Urban Planning with Human Touch
Today’s cities need to accommodate spiralling numbers of people, servicing their needs and stimulating trade and investment, creating jobs, all within the constraints imposed by mega challenges, such as infrastructure, climate change and more. Guwahati is not just Assam’s largest city; it is the gateway to Northeast India for providing the best connectivity to other states in the region and the world beyond. Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority, mandated for the formulation and execution of schemes for the planned development of Guwahati Metropolitan area has become the front runners of fostering sustainable solutions in its efforts to become more livable and long-term beneficial to the inhabitants. How change is at the heart of Guwahati metropolitan life- Manjushree Reddy in conversation with Varnali Deka, CEO, GMDA …
What are the urban challenges Assam is facing?
In the case of Assam, there are some generic challenges of urbanisation. The foremost of which is rapid growth of population, in ways of both natural and migratory population. For Assam, Infrastructure is also a big challenge, if we compare the situation with other parts of the countries, where in, planned cities and towns are coming up. Also, in Assam, flood has been a chronic issue, particularly, in monsoons. We typically get heavy volume of rains in the monsoon and then in rest of the year there is scarcity. In urban areas, Guwahati in particular, flood and water logging are frequent, because of the unique geography of the city. The city has planes surrounded by hills. Some amount of water is absorbed by the ground, but because of concretization in recent times, the water which was supposed to go under the ground and recharge the ground water level adds up to the already high volume of water logging. This is a major concern for the city.
Waste disposal is the other concern, as there are no sustainable models except few like the one is Vellore model by Mr. Srinivasan. But I am happy to say that government of Assam has now taken up waste disposal as a focus area in order to target sustainable ways of disposal.
Urban transportation is also one more area to focus, in absence of any mass transport systems. Till now, we solely rely on unorganized operators. However, things will change with metro rail project coming up.
Assam government seems to have undertaken several initiatives in the urban space. What is your vision to make Guwahati a smart city? Can you tell us what you see as effective strategies for the city to provide infrastructure to keep pace with challenges like growing populations or migration or traffic, etc?
Guwahati has been taken up under smart city project, which is the only smart city and gateway for the entire Northeast region. The implementation of the Smart City Mission at the City level will be done by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). I am happy to say that GMDA has taken up a number of initiatives, which I feel will make Guwahati a better place to live in. We are considering development of a lot of civic amenities, which includes, development of bus terminal, civic centre and botanical garden of international level, open park initiatives, park network, which will not only increase green coverage in the city but also will serve for people who are concerned with fitness. We are following Singapore model for an old jail land campus.
River front development is also under consideration. A systematic planning is underway for whatever unutilized or underutilized lands available in the city. We are also planning land filling policy for low cost housing.
These apart, government is also working on smart lighting and multilevel car parking in the city. We are also coming up with an interesting initiative relating to traffic issues, under which, we will connect north and south banks across. That will reduce the concerns around traffic congestion to a greater extent.
There are some complains around the existing Guwahati Building Construction Bye-Laws, which are defective. Are you aware of the errors? What are the plans to rectify?
The government in December 2016 has constituted a technical committee, who is reviewing the building bye-laws of 2014. In the last few years, there have been a number of focal areas for government, including ease of business and Swaccha Bharat Abhiyaan. The bye-law needs to be aligned with the requirements of such initiatives. There are many people who are physically challenged and are unable to access all routes. The parking norms also need to be included. The committee is looking at integrating solutions towards all these concern areas. The committee is looking at taking care of the bye-laws with two approaches. One, they will examine and suggest integration of certain changes and provisions with the already existing byelaw. Two, the bye-law is also incorporating norms in alignment of new initiatives.
Tell us more about the Metro corridor and the rail project. What were the stumbling blocks before?
The planning and work for the metro rail project is well in track. Once the metro rail comes, it would definitely change the face of Guwahati. We have already awarded the contract to prepare Detailed Project Report for the mass rapid transit system. We will move in phases. The total system consists of 4 corridors covering a distance of 61.4 km. in phase one of the Guwahati Metro.
“The planning and work for the metro rail project is well in track. Once the metro rail comes, it would definitely change the face of Guwahati. The total system consists of 4 corridors covering a distance of 61.4 km. in phase one of the Guwahati Metro.
The state development authority in January has approved the changes in the DPR. In addition of the studies done earlier, we are also doing promotion of SPV. Guwahati Metro Rail Corporation will carry forward the anticipation of MRTS. We have also extended corridor 1 to Mukundpriya Gopinath International Airport, which will facilitate lesser travel time for travelers. We are also planning to cover major tourist points in the first phase, including, Kamakshya Railway Station, Kamakshya Temple, and Guwahati University.
How will the development activities for the Assam State Capital Region Development be different from that of the GMDA?
This is an authority which will be governed under the ASCRDA Act. The jurisdiction of ASCRDA will be different. We are still planning the area outline for ASCRDA. As GMDA, we are governed by the GMDA Act of 1985 and all our activities are governed by this act.
What are the digital initiatives undertaken? The website talks about Information systems being available on a click. What are the technology areas that would be of interest to you?
I have done my Masters in Operations (MBA Operations) and B.Tech in Computer Science. I am personally inclined to the technology areas. GMDA has also taken lots on initiatives in this line. We have the entire building permission system online. We are trying to minimise the human interface, which will subsequently increase transparency and efficiency.
Coming to other digital processes, we use tally for accounting, we have wifi network covering the entire campus of GMDA, and we are also looking at GRP solutions for functional departments of GMDA. We are trying to transform GMDA into paperless office, both for GMDA office as well as for GMDA project partners. We will maximize the use of digital tools and will use GIS in various projects for planning and monitoring.
There is already hydraulic modeling done by National Institute of Hydrology. Considering the flow, nature and water condition of Assam, we have decided for hydraulic modeling. Brahmaputra as a river requires lots of technology to ensure that the treatment is proper. We are also exploring other options like acquisition of land. We are developing Sankardev Udyan in a very grand way.
There have been a lot of smart city plan areas and related memorandums, interests and understandings happening but do you see those translating into wins for you in terms of contracts?
We are doing lots of projects in association with many international organizations. As far as smart city is concerned, there is a separate body under Guwahati Smart City Ltd. Under the Smart City Mission also there are lots of initiatives which are coming up. There are many options available for us to explore and consider tie ups with International organizations. We have collaborated with a Switzerland based company.
For urban development, Public Private Partnership has come up as a very feasible alternative. We are planning a number of projects in PPP mode.
Do you have any recommendations or comments you might make to the design community, people involved in urban planning and such, about in terms of developing technologies, social networks, systems for this emerging area of smart cities and urban development?
Considering Guwahati, I think sustainability should be our priority. We are focusing more on Rain water harvesting. So, the technical people who are involved in a project should ensure that there are provisions of rain water harvesting, accessibility, feasibility, sustainability, provision for Swacchata (cleanliness) and alike. We need the cooperation of all stakeholders in developing Guwahati into a city that truly deserves title of being the ‘Gateway of Northeast’. I request all the stakeholders to ensure their part in making it a reality.
What is your future vision?
Smart City Mission is another SPV. But GMDA is taking up all the initiatives to bring in all feasible, systematic and sustainable changes in Guwahati, in next few years.
We are developing new parks. Our honorable Minister has already announced two new parks. We are also redeveloping already existing parklands. We are looking for sustainable activities; we are looking for public private partnerships. Again Guwahati is a city of group of fitness enthusiast, so we are ensuring greenery for runners and appropriate place for cycling. As a matter of fact, we are trying to provide human touch to each of these urban systems.