Urban Dialogues Amazing Agra: Agra’s history must remain a pivotal aspect of its development

All India Institute of Local Self-Government in partnership with Agra Municipal Corporation and a host of other partners organised ‘Urban Dialogues – Amazing Agra’ at Crystal Sarovar Premier Hotel, Agra on December 18, 2018. The event focused on finding solutions through which Agra can be developed into a Smart City while preserving its culture and heritage. Some of the key takeaways from the dialogue were – History is an important aspect of Agra and must remain a pivotal aspect of Agra’s development; the city requires a huge investment for strengthening urban infrastructure; the development agencies must engage all stakeholders in development process

‘Urban Dialogues – Amazing Agra’witnessed participation of over 150 delegates from different walks of life from the city. More than 70 corporators and municipal officials from Agra Municipal Corporation participated in the event.As many as 15 speakers involving Municipal Commissioner, Team Leader Smart City, Representative from local industries, NGOs and academic institutions  put forward their views on various topics such as the development of Agra Smart City, significance of tourism in Agra, importance of the cultural and heritage aspects of the city, advancements that can be introduced to develop the city, better facilities to be provided for enhancing tourists’ experience, beautification of streets, parks and heritage sites complex to improve tourism, and much more. The key focus area of the dialogues was integration of cultural and heritage aspects in the development of Agra Smart City.

The conference comprised a total of two technical sessions, an inaugural and a valedictory session. The theme of Session 1 was ‘Seeing Agra’s growth through a heritage lens’ and the Session 2 focused on ‘Agra Smart City Development’.Arun Prakash, Municipal Commissioner, Rajiv Agarwal, IAS(Retd.), Director General of AIILSG, Ravi Ranjan Guru, Deputy Director General of AIILSG, and Prof Najaf Haiderinaugurated the event by lighting the lamp.

Rajiv Agarwal, delivered the welcome address. In his address he congratulated Urban Update for organizing the Urban Dialogues and talked about the significance of Agra in various domains. Admiring the city, he said that Agra in a way is the face of India. Agarwal put forward his arguments on All India Institute of Local Self-Government (AIILSG) and described the work carried by AIILSG in the domain of Urban Development such as – organising capacity building programs for various officials, events to address urban issues, working for the development of smart city plans, and so on.

Arun Prakash, in his opening address, congratulated AIILSG for organizing the’ Urban Dialogues – Amazing Agra’ and stated that he look forward to pull out conclusions and take back probable solutions to address the urban issues that the city is facing. Elaborating on the importance of tourism sector, he said that annually around Rs 140 cr are collected as revenue from tickets for Taj Mahal. He expressed his views on the need to enhance the tourist experience and said “to make tourists feel proud is one of our major objectives”. Better maintenance of tourist spots, building urban pathways around the heritage sites could possibly help to achieve the goal.

He gave details of development works being carried out in the city– Implementation of intelligent traffic system, improvement of road junctions for better flow of traffic and installation of CCTV cameras on 122 identified sites to improve security at public places.

Talking about the development in solid waste managementof the city he said, door to door garbage collection has already started in the city and the work is in progress to develop RFID tags to monitor the collection of waste from every household to improve the city’s solid waste management system.

The Corporation has installed Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based feedback system in public toilets to know users’ feedback on the facility, he added. Detailing out the initiatives taken by the authorities on the enhancement of mobility in Agra, he said that the work is in progress to develop a mobile application named ‘Mera Agra’ and a common mobility card for convenience of tourists. He mentioned that out of 23 major projects that were conceptualized, on 14 projects the work has already began and that the work orders on the rest will be issued soon.

PashimTewari in his welcome address spoke on smart cities. He said that everyone has his own perception on smart cities. Admiring the ‘Urban Dialogues’ he said, “this is the beauty of an event such as Urban Dialogues, where different perceptions, thoughts, ideas meet at a singleplatform to find out best strategies for better development of cities.”

Hand-in-Hand with City’s Heritage and Urban Development

Session 1 focused on ‘Seeing Agra’s growth through a heritage lens.’ It witnessed eminent academicians  speak on the topic and present their perspective on Agra’s development into a smart city while preserving its culture and heritage. Speakers who addressed the session with their valuable insights were Professor Najaf Haider, Centre for Historical Studies at JNU, DrArunodayBajpai, Head of Department of Political Science at Agra College and Professor Shashikant Pandey, Agra College. Abhishek Pandey, Editor, Urban Update chaired the session.

Professor Najaf Haider, the first speaker of the sessionfocused on Agra’s past for the future. His arguments was based on how history can be taken as a reference point for development of a better smart city and at the same time preserving the city’s rich culture and heritage. Acknowledging the glorious past of Agra city, he said that Agra’s rich heritage is the source that makes it a tourist centric city. He emphasised on the ‘sense of history’ saying, “Past or history is not the source of identity formation rather it is a source of knowledge that enables one to take unbiased decisions.” Putting forward his suggestions he said that there should be development of multimedia knowledge centres to promote lesser known historical monuments and improve awareness about the importance of history.

Professor Shashikant Pandey took forward the session and opened his arguments supporting Professor Haider’s views and said that when someone develops an identity based on historical facts then it is one sided approach that could hamper one’s decision making. Pandey emphasised the role of general public and said that there should be involvement of locals with the authorities in smart city initiatives for a holistic development. Only government cannot be held responsible for development of any city as citizens are an indispensable part and play a significant role in giving life to the city. Engagement of people is important as the development plans and smart city concept not only affect the city but also impacts the lives of citizens, Pandey added. Developmental plans should include policies and strategies that are based on human rights. Also, there is a need to address and give preference to weaker sections of the society. Closing his arguments, he said, “Non-discrimination and inclusion should be the rightful policy for development.” Abhishek Pandey supporting Professor Pandey’s arguments said that feedback from locals should be an essential part of any smart city plan.

The last speaker of the session was DrArunodayBajpai. DrBajpai began by mentioningthat Agra like any other city has its own demands, own issues that are well known to locals and only local authorities, expertise and feedbacks from people can help devise best plan for the city. He stressed on creating a specific plan for a specific city as not all the cities are same. Criticizing the concept of centralization and adoption of a common basis for creating smart city plan he said, “The result of centralization is uniformity”.

Development of Smart Agra

Session 2 was dedicated to ‘Agra Smart City Development’. The session was chaired by DrSudhir Krishna, Former UD Secretary, Government of India and the speakers on the panel were Anand Menon, Vice President, Agra Smart City Pvt. Ltd., DrHarshitSosanLakra, Department of Architecture and Planning, IIT Roorkee and Professor Brajesh Chandra, Former Director at Institute of Social Sciences, Dr B RAmbedkar University, Agra.

PashimTewari, Technical Director, AIILSG delivered the key note address for the session. In his address he compared before and after images of various smart cities. Describing about the development works done or in progress under smart city plan he showed Pune smart city as an example with pictures of walkable streets, improved roads and said that cities should be designed in a way so that it has equitable space for both the pedestrians and the vehicles. Speaking further on improvements in Pune city he talked about better bus shelters, cycle tracks, urban walkways, and so on. Moving on with few more example cities he talked on the development works in Bhopal, Udaipur, Vishakhapatnam, Varanasi, etc. In his following examples, he laid out points such as – development of parking spaces such as multi-level parking to improve congestion on roads, creation of digital platforms such as a city command and control centre to enhance the functioning and make it more easy and feasible and much more. His speech overall focused on how Agra can take ideas from other citiesto overcome the city’s demand and improve its smart city plan.

Anand Menon, in his address highlighted the smart city plan of Agra, initiatives taken in recent years and more development works that are ongoing. Admiring Agra’s participation for the smart city initiative he said that Agra was selected among the winning cities in the second round, Agra is ranked 16th in the country and second in the state of Uttar Pradesh after Varanasi. Talking about the Agra Smart City plan he said that the plan was drafted on the basis of the inputs taken from the local governmentand a total of 23 projects were sanctioned for Agra under the Smart City Mission. Menon listed out the development works in progress  in Agra city under the Smart City Mission – development of heritage walks in and around the lesser known monuments to highlight their presence and improve tourism as well, use of heritage craft to beautify the city streets near the heritage sites for a better tourist experience and to add value to the tourist spot. Describing further on the development he said, seven junctions have been identified for improvement to smoothen the traffic flow and reduce congestion. Turning towards the renewable energy sector he mentioned that 3.2 Mw rooftop solar panel installation work on the government buildings is in progress. The solar project is a pilot project and if successful it will be implemented on the private buildings as well. Describing improvements in solid waste management he said that the system of door-to-door garbage collection already exist in the city and now they are planning to install RFID tags to monitor the garbage collection. The development work of command and control centre is on, Menon added.

Dr Harshit S Lakrain her address focused on community participation and implementation of measurement framework. She emphasized on the development of a measurement framework with inputs from industry experts, city leaders and communities residing in the city. She mentioned the significance of regular and frequent monitoring of parameters used for measurements. Elaborating on the importance of community participation, she gave example of Ranchi and said that the infrastructure was developed for the tribal population but the community is not satisfied as it lacks traditions and culture they follow. Talking about women empowerment and involvement of youth, she said that women empowerment in India is a single track approach and is mostly limited to provide better security to women. She argued that women should be given opportunities to be involved in decision making bodies, corporate world, better education and more.

Dr Brajesh Chandra was the last speaker of the session. He said that smart city plans cannot be similar for all the cities. Each city has its own demand and own issues to deal with. Therefore, for real development, specific plans should be made for specific cities. Also, the implementation of development works will be successful when designed and implemented according to the city’s demands, needs and capacity.Dr Chandra also talked about the ever expanding city of Agra as it has now made nearby places like Gandhinagar, Kamlanagar a part of it in the name of development.

Valedictory Session

The valedictory session was chaired by Rajiv Agarwal and the speakers present were PuranDawar, President, Agra Development Foundation, Mukesh Jain, Business leader. Amir Ahmed, Leading lawyer in Agra and Ravi Ranjan Guru, Deputy Director General, AIILSG. PuranDawar began the session by emphasizing on the importance of integrated development. He said that there is a need for proper mechanism or policies to solve the major problems such as drainage issues, illegal construction along the banks of Yamuna river, unplanned construction on roads and much more. He also emphasized on the responsibility of locals towards the city’s development. Mukesh Jain said that functioning of local government impacts the lives of residents of the city. He emphasised therole of civic bodies towards the people and their safety. He talked about increasing number of deaths of pedestrians due to lack of road security and appropriate infrastructure. Amir Ahmed made the point  that corruption is a major problem that has hampered the functioning of government bodies. Whenever a scheme is designed or planned the outcome is calculated first on the basis that includes division of share of pie  and then the scheme is implemented.

Amazing Agra Declaration

Ravi Ranjan Guru in his valedictory address described the role of Urban Dialogues saying that this event is an attempt to bring together voices on urban issues Agra is facing. He said that the points discussed will be collated in a report and will be shared with the concerned authorities for appropriate action. He wrapped up the session with a declaration based on the points discussed through the day. Which are as follows:

  • Agra’s history is an essential component of the city and it must remain a pivotal aspect of Agra’s development.
  • The city must preserve its multi religious polity as well as the various diverse historical monuments and cultural diversities.
  • Agra needs a huge investment in smart city development and it must engage public and private institutions for its development.
  • There is a need of an immediate intervention in all types of pollution – land, water and air.
  • There is a need for Agrato have an active community participation mechanism and must involve all stakeholders including the public representatives, education institutions, prominent citizen voices and industry. This must be supported with the measurement framework to make sure a minimum participation is guaranteed. The city must also involve its youth and make sure that they are well trained and smart.
  • Agra must ensure the involvement of women to provide equal opportunity in smart development.
  • Agra must adopt inclusiveness and must take care of its marginal fringes (Malinbasti’s slums, etc.) so as to bring them into the mainstream.
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