first ranked smart city proposal in India. This might not completely indicate but certainly does point out that the Smart City intervention in Bhubaneswar is headed in the right direction.
The EoLI is a measuring tool to assess the quality of urban life in India, one set for the big cities and one for the small cities. The quality of life further segregated into parameters evaluates:
1. Economic ability
2. Sustainability & resilience
3. Perception of residents about the development
4. Quality of life.
While we celebrate the high rank of Bhubaneswar, we should realise that Rourkela, another planned and modern industrial city of Odisha is floundering at the bottom 10 of the list. Rourkela is also a designate Smart City. Does this mean a lack of focus on Rourkela and concentration of efforts only in Bhubaneswar? Rourkela region (economic region) contributes substantially to the state GDP (not less than 18-20%). Germans had laid the foundation of the city planning and we can adapt it to current day requirements and aesthetics.
In Bhubaneswar, the citizen perception study indicated that the people are satisfied with the city administration. Understandably so. In the last five years, Bhubaneswar has worked dramatically in sprucing up the city infrastructure and hosting marquee sports event. Mega events also bring with them a rehaul of the infrastructure in compliance with required world standards. This is where Bhubaneswar has been smart in early identification of the niche sports space – be it hockey, athletics and others. It is gearing up to host the Men's Hockey World Cup 2023.
Bhubaneswar’s profile has been raised considerably in India and the outside and this has attracted city development experts evaluate the status of indices. But development of the city need not be limited to only one-off events or event euphoria. The capital outlay should be maintained in a sustainable way. We need consistent housekeeping. The citizens are obviously overwhelmed and probably that is why high marks in perception ranking. Besides being swept by the hype, the citizens should internalise the development that is happening in Bhubaneswar and take up responsibility. Only then Bhubaneswar can remain at the top rankings over a long period of time otherwise it could be a flash in the pan. I would not depend on the civil society for raising Bhubaneswar development issues or work for them in anyways other than a park cleaning drive here, a blood donation camp there – mostly tokenism.
The government has transformed the image of Bhubaneswar and we the citizens should help the government in pushing it even higher and wider. In the past Bhubaneswar has featured in the top 20 global cities of the world in the Global Smart City Performance Index 2017. It was in a list that included Singapore, San Francisco, London, New York, Barcelona, Berlin, Chicago, Portland and Tokyo. Again in 2017, it found a place among the top 50 global smart cities in a survey by the Eden Strategy Institute. It stood 18th in the national Ease of Living Index in 2018. But the civil society, you and I should stop being ‘sponge’, soaking in every drop from Bhubaneswar and hardly contributing to its life. The relationship should be one of consummation and not unilateral consumption.
Bhubaneswar remains one of the most beautiful cities of India, even today. Though reckless, brazen and unethical real estate development has left irreparable scars in Bhubaneswar, it is still a breathing beauty. Breathing good quality air. But this is not going to last long. It now Headquarters India’s natural resources business, is a Hub of global sports, an Education Centre of India, an emerging axis of international tourism. It still continues to be the biggest settlement for Odias from all the districts of Odisha and rooted NROs. Almost all the public servants who retire, settle in Bhubaneswar and the number of residents directly connected (or formerly connected) should be in the range of 26-27000. The state population is 4.37 Crore. In the next 15 years, it is expected that over 17 per cent of the population would be in cities (or city-bound), out of which Bhubaneswar is estimated to attract over 80 per cent of this migration. The city is already bursting at its seams now.
By 2030, Bhubaneswar would house the stakeholders of the great India growth story because it will be the capital of the capital. Odisha, the projected steel & metals capital of India would be the principal provider to India’s targeted 300mt steel capacity by 2030. Due to Odisha’s bountiful resources, all the world trade houses would flock to Bhubaneswar. The flow has started since the last decade. By 2030 if the vehicle numbers are not checked and if fossil fuel is still going to be used unabated, Bhubaneswar would turn a burning hole. Odisha is sitting on Climate Emergency and it would be suicidal to destroy Bhubaneswar with complacency in responses and corruption in regulations.
Bhubaneswar needs to introduce electric buses as a part of the public transport urban fleet. This is a necessity now. By 2025-26, which is about five years from now, a study says India will account for more than 10% of the total annual demand for electric buses globally, which is more than Europe and North America combined. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, about four years ago there were 3 million city buses in operation worldwide; of these, 385,000 are electric buses. Now the incidence on global fleet is well over 20%. Bhubaneswar has to adapt to an electrified future — leading to cleaner air, quieter communities, and more efficient transportation everywhere. The roads are narrow in Bhubaneswar and so different suitable models of buses might be required. Oslo, Schenzen, San Fransisco and Santiago offer examples of electric bus transportation which has overcome the various challenges of budgeting, logistics, governance in these cities. Bhubaneswar can learn from Santiago that to install a city-wide electric bus fleet, there’s a lot more to do than just order buses. Charging station/ infrastructure is a key part of the electrification job. In Santiago planners tested charging technology and adjusted the electrical grid before any buses came to create the best possible transport strategy for the city. Bhubaneswar with more space, less congestion and relatively orderly traffic conditions can try out mapping and installing charging stations. There are mega extraction industries in Odisha that could be given the responsibility of recurring expenditure management and managing the business model of the buses. Since the last five years, the CSR spending Odisha has been in the range of 2302 Cr. Piloting electric buses in Bhubaneswar city would be a small fraction of this amount. The companies should be mandated to provide electric buses for Bhubaneswar which is the gateway to their stock performance. For many of these companies, Odisha offers a lifetime opportunity to turn around their top-line performance as a result of the quality and quantity of extraction and sales.
Electric travel is now becoming mainstream and would soon turn the mainstay of city mobility. The government is incentivising EV use and the public attitude towards sustainability and environmentally conscious options are fast turning ‘normal’. There is an urgency for Bhubaneswar. In January 2021, Bhubaneswar experienced “Unhealthy “air with a US AQI figure of 184. With soaring population, unending and unplanned construction activity and multiplying private fossil fuel-based transportation, the pollution control board in Bhubaneswar has reported that levels of suspended particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10 remain above the acceptable levels even in the windy summer months. Number of private vehicles on the road should be restricted. Many bustling areas like the Janpath, near UNIT I market, Patia, Cuttack road and many other hotspots of traffic congestion need electric buses to provide services. Cuttack, Khordha, Konark also come under the greater Bhubaneswar area and the increasing regularity of commuters from the suburbs and these places to Bhubaneswar need to be catered to by the electric buses.
For many urban transportation systems worldwide, the future is electric. Cities across the world are leading the way in electrified transportation, powering a greener, more efficient tomorrow. Bhubaneswar has everything it takes to be a world class, liveable city. While we aspire Odisha to be the gateway to India’s economic high growth, Bhubaneswar would be the habitat enabling the transformation. Can’t we and shouldn’t we take care of our home?
(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.)
(Charudutta Panigrahi is a polymath. Author, community worker, TED speaker, public intellectual & policy influencer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)