India’s cultural capital Kolkata undertakes urban development initiatives

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Simultaneously aristocratic and humble, Kolkata is an every day celebration of human existence. It is a city where people take time out of their busy schedules to indulge in dance, poetry, art, music, film and theatre. This former British Indian capital is now widely regarded as the intellectual and cultural capital of the nation. Most of Indias greatest 19th and 20th century heroes were Kolkatans, including spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda, Nobel Prize winning poet Rabindranath Tagore and renowned film director Satyajit Ray. Friendlier than other Indian metro-cities, Kolkata is a place to experience than just visit. It is also the main commercial and financial hub of East and North-East India and home to the Calcutta Stock Exchange.

Clean city

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjees dream of creating a clean Kolkata received a fresh impetus with the installation of some 10,000 bins in the city by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC).

We have decided to place bins across the length and breadth of the city to ensure a clean Kolkata, member, mayor-in-council (solid waste management) Debabrata Majumder said.

A primary-level survey found that around 10,000 bins would be required at strategic points on roadsides to keep the city clean.

Each fibreglass trash bin costs 4,000 to 4,500 and we have already ordered 300 tailor-made bins, Debabrata said. According to civic technocrats responsible for carrying out the pilot project, the idea is to place the bins at a standard distance of 200 metres in residential areas and 150 metres at commercial places with hawkers.

In another initiative, Kolkata Municipal Corporation has launched battery-driven vehicles to replace the worn-out vans in certain areas for depositing garbage.

KMC has undertaken an ambitious project to make Kolkatas streets garbage-free. As part of it, the department has set up four garbage compactor stations at Tallah Park, Kalighat Park, Southern Avenue and Ballygunge Circular Road. These battery-operated vans, once filled up with garbage, will go to the garbage compactor station and release the load there.

These compactors have replaced four major vats from where garbage would spill over, causing major environmental pollution. Now, the scene is completely different. With modern technology at work, there is hardly any scope for environmental pollution, said Majumder.

Mamata Banerjee has also paved the way for a waste-to-energy (WTE) plant in the city. After the KMC authority failed to acquire some 247 acres of land urgently needed for setting up a new garbage dump, as the current 88-acre site at Dhapa is overflowing and is unfit for further use, the corporation turned to companies that transform garbage into power.

KMC has floated tenders inviting expressions of interest for setting up WTE plants and three companies have already responded.

The WTE project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prevent environmental damage from landfills and provide reliable renewable energy, Majumder said.

Transport

Public transport in Kolkata is predominantly dependent on the Metro Railway network, trams, government and private buses and the Kolkata Suburban Railway. The Kolkata Metro, in operation since 1984, is the oldest underground mass transit system in India. It spans the North-South length of the city and covers a distance of 25.1 km. There are a few other Metro Railway networks in the pipeline which will be implemented in the next five to six years. These networks will connect Kolkata with the suburban areas in Howrah and North and South 24 Parganas.

Kolkata presently has three long-distance railway stations, located at Howrah, Sealdah and Chitpur, which connect Kolkata to most cities in West Bengal and to other major cities in India.

Buses, which are the most commonly used mode of transport, are run by state government agencies and private operators. The citys main bus terminals are located at Esplanade, Karunamoyee, and Babughat. Kolkata is the only Indian city with a tram network, which is operated by the Calcutta Tramways Company.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport located in Dum Dum operates major domestic and international flights. Recently the airport was upgraded to handle increased air traffic. Of late, in a bid to expand the network of air connectivity in the state, West Bengal will have a new airport at Ondal near Durgapur in Burdwan district. The site is located at a distance of 175 kilometres from Kolkata.

The Port of Kolkata is the oldest operating port in India, originally constructed by the British East India Company in 1870. The Kolkata Port Trust manages docks in Kolkata and Haldia. Regular ferry services connect Kolkata with its twin city of Howrah.

A?E-Governance

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) has launched many computerised citizen service centres, where people are able to make municipal transactions without queuing up at KMC headquarters. The key objective of these centres is to provide multiple services to the citizens of Kolkata under one roof, where they can pay their bills, property tax, license fees and renewal, etc.

The computers installed at these centres are directly linked to KMC headquarters and all data is stored in the central server, ensuring top security for citizens vital and confidential information. The centres are equipped with comfortable seating, an air conditioned waiting lounge, large screen LCD television sets, pure drinking water and have multiple counters with one dedicated for issuing birth certificates.

Housing

Kolkata and the state of West Bengal is set to witness a high growth in demand for residential units under affordable housing schemes with the suggestion for revisions in the eligibility criteria for the scheme.

A newly constituted task force has suggested an upward revision of the income ceilings to 8,000 per month against 5,000 per month earlier. Since many residents belonging to the economically weaker section (EWS) do not have regular income, the task force also proposed to consider those with an annual income of 1 lakh in that case.

According to estimates of the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, West Bengal had a shortage of more than 12 lakh units in 2012. So far the state government has completed 74,000 dwelling units under JNNURM, the highest in the region.

We have been seeing huge demand for affordable housing across the state. Recently we invited applications for residential units in Rajarhat for the EWS and have received more than 3,000 applications for 297 units, said Debashis Sen, secretary of the states Urban Development Department.

Under the private sector-led housing initiatives, Godrej Groups real estate development arm Godrej Properties recently launched the fifth phase of its residential project in Kolkata.

We are happy to launch phase five of Godrej Prakriti… We have already started handing over the first phase of the project, Godrej Properties managing director and CEO Pirojsha Godrej said.

The new tower, 19 floors tall, would offer three BHK modern apartments measuring between 1,100 sq ft and 1,400 sq ft.

In addition, the firm is developing two commercial projects and a super luxury residential project in the city.

Alchemist Township India Ltd, a Delhi-based real estate developer, has decided to invest 300-500 crore in the Aerotropolis, the airport city project being developed by Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd (BAPL) at Durgapur, 180km from Kolkata.

Water

KMC has its twofold water sources surface water from the only source of river Hooghly and ground water source. Out of these two sources, the water from River Hooghly is being treated and supplied to limited areas of KMC through the underground pipelines. The vast majority of remaining areas depend on the ground water source.

In a new initiative, the state Urban Development Department is developing the water supply infrastructure under the Centres JNNURM scheme to increase filtered water supply in the city by 877 million litres per day by the next year.

The biggest filtration plant of 100 million gallon capacity is being set up in Rajarhat. Kolkata Municipal Corporation has almost completed the second Dhapa project which will produce 136 million litres filtered water a day.

A?Kolkata RiverfrontA? Beautification Project

Kolkata Riverfront Beautification Project is an initiative taken by the government of West Bengal, to enhance Kolkatas riverfront. Among the most beautiful and commonly visited places in the city is the Hooghly riverfront. A Ferris wheel named Kolkata Eye or Kolkata Merina will possibly be constructed on the banks of Hooghly River with 30 capsules to accommodate some 500 people. The Hooghly River is an integral part of the Ganges River. Several bridges run over the Hooghly connecting Kolkata with its twin city Howrah namely the Howrah Bridge, the Vidyasagar Setu, the Vivekananda Setu and the Nivedita Setu.

New City Tourism Development Initiative

The 130-year-old traditional tram network of Kolkata, with its newly built air-conditioned coaches, is now being used to promote heritage tourism in the city.

The Calcutta Tram Company (CTC) and the state Tourism Department have jointly started operating this special tram service to increase the international tourist arrivals to the city.

The tourism department will run three services every day except Mondays and Thursdays. The north Kolkata ride a heritage tour will start from Esplanade and navigate predominantly through the stretches of central and northern parts of this former British India capital. It will take passengers through Dalhousie Square, Raj Bhavan, Writers Buildings, Chitpur, Jorasanko Thakurbari (Tagores Residence), Star Theatre, Presidency College, Coffee House, Bagbazar and Shyambazar and return via College Street. In the evening, the tram will run from Esplanade to Kidderpore through the Maidan.

The ticket costs 260 per person that includes tea and snacks to be served by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC) during the ride. Tickets can be booked online from the IRCTC website or bought from the Esplanade tram depot.

A?Challenges

Despite being a city with modern urban facilities, Kolkata still suffers from waterlogged roads during rainy season.A? Even an hour of heavy rain brings the city life to a complete halt, resulting in huge traffic snarls with vehicles moving at a snails pace in knee-deep to waist-deep water. Veteran Congress leader Mala Roy said instead of gifting precious gold chains to the players of Kolkata Knight Riders, the civic authorities should have saved the money and utilised it to clear the underground sewer lines. Member, mayor-in-council, Rajib Deb (sewerage and drainage), said the KMC had tried to ensure faster drainage of rainwater from the streets by operating pumps.

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