Monday, Nov 24, 2014

In Japan, PM plans Varanasi facelift

narendra-modi Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe during a dinner at State Guest House in Kyoto on Saturday. (Source: PTI)
Written by Shubhajit Roy | Kyoto | Posted: August 30, 2014 5:03 pm | Updated: August 31, 2014 5:19 am

Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Osaka on Saturday and, within hours, oversaw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe to turn Varanasi into a ‘smart city’ with help from Kyoto. The pact is in line with Modi’s vision of building 100 ‘smart cities’ across India.

Under the smart heritage cities programme, Kyoto will provide cooperation in the fields of conservation and modernisation of cities, as well as art, culture and academics.

While Kyoto and Kashi share many similarities historically, there is a wide gap in where they stand today.

First, the similarities: Kyoto is called the city of ten thousand shrines, while Varanasi boasts of numerous temples and ghats. Kyoto has been the imperial capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, while Varanasi is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Both cities also have rivers flowing alongside them.

Now, the differences: Kyoto has modernised while keeping its old city, temples and monuments alive, while Varanasi has languished in its past glory. Kyoto’s streets are wide and clean, with magnificent tree-lined boulevards — something Modi witnessed on his way to the luxurious Westin hotel. Varanasi’s squalor and narrow roads have prompted the PM to resolve to clean up the city. Varanasi’s Ganga river is polluted and the ghats need repair, while Kyoto has a number of rivers, canals and other navigable waterways. While Yodo, Kamogawa and Katsura rivers flow through Kyoto, its Late Biwa canal is a major infrastructure milestone.

These differences are likely to be highlighted by Kyoto’s mayor Daisaku Kadokawa when he makes a presentation to Modi on Sunday.

Indian officials in Kyoto said Modi’s plan of 100 ‘smart cities’ is one of the major focus areas during the visit.

“The Prime Minister is keen on rejuvenating Indian cities as urban centres, and Kyoto is a magnificent example of how a city preserves its cultural heritage while modernising itself. It, therefore, dovetails into PM’s own emphasis on rejuvenation of cities in India while preserving their cultural heritage as also his focus on what is widely known as ‘smart cities’. Kyoto, in the Japanese lexicon, is known as a smart city which is environmentally friendly, which preserves its heritage and which is at the cutting-edge of technology. All these three are important in PM’s vision of rejuvenating our cities,” Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said.

On Saturday, Abe received Modi and hosted him for a quiet dinner. The two are slated to make a joint appearance at the Toji Buddhist temple. Modi will also visit the Kyoto University Centre, which focuses on stem cell research — another area of cooperation he wants to cement with Japan.

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