Anchoring Smart City Overhaul in Island Territory

“Declared as a Smart City, under the Smart City Mission of the Central Government in 2016, Port Blair has project size worth INR 770 Crores, which is further expanded to project size of INR 1100 crores with recommendations from local administration. A lot of leg work has happened till date in identifying aspects which can get off the ground to an implementation stage, with a fund of INR 200 crore being released by the Government of India, till date”, asserted Vikram Dev Dutt, Principal Secretary, Urban Development, Andaman and Nicobar Administration in a conversation with Poulami Chakraborty of BW SmartCitiesWorld. Excerpts below:

Would you share with us the various urban development initiatives that the Union Territory undertook over the years, under your aegis? How have these initiatives been leveraged to improve the citizen lifestyle?

When it comes to the Smart City Mission under the Government of India, Port Blair is boastful about its strategic location and importance and a visionary approach towards the concept. Most of the initiatives in these lines are taken and implemented by the region's Urban Local Body, Port Blair Municipal Council under the aegis of the UD department of the administration. A slew of initiatives has been taken over the recent past, with respect to Port Blair- to enhance the urban development framework, infrastructure, and the government-citizen interface, in different aspects. Elaborating it, there had been a shelf of three or four major developmental initiatives that have been rolled out or are in the process of being rolled out.

Declared as a Smart City, under the Smart City Mission of the Central Government in 2016, Port Blair has project size worth INR 770 Crores, which is further expanded to project the size of INR 1100 crores with recommendations from the local administration. A lot of leg work has happened to date in identifying aspects that can get off the ground to an implementation stage, with a fund of INR 200 crore being released by the Government of India, till date. At the administration level, we are looking to serve a very sustainable concept of Smart Cities, which will not only cater tourists and the tourism industry of the island but also, preserve the composite culture of the region.

We have also adopted to Atal Misson for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and in fact Swachcha Bharat has kicked off at a tender stage in the region. In fact, we are happy to share that we have been one of the early union territories to achieve the Open Defecation Free status by January 2018 ]and is ODF+ now. There is no doubt that Citizen Interface is severely important for e-Governance in any scenario and here, the challenges are multifaceted. The challenges of mega policies are humongous, however the solutions are indigenous and simple, which kind of enhanced our processes, resulting in enhanced qualitative services to the citizens.

In the context of Port Blair AMRUT, we have been revamping our underground water distribution system to 24/7, which would not only cater to the needs of the citizens but also to increasing needs of the tourism industry. We are presently looking at implementing high-end projects in the tourism sector in PPP mode. Port Blair is uniquely blessed with natural beauty with a wonderful sea-promenade across its boundaries. Certain plans for developing the sea-promenade with an intent to be tourist and citizen friendly had been already, like the Flag Point; and in phases the entire promenade will be transformed for holistic and sustainable development for citizen and tourist lifestyle.

We also understand the need for good quality urban spaces, to that end we have rolled out a green connect project, that would connect parts of the city with a few walking trails, thus encouraging people to adopt healthy lifestyle.

In our context energy conservation and use of clean and green energy is important, besides water, as we are looking forward for progressive road-map for de-dieselization of the entire island. At present the share of renewable or reusable energy is about 16 per cent and the share is likely to shoot up significantly as there are projects in the relevant phase which are undergoing and is in the ambit. Thanks to the island city’s capacity to be blessed with sun-shine round the year. As a matter of fact, Port Blair is the only municipality with 100 per cent LED street-lights in the region.

The way-side amenities for citizen convenience have now started coming out in place, like we have now bio-toilets, water ATMS, door to door waste collection. We are also one of the primitive places which has adopted banning the usage of plastics and we hope even tourists coming here, regularly, would also adhere to the norms that the government is trying to bring in force for the complete banning of plastics and littering that is related to the usage of single-use plastics. We are also establishing contacts with the producers and importers of single-use plastics under the context of extended producer’s responsibility. We visualize a zero-waste Andaman and Port Blair in no times in the coming days.

Please share with us the measures that the UD department took to resort the impending challenge of increasing pollution? How are the citizens combatting the situation to improve the city lifestyle quality?

It is evidently noted that increasing tourism and increasing population is results in visible detoriation in a couple of aspects, which are of ultimate manifest, one of which is increasing traffic congestions. For a city like Port Blair which has a population of 1 or 1.5 lakhs and equal number of tourist influx regularly, we have experienced an ever increasing traffic congestion in the recent times. Under the smart city plan for Port Blair, we have plans for developing multi-level parking in three different locations, in the city, which is crucial for managing the city’s development theory and managing the traffic congestions in the city. Also in the long points there are possibilities of constructing fly-overs at choke points.

 Similarly, the government has adopted clean and green transport as well. In the recent times, we got recognised by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs for the best green initiative in urban transport, as we have just introduced e-rickshaws, which charging stations are also in place with all necessary infrastructure in strategic tourist locations. There were complaints that came in time to time for local taxi owners to over-charge tourists, which got some kind of addressal from government view-points besides for the rise of traffic congestion. It is important to share that we in the Andaman and Nicobar Administration is also introducing electric buses in the city for local transportation. These initiatives will also set the tone for shift in context from usage of petrol or diesel in the city to electric vehicles which is also a Government of India mandate and which will be in right sync with the sustainable development in the Port Blair city.

We have something called energy conservation building code, which have just introduced in the last month. Every building have a connected code of above 50 watts on contract demand will have to install renewable energy systems. We have also imposed a ban on filament lamps and replaced them with LED lights. In a bid to leverage usage of single use plastics, we have already notified the mandatory use of plastics in road constructions. Under the CPWD manuals there is 8 to 10 percent mandate for use of plastic wastes in road constructions and work has already started towards this measure.

As a part of our incentivize mechanism, plastics and other solid wastes been transported to mainland for recycling, the Andaman and Nicobar Administration has given freight exemption for the transportation. 

The citizen lifestyle quality can be improved through a variety of measures, but off-course the IT initiatives makes life easier for average citizens and a number of e-Governance services are rolled out in past six months. We have online receipt for revenue collections, which helps the municipality track and manage its finances in an optimal manner. Online building plan have been approved by Hon’ble Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar administration, last month, however, there we have a constraint of connectivity as the optical fibre network communications project is currently under execution- the under-sea cable is being laid from Chennai to Port Blair with the slated date for completion being June 2020 and the time-lines are much on track. A year down the line, the situation in terms of last mile connectivity will be pretty much different from what it is now and, the same will affect the operationalization of all the e-Gov services been rolled out in the recent past.

One of the most crucial and ambitious projects of Port Blair Smart City is the Integrated Command and Control Center, which will actually help improve citizen-quality interface, with multiple systems integrating with each other , creating a seamless service network in the region.

Tourism is one of the biggest revenue earners for the Union Territory. What initiatives are been taken or are in pipeline, on urban development and ecology front, to enhance tourist experience?

The tourism experience can be enhanced significantly with context of Andaman and Port Blair in a couple of ways. One off-course is the IT enabling of all tourism related information and tourism related access to several tourist points. These talks about wi-fi at important locations, apps which are available for the tourists, weather apps which are helpful for tourists to plan out their tour in uncertain tropical weather as ours in Andaman. In fact, in the beaches in Swaraj Deep, which is one of the top 10 beaches in the world, are also undergoing through rigorous standard tests for the prestigious blue flag certification. Thus the kind of infrastructure and support system that are required for blue flag certification to be given to a particular beach is currently under process. The green spaces or the green connect in the sea promenade are the major draws of tourist attraction. On the other hand, development of a nature park and interpretation centre also sensitizes the tourists to conservation and sustainable use of nature and marine resources. As it is well known about the connect of Port Blair with freedom movement, Cellular Jail is a household name in the country-  we are developing historical heritage walks linking cellular jail to few other points of historical importance, in the vicinity. Much of this initiative is IT-enabled, like the sound and light show in the cellular jail, designed for tourists’ attraction is also being revamped with the systems of ITDC on a turn-key basis. This could not only increase the footfalls of the tourists but could also lead to increased engagement of the tourists, in a variety of ways with local ambiance.

Are there any plans or measures that are been adopted for managing the solid wastes of the city?

As a part of our solid waste management initiative in the city of Port Blair, we have already introduced and implemented door to door waste collection, in all the municipal wards. About 65 per cent of the solid wastes is currently been processed. While, the wet wastes is been completely processed as composts, the balance 35 percent is shifted to the mainland under the freight subsidy exemption scheme. After the recent ban imposed on single-use plastic, plastic components are used in road construction of the region and EPR engagement in the plastic drinking water unit, realising the plastic drinking water bottle is a major contributor in unbalancing the natural harmony. As a matter of fact, water ATM’s are conceptually designed to strategically cut on the usage of plastic pet bottles in the region. About 38000 cloth bags have been distributed among general public in September 2019, to cut on the usage of plastic bags. On the other hand cleaning of coastline and beaches is an ongoing process. As a matter of fact, due to tidal activities, lots of marine wastes are thrown up on our coastline, for which we are soon to engage in GIZ for cleaning up our marine region for a better future. We are also concentrating on building bio-methanation plant in our territory, taking cue from some of the region in Madhya Pradesh, which have successfully implemented the same.