In contrast to Modi government’s ‘smart city’ bid for the city of Varanasi that recently hosted Indian PM Narendra Modi and Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe last week, CEPT University students have come up with a slew of ‘soft interventions’ and re-imagined the holy city. The work alongwith many other projects was on display this week at the CEPT campus and was as an outcome of the institute’s annual winter school that saw 900 CEPT students including 50 international students from different foreign universities choose 44 elective courses.
Even as India – Japan inked a pact to develop Varanasi as a smart city last year, CEPT students visited Varanasi came up with several ‘design led interventions’ as part of their course called ‘Understanding the scope of design intervention in public places, streets and Ghats in ‘Varanasi’ at the winter school held at CEPT.
A system of low cost Bamboo umbrella installations along the Ghats to check flowers and other Puja material from floating into the Ganga, a street signage system that can absorb noise, creation of more community spaces, contemporary street art to connect the old and new city areas, battery operated rickshaws similar to those in European cities, smart toilets, movable furniture for public were among a few of the solutions proposed by CEPT students for PM’s parliamentary constituency.
On a 11 day trip in the city last month, students interviewed 30 local people and identified found traffic, pollution, noise, lack of open spaces, lack of toilets on ghats and pollution to Ganga river among some of the major issues dogging the city. Architecture student Namrata Dadawala, who was among the 25 CEPT students in the course said, “We found that Varanasi had civic issues like any other city like traffic, pollution, dirty streets, lack of open spaces for the community. Despite women having more safety and mobility there, there were lack of toilets for women. Despite there being four on the ghats, they were closed and we could not use them. A local shopkeeper in his interview told us that the PM’s Swachh Bharat mission have not ensured more toilets and cleanliness in Varanasi.”
Namrata added, “In order to keep the Ganga clean, students came up with a design made of two concentric cylinder made of woven bamboo strips anchored on the Ganga ghat, wherein the inner circle is to check articles of Puja and the outer circle for flowers. The Bamboo strips captures all the articles flowing into the river and polluting it and adds to the beauty of the Ghats too.”
The students also examined the city’s unique characteristic of having many ghat embankments of stone steps along the river where the pilgrims perform ritual ablutions which makes the sacred river dirty. “We found that design led soft interventions are cheaper, flexible and easily adoptable by people and those which are ‘people led’ will work best for the city. These interventions cost less than 5 % of the budget currently allocated to Varanasi in the last budget. Bamboo umbrellas can be installed across the Ghats and signanges that can aid in urban noise management by absorbing the noise and the constant honking at Girjaghar Chauraja was suggested by students. For Luxa Road -one of the busiest streets in the city, we felt paved roads can be developed. These are measures that would be easily acceptable by the people as the materials can be sources locally,” said Sanskruti Panchal, faculty coordinator of the course.
Another faculty who took the course- Manuel Marquez De Las Heras stressed on how street art that is traditionally found in Varanasi, can take the form of social expression simply by being contemporary. Incidentally, Modi’s constituency is slated to get an ambitious Rs 18,349-crore makeover from the government in a bid to boost the dilapidated infrastructure of the holy city that has fallen into disrepair.