Labels like ‘Bicycle hub of India’ and ‘Manchester of India’ may have defined Ludhiana for long, but the city that was built on the pillars of entrepreneurship seems to have finally got its due. After all, it’s been chosen ahead of many other cities in North India, including Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, for development as one of 20 smart cities.

This rapidly growing urban region is home to some of India’s oldest business families, key manufacturing and export units, educational and medical institutions and a large floating population of skilled and unskilled workers from neighbouring States.

But being among the country’s wealthiest cities comes with its own set of unique challenges. Every luxury car maker has an address in town. The city has the one of the widest footprints of car dealerships in the country and is among the top 20 cities in terms of car sales. Big, flashy cars are an indelible part of the city’s cultural lineage –– but, unfortunately, it also makes Ludhiana one of India’s top ten most polluted cities.

That’s pretty ironical for a city that makes over 1 crore bicycles a year.

But Ludhiana’s smart city proposal envisions making it the “most bicycle-friendly city” and has set the ambitious target of doubling the share of bicycles on the roads by 2020.

The challenge of change To tackle the air pollution, the smart city plan provides for expanding the network of city buses, phasing out diesel auto-rickshaws, setting up car-free zones and laying additional bicycle tracks. However, for a city that sizes up prosperity by the ‘badge’ of its cars, that is an uphill task.

Jatinder, who drives a radio taxi in the city, says, “People think it’s better to hire a taxi rather than travel in an auto or a bus. But car-free zones and better road infrastructure will help ease traffic jams.”

Experts believe that Ludhiana can set an important precedent for other cities if it can pull off this transition. Suneel Pandey, Director, Green Growth & Resource Efficiency Division at TERI, said, “Since Ludhiana is not spread across a large area, it will be interesting to see if this shift from cars to bicycles can be implemented There will be challenges: the authorities have to change people’s mindsets. If centralised parking can be executed, it will make it practical to use bicycles to travel short distances.”

Retrofit and redevelopment

The Smart City plan will bring in the biggest changes in the retrofit zone spread across 790 acres, which includes the three key markets: Ghumar Mandi, Sarabha Nagar Main Market and Feroze Gandhi Market. The redevelopment zone will include Jawahar Nagar. This envisages, among other measures, the implementation of urban design guidelines, the removal of encroachments in the markets, and the revamping of potable water and waste collection systems.

GK Singh, Commissioner of Ludhiana Municipal Corporation, said, “We plan to use the Public Private Partnership Model and are looking for investors to redevelop the 50-acre area around Jawahar Nagar. We will be looking to build residential units; the rest of the area can be used to develop facilities such as hospitals.”

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Besides making Ludhiana a bicycle hub and focussing on measures to cut down emissions, the pan-city proposals seek to expand the water supply and sewage management facilities to cover the entire area of the city. Singh said that over the past few years, the area under the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation has been expanding, with nearby rural regions gradually coming under its ambit. The Corporation, therefore, wants to ensure it offers basic urban facilities to this ever-expanding area.

Smart lighting Singh said a similar PPP model will be used to replace power-consuming lights at the over 1.13 lakh streetlight points in the city with LED lights within the next few months. This will help the Corporation save money on its energy bills, which can be ploughed back into infrastructure development, he said.

But all this will push up user-charges, which residents are somewhat wary of. Vipin Malhotra, a businessman and a Vaastu consultant, said that while the citizens look forward to better infrastructure facilities, they have concerns about increases in user-charges for civic amenities.

Meanwhile, the business community believes that Ludhiana will finally get the much-needed push.

Sandeep Jain, Executive Director, Monte Carlo Fashions, said, “I think a robust surveillance system, a good garbage and sewage disposable system, and efficient public transport will go a long way in developing the city further.”

Any infrastructure development that offers good connectivity with other cities as well as more efficient dry port facilities will attract more entrepreneurs, he reasoned. “I think the PPP model can be used, and corporates are willing to pitch in wherever required,” he added.

Since the smart city announcement came, prices of real estate have already gone up. And as a senior official said –– only half in jest –– Ludhiana has overnight become the more favoured city over Chandigarh for prospective matrimonial ties.

All that, of course, hinges on the city’s ability to marry its famed prosperity with (elusive) pragmatism.

Click here to read about the other Smart Cities