When he returned from South Africa to India in 1915, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — not yet the Mahatma — set up an ashram at Kochrab at Paldi, Ahmedabad.

Two years later, the Kochrab area reported a plague outbreak, forcing him to establish another ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati River. This Gandhi Ashram, also known as Sabarmati Ashram, is located in the Vadaj area, which will now be the hub of the Smart City Project (SCP) in Ahmedabad, under the tagline, “My Heart Ahmedabad, My Smart Ahmedabad”.

By a curious coincidence, Surat and Ahmedabad, the two Gujarat cities selected by the Union Urban Development Ministry for development as smart cities among the first list of 20 cities, have a common association with the plague disease.

As BusinessLine noted in its February 16 edition (‘A resilient, born-again city is poised to soar’), Surat transformed itself into a super-clean city following the 1994 plague outbreak. Likewise, Ahmedabad’s Gandhi Ashram came into being right after the 1915 plague.

If Surat’s rejuvenation began after 1994, Ahmedabad’s commenced after the 2001 earthquake, which claimed over 700 lives and left swathes of the city in ruins.

Like Surat, Ahmedabad, too, faced floods in the last 15 years.

In February 2016, the Centre nominated the 605-year-old Ahmedabad, over the claims of Mumbai and Delhi, as India’s candidate for the prestigious UNESCO list of World Heritage Cities. This tag, which is expected in June 2017, is likely to add to the brand value of the city and boost tourism; by that time, the Smart City Project is expected to be in full swing.

Ahmedabad has 36 ASI-protected structures and numerous ‘pols’ in the Walled City, which capture the essence of community living, and a 20-year-old Heritage Cell at the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).

Focus on ‘modern living’ “Our SCP aims at providing the benefits of modern living to such areas. Our heritage is our USP, the most important aspect,” Municipal Commissioner D Thara told BusinessLine . “The project basically means the use of modern technology to integrate civic services and make human life more comfortable.”

The Smart City Mission aims at sustainable development, urban resilience, collaborative governance, intelligent infrastructure and efficient implementation of the services.

The ₹2,500 crore project (2016-2020) will provide efficient, affordable, equitable and customised governance to Amdavadis. The AMC’s contribution will be ₹700 crore, mainly in the PPP model, over five years.

Multi-modal transport As in Surat, the Ahmedabad SCP will also have two components. Under a pan-city initiative, an integrated transit platform will be set up to integrate multi-modal transport solutions to empower commuters, with a common card payment system. Citizens will have access to public transport within 400 meters of their houses. There will also be a command control system to integrate all the services.

And as part of an area-based initiative, the project will undertake slum redevelopment in 590 acres (₹836 crore), including the development of 8,000 affordable housing units in the next 30 months. Simultaneously, it will develop 30 acres of gardens opposite the Gandhi Ashram. The civic body also plans to raise ₹200 crore via municipal bonds, Thara said.

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Other infrastructure components that will be taken up include roads, water, sewerage, parks and gardens and community spaces.

Additionally, the project envisages a Transit Oriented Zone (TOZ), wherein retrofitting will be taken up in 515 acres to provide an inter-modal hub, pedestrian facilities and green spaces.

To accelerate the project, Thara said, the Corporation has issued tenders to create the common card payment facility. A Special Purpose Vehicle has also been rolled out and is in the process of submitting a proposal . In the next 10 months, the city will step up execution of this project. “In the next three years, you will see major changes in Ahmedabad.”

A vision of the future Residents of Vadaj area, where 8,000 slum-dwelling families will be rehabilitated, will see a complete facelift of their neighbourhood. The new-look area will have 24x7 water supply, pedestrian-friendly plazas, footpaths and vehicle-free zones, besides a water recycling plant, green spaces and a public transport hub for convergence of transport services. The residents will have sensor-based LED street lighting and the city’s largest garden spread over 1.2 lakh square metres. Citizens will also get advance alerts of flooding and traffic congestions.

With the implementation of the Smart City Project, Ahmedabad will come under CCTV surveillance, controlled and monitored centrally. Many areas will have 24x7 water supply and drainage monitoring. Commuters will able to avail of smart cards that can be used on multiple transport modes, including on the proposed Metro.

Amdavadis will also be able to use this Rupay-like card for payment of property tax and for other AMC services. Attempts are being made to get radio cab operators to accept payment through this card, which can be recharged at several banks.

That’s an impressive vision of the future. And if Ahmedabad can see it through with its famed can-do spirit, it could virtually redefine the contours of modern urban living for its 56 lakh residents.

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