Bhubaneswar: From Idyllic Mandira Malini Nagari to a Smart City

It was in the seventies that I shifted base from a bustling metropolis to Bhubaneswar. I saw a city with vast tracts of greenery, a number of parks and a string of temples. It was a quiet city with character, unspoilt by ugly architecture, traffic snarls or sheer numbers. Along with Jamshedpur and Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar was one of modern India’s planned cities. It was designed by German architect Otto Konigsberger in 1946 to house a State capital.

I sensed serenity about the place where  roads were meant for walking, occasional cars flitting by and two-wheelers zipping past carrying people to work and other pursuits. However warm the days, the mornings and evenings ushered in soul-soothing breeze. Winters made the city quite idyllic with, and walkers took to parks and unfrequented paths.

People were courteous, unobtrusively friendly and bound by hierarchy, and everything seemed to be on an even keel. Life was circumscribed and so were aspirations. I remembered Thomas Gray’s lines, “Along the cool sequestered vale of life /They kept the noiseless tenor of their day.” Shopping centres for clothes or groceries or white goods were limited and became social circuits. Commerce and industry were still nascent. Children went to school in rickshaws and the rickshaw puller was a friend whom you could trust your children with. The public-sector organisation I was working in was housed in a series of buildings along the leafy Forest Park where gulmohur trees stood resplendent in red. It was an elite part where the retired gentry lived undisturbed by the bustle of a busy lifestyle.

Change is inevitable with progress and no city can remain static if it is to be part of the milieu and stand equally tall with others. The city’s skyline of waving palm fronds punctuated by a building here and there soon morphed into one of high-rise apartments, star hotels, malls, boutiques, snack bars and multinationals with employees from across the country on their payrolls. And with the retail revolution, arcades of every hue and size have opened shop taking consumerism to a whole new level. A number of educational institutions have opened providing new opportunities of higher education in Odisha. 

Progress brought along its unsavoury side too with the city becoming an unseemly urban sprawl with migrant labourers and the indigenous poor and a sad lack of infrastructure to absorb them. Consequently there is a proliferation of garbage with trash bins spilling over, filling the drains and crossing the streets.

However, it is heartening for the residents of the city that it has catapulted itself into the first place on the list of smart cities. The efforts of the government as well as ordinary citizens through a series of public campaigns have borne fruit. Smart solutions would be found for better mobility, waste management and citizen-centric services.

A smart city is defined as technologically integrated, well-planned and environment-friendly, liveable, workable and sustainable city. It should also be a safe city with intelligent surveillance systems so that the residents would feel safe. It should be the responsibility of the residents and the city fathers to make the smart city happen. This city of temples, Mandira Malini Nagari, would be a model that would do us proud!

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The New Indian Express