Vibrant Varanasi: Towards cleanliness, connectivity & conservation
by June Mukherjee
Varanasi, the holy city of India is in the fast lane of development ever since the Prime Minister has vowed to place it on world stage as a vibrant city. Being Prime Ministers constituency is a matter of immense importance and Varanasi is all set for a radical transformation as the Narendra Modi administration has sanctioned development projects worth Rs 20,000 crore that would improve infrastructure of not only the city, but also the entire district. The task is to fill up the severe infrastructural gaps affecting the city over decades, while seeking to conserve the cultural and spiritual heritage of the 5,000 year old city on the banks of the river Ganga. Also known as Benaras, it is one of the major tourist attractions of India, a big centre of education, as well as a hub of art, culture and classical music because of the location of some of the worlds best universities and academies on the subjects.
According to provisional data from the 2011 Census, the Varanasi urban agglomeration had a population of 1,435,113, with 761,060 men and 674,053 women.
In Varanasi Nagar Nigam (VNN), urban economic activities are divided among infrastructure areas, such as power, telecom, roads, water supply and mass transportation, coupled with civic infrastructure, such as sanitation and solid waste management. The latest project by Varanasi Development Authority (VDA) is Landmark Towers for the new as well as the old residents staying in Varanasi.
Varanasi is also known for the Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW), a production unit owned by Indian Railways, which manufactures diesel-electric locomotives and its spare parts. It is the largest diesel-electric locomotive manufacturer in India. It is located in the Manduadih area on the outskirts of the metropolitan city of Varanasi. DLW locomotives have power outputs ranging from 2,600 horsepower (1,900 kW) to 5,500 horsepower (4,100 kW).
Fast track development plan
Driving on the fast-track development lane, the government has recently cleared nine major roads including improvement of National Highways connecting Varanasi, development of airport road and construction of Ring Road. All these works entail investment of Rs 13,775 crore. The Prime Minister has sanctioned some projects like installation of hand pumps, construction and broadening of 22 roads, five works of electrification, construction of drains and sewerage in two localities and facilities at Varanasi and Kashi railway stations.
For the Namami Gange programme a budget outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for the next five years has been approved by the Union Cabinet to clean and protect the River Ganga in a comprehensive manner. The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) and the State Programme Management Groups (SPMGs) would implement the programme.
Smart City: The Kyoto model
India and Japan signed the Kashi-Kyoto pact for transforming Kashi (another name for Varanasi) as the sister smart city of Kyoto after Prime Minister Narendra Modis successful Japan visit. Under the smart heritage cities programme, Kyoto will provide cooperation in the fields of conservation and modernisation of cities as well as art, culture and academics. As a result, flow of teams began from Varanasi to Kyoto and from Kyoto to Kashi to get ideas on how culture could be preserved along with modernisation.
The pact between the cities mainly focuses on strengthening the partnership and expansion of the technological know-how, also providing a fresh perspective in improving our cities.
Five areas have been identified by the Centre for the Kyoto-Varanasi partnership, based on which the Japanese will extend their expertise to help rejuvenate the holy city. These include solid-liquid waste management, transport management, developing the Buddhist tourist circuit in and around Varanasi, industry-university interface and setting up of a convention centre on public-private partnership basis for giving a fillip to the cultural activities in the city.
Varanasi is set to create history as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have put in special efforts to showcase this ancient centre to the world as one of the cleanest, connected and conserved place on earth.
Under Swachh Bharat Mission, a major drive is already showing results – Assi Ghat (the outhernmost of the 84 ghats of Varanasi which is known to accommodate over 20,000 people during festivals like Shivratri) looks very clean. The Varanasi Municipal Corporation (VMC) is planning to ban wall paintings, and initiate setting up of no hoarding zone at ghats. Only mini signage directing tourists to various ghats would be allowed.
For handling solid waste management, the district administration has decided to make the Karsada plant operational as soon as possible.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has banned daily burning of mounds of garbage in open as the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules (2000) that came into effect in 2001 clearly prohibits burning of garbage and dry leaves.
As a part of its ambitious Namami Gange programme, the state government plans to free all villages along the banks of the river Ganga from open defecation by 2022. To make Varanasi an open defecation free city, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have shown interest and has offered to help in monitoring the progress made with regard to the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY).
Drinking water @ 50 paisa / litre
A French company and sanitation NGO, Sulabh International took the initiative to set up a drinking water plant at the Assi Ghat. After the plant is set up, people would be able to buy drinking water for 50 paisa per litre. The proposed plant will produce around 8,000 litres of pure drinking water every day after various stages of purification from water bodies like rivers or ponds. The plant cost will be around Rs 20 lakh, an amount that would be borne by the Sulabh International.
Varanasi Metro: RITES to prepare DPR
The proposed Metro Rail projects in Kanpur, Varanasi, Agra and Meerut were approved by the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet, to boost urban mass transport infrastructure in these important cities. RITES Limited and Lucknow Metro Rail Corporation (LMRC) has been nominated by the state government for preparing the respective Detailed Project Report (DPR) and as coordinator, respectively.
LMRC (Lucknow Metro Rail Corporation) has also begun the process of DPR making of Varanasi metro after the successful launch of viaduct construction of Lucknow metro on Kanpur Road. Metro rail project comes under mobility plan of Varanasi Master Plan-2031.
Banaras Hindu University: Towards becoming a model varsity
Established in 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) is a public central university located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. BHU is one of the largest residential universities in Asia, with over 20,000 students.
Banaras Hindu University is on top among the three Indian universities which managed to enter the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2015 Chemistry. BHU campus is entirely Wi-Fi enabled as PM Narendra Modi inaugurated the Wi-Fi facility.
According to Prof Girish Chandra Tripathi, Vice-Chancellor, BHU has more than 140 departments, four institutions, constituent colleges and several faculties. Also, several centres and scholars have done very good work in their areas. They will be identified and brought at the forefront to provide leadership in research.
The Department of Neurology of Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU has come up with a mobile app called Stroke App, which will connect patients with doctors online. The app is available for free downloading on play stores running on Android Operating Systems and iOs platforms, and it will help patients send diagnostic test reports to the doctors directly.
To protect students and professors from extreme weather conditions like heat and cold, the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development, BHU will soon get a Green building.
Upgrading Skills and Training in Traditional Arts/ Crafts for Development (USTAAD) is Varanasis another central project. Make in India campaign is linked with USTAAD scheme and seeks to help weavers and artisans connect with buyers both nationally as well as internationally. The Union Ministry of Minority Affairs executed the project, which will cater to weavers and other artisans. USTAAD was announced in 2014 and the Finance Ministry has allocated Rs 17 crore for the scheme this year.
Under the Modi government the Najma Heptullah-headed Minority Affairs Ministry, crafted the first scheme USTAAD, which will provide skill development and better marketing strategies to weavers and artisans of traditional crafts like wooden lacquer ware and toys and Banaras Gulabi Meenakari.
Spiritual Tourism Hotspot
Varanasis Old City, the quarter near the banks of the river Ganga, has a rich culture, attracting any travellers and tourists. The main tourist attractions are the Kashi Vishwanath Temple also known as the Golden Temple, Banaras Hindu University, Bharat Kala Bhawan (Art Museum), River Front (Ghats), Durga Temple, Tulsi Manas Temple, New Vishwanath Temple, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Bharat Mata Temple, Ashoka Pillar, Ramnagar Fort, Alamgir Mosque, Jantar Mantar, Jain Temple and Aghor Peeth.
Varanasi is set to join the experience tourism club with State Tourism Department deciding to start a heritage walk in the temple town soon. The circle of life walk, promises to be an experience of the Banarasi way of life and will have 16 major attractions in the stretch between Assi Ghat and Dal Mandi.
The centuries-old symbol of Ganga ghats of the holy city, bamboo parasols, popularly known as Chhatris, will no longer be a thing of past. The artisans from across the country will be roped in for making bamboo parasols if the city has lost its parasol makers.
A new bus service from Kathmandu to Varanasi was launched during the Prime Ministers first visit to Nepal, and upon his second visit, a Kathmandu- Varanasi twin city pact was signed. Narendra Modi highlighted the cultural bond that both India and Nepal share, during his visit to Nepal, keeping Varanasi as central.
The bus service will follow the Kathmandu- Bhairahawa-Sunauli-Azamgarh-Varanasi route, covering 600 km during its journey of about 12 hours. Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) has fixed the ticket cost of Varanasi to Kathmandu bus service at about Rs 2,100.
On the world stage through HRIDAY
Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) aims to promote an integrated, inclusive and sustainable development of heritage sites, focusing on maintenance of monuments and advancement of the ecosystem, including its citizens, tourists and local businesses. Varanasi got a fund of Rs 89.31 crore in January this year to spend in the next two years for the conservation and development of its heritage properties.
During U.S. President Barack Obamas visit to India, Clean Ganga Project and Smart City in Allahabad projects were signed that would give a boost to development in the Purvanchal region. President Obama wished to develop an IT hub in Varanasi, according to Frank Islam, an American businessman of Indian origin who was a part of Obamas delegation. Extensive talks were held by the President of the U.S. and Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding cleaning of River Ganga and beautification of the riverfront.
During the G-20 Summit in Australia, Narendra Modi met Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan where he expressed his desire to rejuvenate Varanasi and committed for extending full support. Japan would provide assistance for sanitation, public transport, power supply and infrastructure for the transformation of Varanasi as a Smart City. Kenichi Ogaswara, Deputy Mayor of Kyoto, has already paid a visit to Varanasi in this regard.
One of the main challenges being faced by Varanasi is cleaning the River Ganga. Thousands of devotees bathe applying oil, chemical soaps and shampoos. Also at least 40,000 bodies are burnt every year in the cremation ghat. When the bodies are not completely burnt, the un-burnt part is tied to heavy rocks and then thrown into the river where the chemical idols of God and Goddess are submerged as well.
Under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) the digging up of Varanasi continues unabated for sewerage pipelines, as well as electricity and telecom wiring for more than five years now.
Prime Minister Modi has already planned how to spend the Rs 5 crore a year allotted as MPLAPDS – the constituency development fund for Varanasi. His wish list is simple – hand pumps, solar pumps and lights and he wants them equally distributed in all the five assembly segments that make up his parliamentary constituency. The PMs aides in both Varanasi and New Delhi have also been rallying public and private sector companies for contributing under their corporate social responsibility schemes. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) has been invited to beautify all the smaller water bodies (Kunds) in Varanasi. ONGC is also funding a water ATM scheme in Varanasi and the machines will be installed by Eureka Forbes. A power giant has been roped in to invest Rs 572 crore to fix messy wiring in the city. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is trying to de-congest the roads through a 15-kilometre Ring Road along with a plan to make the main roads 60 metres wide. Schemes are also being launched for smart transportation for Old Kashi area, and illumination of Ganga ghats. Overall, works are being undertaken in riverfront development, solid waste management and setting up of sewage treatment plant in Varanasi.
The mini PMO in Varanasi is a one-stop crisis management centre for all kinds of problems of the people, be it personal, professional or political. This Jansampark Karyalaya acts as a hotline between the people of Modis constituency and the PMO in New Delhi. The office has no administrative power but remains in constant touch with the PMO in Delhi to deal with issues that can be resolved with help from the central government, Legislators, Mayor, District Magistrate, police and local administration. Interestingly, the office this year also received several requests for Haj permissions. Applicants who could not get permission from the state government have requested the PMO to intervene. I come here every Thursday. If the complaints are to be addressed at city level, we take it on our own. The others are diverted to the agency concerned, commented Varanasi Mayor Ramgopal Mohley.
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May 27, 2019
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