The West Bengal government has rejected Centre’s ‘Smart City Project’, with the state instead deciding to develop selected cities along the lines of its own ‘Green City Project’. New Town-Rajarhat, a Kolkata suburb that had also qualified for the Centre’s Smart City Project, will now be developed as India’s first ‘Green City’.
New Town-Rajarhat’s qualification for the Centre’s Smart City Project had come in its second attempt. Salt Lake, Asansol and Durgapur were the other three places that were nominated for the central scheme by the state government. However, the state government has now made it clear that they have decided to opt out of the Smart City Project, deciding not to apply for ‘Smart City’ status for Salt Lake City, the deadline for which is August 30.
According to government officials, there are two reasons for the move. The main reason, officials explained, was the skewed nature of investment from the state and the Centre, while the second reason was the compulsory imposition of water tax in smart cities.
The decision was finally taken Wednesday in a meeting between CM Mamata Banerjee and state’s Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim. Hakim confirmed that “the government was preparing to send official communication to the Union ministry about its decision.”
In her first public appearance after winning the 2016 elections, the CM had said that the Smart City “idea” and “theory” was “wrong”. She had made the case that it would not be wise to spend the Rs 500 crore on the Smart City project, adding that the money should rather be spent as per the state government’s own understanding.
Officials said that 10 cities in the state are being developed in a planned, sustainable manner — New Town-Rajarhat, Durgapur, Bolpur, Kalyani, Baruipur, Gangasagar, Debanandapur, Raghunathpur, Phulbari and Jaigaon.
The West Bengal government had first decided to develop New Town-Rajarhat as a Green City in 2015 and at the time, the idea was for it to be a ‘Smart, Green City’. Since then, the state urban development department has been planning the project with the inputs of the Indian Green Building Council, Kolkata Municipal Corporation, IIT Kharagpur and CREDAI.
An official of the department explained, “The idea of the green city is a new one globally. Like the smart city, the focus is on the creation of sufficient eco-space, a sustainable water reservoir system and modern transport with low emission,” said the official. According to the department, in the next five years a number of ‘green cities’ will come up in the state.
Key to the project, officials explained, was that the buildings will be constructed as ‘green buildings’, as per the norms outlined by the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC).
The vision of the IGBC is to “to enable a sustainable built environment for all and facilitate India to be one of the global leaders in the sustainable built environment by 2025”. An official of the state government added, “A green building is basically one which uses less resources – water, power, energy while generating less waste and thus the space is also healthier for its occupants. A smart city’s focus is one ease of access for the residents, a green city takes it a step further and tries to provide equal focus on sustainability.”
However, the TMC-led Biddhannagar Municipal Corporation is in the dark. New Town-Rajarhat MLA and Mayor of the corporation admitted that no “guidelines” regarding a Green City had been received by the corporation, while adding that “we have already been focusing on the e-governance in the area and providing facilities to residents, which we will incorporate into the new plan”.