My moral apathy and selfish bewilderment have destroyed the idyllic Bhubaneswar. My self-claim of piety in the city of Temples, is a cunning repose of escaping my responsibilities as a citizen and validating my freeloading on the government.
If it suits me, I am an advocate of the government and if it does not then an on-the-spot critic. Governments, whether state or national, are the easy target, the whipping boy. The efforts for making it a Smart City or the Global Sports Hub are government initiatives. The civil society has no role to play in any aspect of the life of Bhubaneswar because there is no civil society. No one assists the government in the policies, initiatives, or the implementation. Everyone is waiting for an invite from the governments to join as an advisor. This invite and tag are crucial because of the perks likely to come associated. If not invited, then I have nothing to do with the city or the public planning. I am only a consumer – I know how to consume and not care.
Population-wise Bhubaneswar at about 11, 69,000 counts among the world’s 500 cities. It started as a town of government colonies but 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. They know the system, they can influence their co-Bhubaneswariyas, can find solutions to many day-to-day city life problems, can motivate youngsters to pioneer self-service, encourage many youngsters who are currently exploring technology solutions to civic issues and above all can earn recognition for themselves. At least for the lure of recognition.
The state population is 4.37 Crore. In the next 15 years, it is expected that over 17 percent of the population would be in cities (or city bound), out of which Bhubaneswar is estimated to attract over 80 percent 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. This growth story would be written in stories, literally – now there is no cap on the height and floors of high-rises in the capital. The buildings can be more than 27 metres tall and can have 23 floors and more, whether residential or commercial. BDA has so far given permission to 108 multi-storeyed buildings in the city. Are we aware of this development? Or are we still floating in the poetry of 6th Century and the relics of Odisha’s south east trade? I need not be a philistine but in the same vein I need not be a dilettante. Even the art & craft need my sincere involvement, not lip sympathy or tokenism.
To support any infrastructural plan in Odisha, IIT Kharagpur gives the seal and that seals the fate of all our responses and reactions. Our planners say that “In order to meet the housing requirements, we have no other way but to give permission to multi-storeyed complexes”. Because the unassailable IIT Kharagpur says that there would be a shortage of nearly 4.5 lakh dwelling units by 2030. But in all these assessments & decisions where is the civil society of Bhubaneswar involved? The moot question is “where is the civil society”?
I am the ostrich that buries its head in the sand. Being a crab and an ostrich is not an enviable combination.
Bhubaneswar is the knowledge hub of India, supposedly – with all kinds of research, educational and professional institutions actively running their businesses. Had any of them participated in this study by IIT Kharagpur? Did they ever show any interest? Are the teachers or the students or the research scholars aware of the developments in the skyline of the city? By 2030, when Bhubaneswar would be reeling under climate emergency (further supported by wanton constructions), I am sure they would be still holding classes and selling admissions. Because admissions matter. Even when Bhubaneswar falls under seismic zone and is the Centrepoint of climate disasters, I develop a strange apathy. Bhubaneswar might need to grow vertically, so be it. But do the people of Bhubaneswar decide about Bhubaneswar? No. There is no individual effort nor is there a community glue. It’s all discursive, fragmented and consciousness in smithereens.
My complacency could be a case study. The other cohort I find comfortable is that of activism. Enough of that. The shortest route to headlines is government criticism and reviling. I have an estimate of how activism and its trade has increased the poverty levels of our state. I have watched over the years, how activism spurs a business model that thrives on schadenfreude. But that is a different disquisition.
Immediately as COVID tapers off, the city of Bhubaneswar would be dug up. With the start of the construction work migrant labourers would rush to the city from different districts of Odisha and neighbouring states. Slums would multiply in the city in the next 3-4 years and by 2035-2040, the slums would have to be gradually regularised. The support service would become expensive, all the residential areas would be swamped with high rise apartments, in place of small houses of mostly retired government servants and old families. Crores would cloud nostalgia, change the city’s innate character while a whole generation (of present youngsters) would be outside. When they come back and if they come back, they would be foreigners.
Is this the ultimate fate of Smart Bhubaneswar and Splendid Odisha?
Bhubaneswar is a blessed city with a terrain which can help design it like a hill city. But it is late. The skyscrapers can be confined to a particular part of the city and not poke their heads unpleasantly in every corner. Bhubaneswar overall can be kept low rise. The commercial area can be separated from the residential areas. This one move could make Bhubaneswar much cleaner, overnight. We need a Smart City as an urban space that is liveable and ecology-friendly, technologically integrated and meticulously planned with the use of information technology. Bhubaneswar is the much-coveted destination in India, where the rush to the city is more evident than ever before and it has been duly accorded the smart city status (in the first lot of 98 cities) by the government.
Some of the residential projects have blatantly and arrogantly violated land acquisition in the past and have build their properties right on top of natural stream and aquifers in the city. They are the sector experts who preach socio economic development on chat shows. I hope they would soon learn to be entrepreneurs and not businessmen only. There is a big difference.
Till date, as I am writing this, there is not a single Bhubaneswar Citizen Forum in the city. The city, the seat of power and pelf, has scores of retired Babus, technocrats, wealthy traders, power brokers who I always assumed, were competent, influential and powerful. But that was an illusion. Not only are they incapacitated but are pathetically short sighted. They are in some stratosphere, wallowing in their own antiquated CVs, hallucinating about some glorious past and rattling medieval literature and demoded kabitas. Antediluvian shenanigans. The youngsters are preparing to leave Bhubaneswar at the earliest. By 2030, the common language in Bhubaneswar would cease to be Odia. Let’s think for ourselves and shake ourselves off from this paralysis. It is the responsibility of the civil society to help the governments. The governments would ideally want to be ’less of government and more of governance’. But how will they be? The civil society is not civil. It’s apathy for Bhubaneswar smacks of a weird dislike and loathing for one’s own place.
This is the Temple City and is also the Knowledge City. The silent, coy, reticent city, Bhubaneswar is probably the only city in India to have this alchemy. There is an eclectic mix of divinity and modernity in the city. Why am I so short sighted? Why can’t I help the governments to help us? Why am I so dependent on the government for everything? Why don’t I take responsibilities and stop passing on the buck? That is because I am the self-destructive Bhubaneswariya, who probably doesn’t deserve the wonder city.
The true cost of all the complacency is the death of the soul. By 2030, not only the landscape, water table, human development but the soul of the city would have evaporated. The temples would probably be the only witnesses if they are allowed to survive despite the lure of their real estate worth. Here “Nero” is not fiddling, he is lecturing on Ashoka for the 2023rd time. In the meantime, Daya river has ceased.
Please do not kill Bhubaneswar!
(Charudutta Panigrahi is an author and futurist. Views are personal.)