As the metropolis is growing, the need for road space is increasing. As it is, the percentage of the area covered by roads in Kolkata is one of the lowest in India. And gradually, more and more people are aggregating in cities in search of better livelihood, or commuting to the city daily for better work. This city-based growth is a phenomenon not just in Kolkata, but worldwide.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), now, for the first time ever, the majority of the world's population lives in a city, and this proportion continues to grow. One hundred years ago, 2 out of every 10 people lived in an urban area. As of 2010, more than half of all people live in an urban area. By 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in a city, and by 2050, this proportion will increase to 7 out of 10 people.
To cater to the huge increase in the movement of people, into as well as inside the city, proper urban planning, with an eye to the future, is necessary. Road space has to increase. In Kolkata, with the way space beside the roads is used, there is very little scope to widen the roads. The alternatives therefore are to create more flyovers, and wherever space allows, widen the roads or build new roads, and to introduce newer metro routes. The traffic management also has to be improved, so that people have to wait less at signals.
Urban planning also has to include ways to ensure the well-being of the people. Walkways, besides creating places for leisurely walks, also add to the beauty of a city. Kolkata is lucky to be located on the banks of a wide river like the Hooghly. Walkways along the river would create space for people to spend time enjoying the scenery, some rest from the hurly-burly of city life.
The concept of urban planning has become more and more important in making city spaces habitable. Designing land usage to the optimum capacity is absolutely essential. Transportation is one aspect. Then, systems have to be in place to ensure proper disposal of garbage. Trees have to be planted to create greenery, necessary to create a sustainable environment. Water bodies have to be preserved, and where required, created. According to experts, ponds and other small water bodies are natural recharge pits and they help the rain water to permeate into the ground.
The Ministry of Urban Development in West Bengal has come up with a unique plan, unique because this has never happened anywhere in India. The idea is to build an entire road below the ground. The road has been planned to connect Garden Reach to Esplanade. The Diamond Harbour Road, which connects to Khidderpore Road, is being widened. But there is no space to widen beyond Diamond Harbour Road.
To get over this hurdle, the ministry has asked the 14th Finance Commission set up by the union government for Rs 1300 crore to complete the project. When this happens it would be a milestone in urban planning in India.
Traffic on a typically busy Kolkata road
Walkway from Vidyasagar Setu to Howrah
Beautifying the riverfront in Kolkata has been an ongoing project for almost the last two years. A walkway is being built along the entire 5-km stretch on the bank of the Hooghly between Princep Ghat below Vidyasagar Setu (Second Hooghly Bridge) and Armenian Ghat near Howrah Bridge. A major part of the work has already been completed. However, permission for a 100-metre stretch between the two ends of Babughat has been held up because of security-related rules regarding riverside construction.
Now, the Army headquarters in Kolkata has given in-principle approval for the construction of the ramp. Which essentially means that unless some serious issue crops up, Army headquarters in Delhi would give permission.
The walkway would offer walkers a route secluded from the hubbub of the ghats yet not distancing them from the sights and smells of the ghats, ferry depots and Circular Railway stations. The 5-km stretch will offer views of six ghats on the Kolkata side of Hooghly, including the teeming Babughat and Prinsep Ghat as well as the lesser known Gwalior and Fairlie Ghats, three stations of the Circular Railway – Prinsep Ghat, Eden Gardens and BBD Bag – as well as structures like Fort William, the Eden Gardens, Calcutta High Court and the regional headquarters of the State Bank of India (on Strand Road).
The portion marked in red is the stretch for which permission for a ramp has been obtained
Preserving greenery – new initiatives
The state government has taken a lot of initiatives in preserving the urban environment. Agencies of the government, like Kolkata Municipal Development Authority (KMDA), West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (WBHIDCO) and the Public Works Department (PWD), have been working in step to develop and protect water bodies and maintain the green cover. The city's biggest eco-tourism park, aptly named 'Prakriti Tirtha' (which means ‘environmental pilgrimage’), has been built by WBHIDCO by developing the area around a 480-acre water body in Rajarhat.
For some time now, the PWD has been working to turn the stretch of VIP Road from Ultadanga to the airport into a green corridor. It has removed hundreds of hoardings, which had become eyesores, from both sides of the road. Putting up of billboards for commercial or political purposes has been banned along the stretch. Advertising agencies have also been fined for illegally chopping off branches of trees to put up commercial hoardings.
A greener VIP Road
A roomier, greener city
More and more people means more and more traffic, congestion, and a general shortage of space. People living in a city need space for environmental recreation too, open green space to enjoy, to rest their eyes. Hence, the roadway planning for a city should encompass both needs – work and pleasure.
Kolkata is undergoing a gamut of changes as far as construction is concerned. New roads, new modes of transport, new art galleries, new malls, new parks and more creational spaces – the changes are happening at a brisk pace, creating a city with a modern infrastructure, be it transport, shopping, or just a walk by the river.