This erstwhile Dutch colony, once known as Cocanada, is a pastoral pensioner’s paradise, given the laid-back languor it exudes and the quality of life it affords its three lakh-plus residents.

Kakinada is in many ways a well-planned city with a grid-like network, with excellent road, rail, air and port connectivity. It is also the starting point of the 796-km-long Buckingham Canal, which runs all the way to Villipuram in Tamil Nadu and served as a major transport channel.

As the headquarters of the prosperous East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, the city played a catalytic role in boosting the State’s economy over the years. It has one of the most fertile tracts for paddy cultivation and coconut plantations, a number of industries and edible oil refineries, and serves as a base for a thriving oil and gas industry.

Agriculture and fishing were once the major sources of livelihood, but in recent decades, it has become an industrial hub hosting two major fertiliser units –– Nagarjuna and Cormandel (Godavari) –– a PPP-mode private port and a number of power plants within a 50-km radius.

Endowed with a natural harbour, which facilitates an anchorage port and a deep-water port, the city is also known for its fishing and boat-making industry.

Striking failings

Over the years, Kakinada town has evolved into a nice compact town, but it has no public transport and no pedestrian paths –– and its drainage system is primitive. Predictably, therefore, when the smart city project proposals were being discussed, much of the initial focus of the city’s residents –– as reflected in the citizens’ engagement programmes –– was on addressing these failings.

Initially, the smart city proposals will cover about 20 per cent of the city area, over the next five years. The rest of the city will be transformed in successive stages. The proposals envisage a mix of retrofitting and redevelopment strategies, centred around the older, southern part of the city, for which Yokohama’s support is being enlisted.

The local residents have specific suggestions about the changes they seek. Rama Rao, a fruit vendor, says, “The open drains are a big source of worry. This needs to be given top priority as it has the potential to spread diseases.”

D Surya Rao, Chairman of the Cocanada Chamber of Commerce, points out that the city, often referred to as the “second Madras”, enjoys a number of advantages, including the fact that there is plenty of land around to facilitate growth, unlike in many other towns and cities.

Alongside the growth in the number of industries and the port activity, the problem of pollution needs urgent attention, he adds.

Fishing –– and beyond

Fishing is one of the mainstays of the local economy and serves as the livelihood for more than 50,000 fishermen. Apart from trading and export of fish, there are ancillary industries, such as boat-building.

On the streets, however, the aspiration for newer careers is discernible. Rama Rao, a taxi driver, whose children are close to completing their graduation, says, “It would be great if IT companies set up their base here. Else, my children will go to Chennai, Bengaluru or Hyderabad in pursuit of jobs.”

There is a separate hub where boats are built exclusively for fishermen. Raja, who builds boats, explains that it takes an average of 10 men about 45 to 60 days to built one fishing boat, which can be sold for about ₹35-40 lakh.

Civic authorities are enthusiastic about the planned makeover of the city. “There is now clear visibility about what we should be doing to transform the town into a smart city, says Kakinada Municipal Corporation Commissioner S Aleem Basha.

“A number of projects have been lined up across civil works, e-governance, and physical infrastructure. The funding options are clear. Now it is time to execute the projects,” he adds.

Contours of a smart city

The focus of the smart city proposals is on improving the infrastructure, particularly providing energy-efficient public transport, effective and affordable healthcare and education, efficient land use planning, information management, and smart governance.

Based on the priorities drawn up by the stakeholders during the consultative process, there are plans to improve solid waste management, with real-time monitoring, door-to-door collection, and implementation of ICT-based Intelligent Urban Services based on the concept of the Internet of Things.

The KMC will integrate all the urban services through intelligent devices, intelligent systems, using networks and the cloud architecture.

The port, the canal and the sanctuary are the major showpieces of the KMC. There are plans to develop these as tourism hubs, along with the beach and riverfront areas.

But even as the civic authorities draw up plans to retrofit the existing landmarks and develop new infrastructure, and transform the lives of the people, they are acutely conscious of the need to preserve the essential characteristics of the city.

For when you’re already a “pensioner’s paradise”, the smartest thing you can do is to protect that legacy.

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