"Projects start with great ambition but integration is key".

In conversation with BW Smart cities' Nivedhana Prabhu, Divisional Commissioner, Varanasi, Nitin Ramesh Gokarn, talks about the aim and importance of developing the city to become smart while preserving the culture of a beautiful city like Varanasi

"To rejuvenate the oldest Indian living city of Varanasi as a great place to live and visit by conserving and showcasing its enriched heritage, culture, spirituality and traditions through innovative social and financial inclusion solutions”. These lines, written in the city proposal for Varanasi Smart City, sums up the essence of Varanasi.

India's cultural and heritage capital is flocked to by millions of domestic and international visitors, eager to absorb the sights and sounds of this mystic city. Over the years Varanasi has seen extensive development in various sectors. One amongst the 100 selected Smart cities, the challenge for the city is to modernise the city and at the same time retain its cultural identity.

In conversation with Nivedhana Prabhu of BW SmartCities, Divisional Commissioner Nitin Ramesh Gokarn, talks to us about the plans, vision and importance of developing the city to become smart while preserving the culture of a beautiful city like Varanasi.

Could you share with us the progress of Varanasi Smart Cities so far?

On the basis of certain criteria’s of the Government of India, Varanasi was one of the cities to be selected for the Smart city Mission. In terms of getting the project based consultants, registration of companies and passing of initial projects are already underway.

Some of the projects are in advanced stage whereas according to me the impact should begin by the end of the year, which is by December.

What according to you are the key challenges in this project?

Most projects start with great ambition. But the big question is how one should integrate it with several of the other prior projects that have already taken place keeping in mind the vision of the city. That is where implementation of ideas come into place as there needs to be balance. Integration of various components is the key factor here, as one has to understand the impact of projects on other aspects like eco system for example and the approach to this would be in a holistic manner according to me. By solving one problem it should not give rise to another which is why the art of integration would be one of the challenges.

Varanasi is a highly populated city. Infact our tourist season would commence in a few weeks, giving rise to another challenge about sequencing of the projects. The timeliness of these projects are essential as it should have a minimum adverse impact on people’s daily life routines but at the same time ensuring maximum possible benefits is the key challenge.

Could you shed some light on integrated solution smart systems under smart city mission in various sectors like safety, traffic and how it would benefit citizens?

Varanasi is a sensitive area and over the past few years certain incidents have led to security being a prime concern in the city.

To ensure better safety the integration & augmentation of existing control room to develop a Central Control Centre police for effective monitoring and to ensure ease of commute and safety of citizens. The live feed would be sent to a centralized control centre to ensure safety. This system will enable police and security agencies to take proactive/ reactive measures and ensure safe & smooth environment on road.

Under the Integrated Command and Control System, Hi tech cameras will be installed at 64 intersections with the cost of Rs 100 crore so that traffic management can be monitored from one place. Futher which the lTMS will be integrated with CCTV surveillance.

Rs. 55.30 Cr will be converged from State Government's lntegrated Transport Management System project, Department of Police being the nodal agency. Rs. 14.04 cr. from Varanasi Municipal Corporation and Rs. 2.82 cr. form Varanasi Development Authority would be converged for lTMS implementation. Within a duration of 2 yrs, 80% of the interventions would be done in 1st yr and the rest 20% in the second year.

We hope that by putting systems we will have a better analytics and real time data in terms of what is happening in the city.

How would you envision Varanasi five years down the line?

I see a lot of technology coming in to solve basic problems for the city. It could be infrastructure, transport/ traffic that has an impact on daily life, water issues, electricity and so on.

While maintaining the essential character and without tampering its culturally rich heritage, technology will play a huge role to make it a smarter city. It is a heterogeneous society, given the fact that virtually every part of the country has some representation or the other within the Kashi area and it has been that way for centuries. Which brings us to the point that we will have to keep in mind the same yet ensure better services for people of Kashi including the pilgrims.

What can citizens expect in the coming years?

Five years down the line they can expect better transport system, pedestrian friendly zones, recreational zones, better mobility, parking issues to be resolved due to congestion. But one should keep in mind that our aim to better mobility is not just restricted to roads but also would enhance systems of boats.

Another prime concern would be reducing travel time and few years down the line we hope to have better access in the North-South region within the city by passing our existing road networks which will enable people to move at a faster pace.