Urban Dialogues Varanasi: “Don’t ignore city’s culture, heritage, traditions while planning”

All India Institute of Local Self-Government, in  partnership with Varanasi Municipal Corporation and Urban Update magazine, convened the round-table conference Urban Dialogues-Better Banaras to promote, review and deliberate on the implementation agenda of infrastructure development projects, Swachh Bharat Mission and Namami Gange programs among policymakers, development partners, municipal officials, academicians, researchers, advocacy groups, elected representatives, private sector, and other key stakeholders from within and outside Varanasi. The conference was held at Pooja Residency Hotel in Varanasi on August 30, 2017. Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs Narendra Singh Tomar was the Chief Guest at the event.

Inaugural Session

  • Ram Gopal Mohley, Mayor of Varanasi
  • Dr Girish Chandra Tripathi, Vice-Chancellor, Banaras Hindu University
  • Neel Kanth Tiwari, Minister of State, Law and Justice, Information, Sports and Youth Welfare, Government of Uttar Pradesh
  • Dr M Ramchandran, Former UD Secretary
  • Ravi Ranjan Guru, Sr Executive Director, AIILSG

Varanasi Mayor Ram Gopal Mohley, in his welcome address, said: “When I was elected as the Mayor of Varanasi in 2012, Narendra Modi, then Gujarat CM, called several mayors and chairmen of Municipal Councils to Gandhinagar to take a pledge for making our cities clean and realize the dream of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi had given two slogans: Quit India and Clean India. We got independence from British in 1947 but his dream of cleaning India is yet to be realized. Our Prime Minister and Member of Parliament from Varanasi, Narendra Bhai Modi has a vision of making India clean before the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. All of us have to work together to make this a reality.”

Mohley said that AIILSG has been working in all parts of the country to empower urban local bodies and it was important for all elected representatives in ULBs to work for the people and ensure they get better and efficient services. Urban Dialogues for Better Banaras would lay a concrete roadmap for building a better future for our city.

Neel Kanth Tiwari, Minister of State, Law and Justice, Information, Sports and Youth Welfare, Government of Uttar Pradesh, was the Guest of Honour at the event. In his speech, he highlighted the religious and cultural significance of Varanasi and said that it was necessary to put the culture and heritage of the city at the centre while making any plan for Varanasi.  Tiwari said the State Government is planning Paawan Path scheme in sync with HRIDAY scheme of Government of India. All the streets leading to religious places will be repaired and adequate mobility will be ensured. All these streets and even water bodies in old Varanasi have their own historical and religious significance.

Dr M Ramchandran, former UD Secretary, Government of India, said the resources are not a constraint for Varanasi. We need to utilize this opportunity to speed-up implementation of various schemes and programs initiated by Government of India. Ramchandran said that citizen participation in planning was essential in smart city development to understand the ground level requirements of people. He said that Urban Dialogues series was trying to bring all cities together through which cities can learn from each other. Ravi Ranjan Guru, Sr. Executive Director, AIILSG provided details of the various programs in which AIILSG is involved in many states across India. He said that AIILSG was always ready to play its part to improve urban governance and strengthen local bodies in the country.

Girish Chandra Tripathi, Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, was the Special Guest. He reiterated the historical significance of Varanasi and also spoke in detail why it is important to engage local citizens in development planning for making projects sustainable. He said that Varanasi has always been a smart city. It has adjusted itself with changing times while keeping its traditions and value system intact. Talking about smart city mission and introduction of technology in city management system, he added that science is universal but technology based on it should be made compatible on the basis of requirement of the city and its people. Then only we will be able to make smart cities in India. He added: “I am sure that deliberation with experts today will bring forward simple, efficient and compatible planning strategy for the city of Varanasi.”


  • Put the culture and heritage of the city at the centre. The development of Kashi cannot be done heartlessly; the planning should give due consideration to the traditions and belief systems of its citizens
  • More administrative and financial autonomy to urban local bodies is required to make them self sufficient. Empowering ULBs in UP is essential. It is the only state where ULBs have no authority to pass building plans though responsibility of providing basic services is on the corporation
  • Urban development should have more say of city leaders like in European countries.
  • Enagement of locals in planning and implementation is must for the success of any development project.\

Urban Infrastructure Development in Varanasi

  • Chairperson: Dr M Ramchandran, former UD Secretary, GoI
  • Panelists: Nitin Gokarn, Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi, Tikendra Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor (Shimla), Pier Roberto Remitti, Team Leader EU – International Urban Cooperation Programme, PashimTewari, Technical Director (AIILSG), Ashish Garg, Managing Director, G Group

Dr M Ramchandran chaired the first technical session ‘Urban Infrastructure Development in Varanasi’. The key points of the discussion during the session were: smart city development and requirements of Varanasi, integration of heritage and culture in planning, basic service delivery and service level benchmarking, and urban mobility.

Addressing the audience, Nitin Gokarn provided the details of ongoing projects and planned works for improving city services and infrastructure. Gokarn said that urban mobility is the sector that needs attention as people of Varanasi have voted to improve the sector during Smart City Mission competition. Varanasi is an ancient city. The city has had organic growth in the past without proper planning. People from different states kept coming and contributed their bit in the development of the city.

The city has narrow lanes and has all kinds of modes of transport here. It is surprising to know that almost 40-50 per cent daily trips in the city are on foot. Flyovers and underpasses on the lines of European cities will not solve our problems. We need hybrid mobility model system and the work in this direction is on. Under city urban mobility plan, we are working on Junction Improvement plan at 62 places.

“We have selected around 1300 acres of area for Area Based Development plan and it is around the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Thousands of people visit the city daily and handling the intensive crowd and providing them facilities requires resources and innovative solutions,” said Gokarn.

He said that drinking water supply system in Varanasi is facing problems at many ends. 56 per cent of water supply falls into category of non-revenue water and that is not a good figure. Efforts are on to reduce NRW through various interventions. Ground water level has gone down in the city drastically. On an average, ground water level is going down at the rate of 60cms every year. Rainwater harvesting in government buildings and colleges for groundwater recharge is on the cards. For making city energy-efficient, off-grid solutions through solar power, installation of LED street lights and other initiatives are being taken. We are making efforts to make Varanasi a model energy-efficient city.

Tikender Singh Panwar, former deputy mayor of Shimla, said that planners and policy makers must take into account the lifeline of cities. In the case of Varanasi, it is the River Ganga. Panwar gave the example of Leipzig city of Germany where the expensive Porsche cars are manufactured. He added that the German city has turned its 8-lane highway into six-lane and reserved two lanes for non-motorized transport. He said that we need to set our priorities right for achieving right kind of development for the city.

He also spoke on urban governance issues and on Special Purpose Vehicles. He said that Pune and Kochi have taken welcome steps by engaging mayors and other people’s representatives in their SPVs for smart city. He said that Area based development would cost around 85 per cent of total smart city budget and it is challenging to see how you can use the 15 per cent budget for improving services across the city. He also cautioned the officials of Varanasi Municipal Corporation and said that the drains should not be concretized as it will affect ground water recharge system. He also suggested how solid waste management system can be made sustainable and efficient by introducing adequate user charges from different users. He said that Shimla charges between Rs 50-25000 from people. He added that municipal staff engaged in waste collection is also paid well. They are paid not less than Rs 10, 000 for three-hour work. Similarly, for water supply, Shimla has Greater Shimla Water Circle that deals with every issue relating to water whether it is treatment or supply. We have made sure that tap water in Shimla is potable.

Ashish Garg, Managing Director, G Group emphasized on the multi-stakeholder approach to develop the city. He said that many international and national companies are interested to invest in the holy city of Varanasi.

Pier Roberto Remitti, Team Leader of International Urban Cooperation of EU, said that the continuous growing concentration of population in cities creates pressure on urban services and environmental resources. He invited the municipal officials and city representatives of Varanasi to be part of International Urban Cooperation for sharing sustainable knowledge and know-how with their counterparts in European cities. He also extended his support for developing local action plan and climate action plan for the city.

Pashim Tiwari, Technical Director of AIILSG, pointed out the learnings from JnNURM projects and stressed on making operation and maintenance of the projects integral part of any government project. He said that cities must learn from each other. Like, Ambikapur is a model city to learn solid waste management.


  • City has almost 50-60 % Non-revenue Water. Financial and environment sustainability of water supply system is the need of the hour.  Integration of technology in the system can be useful. Ground water is also going down in the city that requires attention.
  • Drains should not be concretized. Rain harvesting projects need a boost.
  • The huge potential of religious tourism can be utilized for revenue generation for the corporation. Heritage sites need more attention to restore and sustain for
  • future generation
  • The city system needs to have a special service delivery system for floating population visiting Banaras.
  • An integrated hybrid mobility plan can address mobility issues in
  • the city.
  • SPV should have adequate representation of elected representatives

Swachh Bharat Mission

  • Chairperson: Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor Shimla
  • Panelists: Ram Gopal Mohley, Hon’ble Mayor, Varanasi, Ashok Chaudhuri, General Manager of Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies Pvt. Ltd, Sachidanand Singh, Additional Municipal Commissioner of Varanasi, Ravi Ranjan Guru, Sr Executive Director, AIILSG

Ashok Chaudhary, General Manager of Ankur Scientific, speaking about municipal solid waste management, said, “Almost 95 per cent of waste generated goes to landfill unprocessed. Per capita waste generation in India is 400 grams but in future it will reach upto 2.5 kg. We are generating electricity out of biomass and agricultural waste. Our organization has set up more than 1000 units in  over 45 countries which is completely a sustainable solution”.

While sharing information about sanitation and cleanliness drive, Ravi Ranjan Guru, Sr Executive Director of AIILSG, talked about innovative solutions being implemented in other cities. Emphasising on E-toilets he said, “When we go to NDMC area and cantonment area in Delhi, you can see these e-toilets. The best thing about e-toilets is water is continuously recycled and there is onsite solid waste compost.”

Reminding people about Swachh Bharat Mission and its impact, Surender Singh, an MLA from Varanasi, said, “People in Banaras are fond of ‘Paan’. Earlier they used to eat it and spit it anywhere but now they search for some bin to spit. It’s a commendable behavioural change.”

Additional Municipal Commissioner of Varanasi, Sachidanand Singh, spoke about solid waste management, and challenges in solving problems related to it. He said, Gandhiji came to Varanasi in 1906. He was critical of the state of cleanliness here. Now it’s been more than 100 years, still we have not improved as per his aspirations.

Ram Gopal Mohley, Varanasi Mayor, added, “Now we are trying to inculcate smart technology in our initiative, we are putting GPS system in our garbage collectors such as trucks so that we can track it from our office for better results. We are also trying to put censors in bins to maintain proper records that they are empty or full. These are among the initiatives we are now taking up.” He said, “Every ward councillor has contributed to make Varanasi clean by creating awareness among people. This year when we will celebrate DeendayalUpdhyay Birthday on 25th September, we are going to declare 90 wards ODF”.


  • Varanasi Corporation needs to find ways and means to dispose tonnes of waste being generated every day. Waste to Energy plant can be a solution
  • All manuals for managing different kinds of waste should be implemented strictly
  • Solid waste management plans need to engage all stakeholders. User charges should be revised as per usage to make waste management financial sustainable. At present, only 10 % of total cost is revovered
  • Elected representatives need to play a pro-active role in bringing about change in public behaviour for maintaining cleanliness

Namami Gange

  • Chairperson: Pashim Tiwari, Technical Director, AIILSG
  • Panelists: Prof UK Choudhary, Banaras Hindu University, Vishambhar Nath Mishra, President, Sankat Mochan Foundation, Ranjan Panda, Convener, Climate Change Network

Namami Gange session of Urban Dialogues had representation from academic, religious, civil society and technical domains to underline the requirements for cleaning Ganga River within stipulated time.

The session generated an unprecedented public consensus on a shared vision for cleaning Ganga River. Prof (Retd) UK Chaudhary of IIT-BHU, shed light on the technical aspects of cleaning River Ganga. “The main problem in keeping Ganga clean is the run-off of millions of tonnes of municipal sewage from cities, towns and villages into the river. There is a network of 475 kilometers sewage drainage lines in Varanasi, two thirds of which is choked,” he said.

He stated that the entire city is affected by pollutants logging which is the major concern. Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) have been installed to manage the organic waste around the banks of River Ganga which leads to the disposal of the entire waste in the river which is a wrong methodology considering the poor condition of the river. Ganga is a body which constitutes various parts like the basin, bank and river belt which forms a structure defining its functions and the solution to all the problems caused to its functioning is the sand bed of north, south and west Ganga.

The management of pollutant loads of the crores of pilgrims in the Kumbh Mela since several years has been sand bed which has stretched to 7 km length, 1 km width and having depth of 10-15 metres. “Then why sand beds are not constructed to utilize it for STP, pollution management and solid waste management,” says Prof Chaudhary. The solid waste and liquid waste management can easily be done by the use of sand bed with minimum cost on sustainable basis.

Stating the example of concretizing the area around the rivers like the Sabarmati Riverfront, Ranjan Panda, Convener of Climate Change Network, said that such projects affect the natural flow of rivers and negatively impact the river regeneration process.

Vishambhar Nath Mishra, Mahant, Sankat Mochan Foundation and Professor at BHU, said that Ganga travels for 2550 km and Banaras belt is one of the most important because it has a connection with Lord Shiva. He quoted Marc Twain and said that the famous writer once wrote, “Banaras is older than history, older than the tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

When the Ganga Action Plan was launched in Banaras in 1986, the total sewage disposal was approximately 50 MLD. Ganga Action Plan was divided into phases, this was almost an experiment and it was pre-decided that if it is successful for Ganga then it will be implemented for the other rivers as well but the results were not amazing. The first phase development generated infrastructure for 102 MLD. The objective of the Plan was to create infrastructure to dispose 150 MLD sewage back then; today the requirement is for 350 MLD disposal, but the available infrastructure is for 150 MLD.

The objective of Ganga Action Plan was well defined; all the sewage which is flowing into the river should be properly intercepted in an appropriate way. The technology used is activated sludge plant, which does not have the capability of removing faecal bacteria which is absolute necessity for cleaning rivers in Banaras.


  • Not a drop of sewage or chemicals should fall into the river
  • No more dams on the river should be built to maintain the free flow.  If necessary, the height of the dams should not be more than 8 metres
  • Ensure a minimum water flow in the River. We must focus on the flow of river by thinking about the tributaries of Ganga.
  • All the objectives of Namami Gange should be attained under
  • strict deadlines
  • Nagar Nigam should be given the responsibility and resources for the Clean Ganga mission and they should not source it to higher authorities and they should have their necessary budget for the management.

Tough decisions must to transform nation: Tomar

Excerpts from the speech of Union Minister of Urban Affairs Narendra Singh Tomar

Let me first extend my greetings to you all for holding this event and participating in it. This country is taking a new shape. Whether the subject is taking the country forward, or its about transparency, honesty, reforms and making things simpler for common man, there is a growing consensus building in the country and it is evident. Had this existed earlier we might have had different results. If one person today can be credited with this rapid growth and change it’s our Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

If country has to be changed we need to take some tough decisions which will invite criticism but still we need to do that. After this government came into power it has been our priority that using the parliamentary forum we must strive for a world class infrastructure while keeping the poor in mind. At times we tend to ignore small weaknesses in the  system but we need to change that attitude and we must remove them. We are working in that direction. Let’s talk about cleanliness. You have discussed it in your session. I am sure you all remember PM’s speech from the ramparts of Lal Quila. He spoke about a lot of things but he mentioned two things, small but important. It invited criticism even from some quarters that why PM has to mention it in his speech. They were important. He talked about bringing poor people into banking system and about making toilets so that specially girl students do not suffer either at home or school. He said that we must end this tradition of open defecation. We cannot rest at just open defecation free zones we must go beyond that which is ODF plus.

Let me talk about criticism a bit. People argued that PM should have talked about bigger things rather than toilets. My point is that why even after seventy years of independence a PM has to talk about it. Had it been such a small thing, others could have done it. At times people think that toilet and cleanliness is a personal thing.

I take pride today in saying that because of PM’s effort, cleanliness has become a movement in the country and we need to give further impetus to it. What has happened in last few months is that we have given equal importance to both rural and urban cleanliness.

It so happened that as a rural development minister I was in charge of seventy percent of India’s cleanliness. Once Venkaiah ji was elevated to the post of Vice President I became in charge of both rural and urban development. Today as I speak here, cleanliness is my priority, be it rural or urban. What is important today is that people from voluntary organization, religious organization and even IIT and IIM have come together in this movement. 

Results are now there to see. About two lakh fifty thousand villages by today have declared themselves open defecation free. More than one hundred seventy five districts have become open defecation free. We are helping villages who declare themselves ODF. We are also helping then in solid waste management. Coming to Banaras, you must have felt and seen that more than six thousand tons of garbage is processed everyday. Government of India is trying to see that garbage management should become a revenue model. Then only we can manage the garbage and utilize it. Central and State government can help in cleanliness drive but this has to become a part and parcel of our daily life. Our resolve must be that I will not pollute the place and at the same time will not allow other to do it. 

Banaras is a place that has a rich tradition of education and of intellectuals. This city is blessed and is celebrated across the country. If people of Banaras take a pledge, it cannot fail because it will have blessings of Lord Shiva. When you talk about ‘Better Banaras’ it is imperative that while it’s about culture and heritage, it must be better in educating people as well. It is also important that Banaras must emerge as a better material place. It has always been a wish that Banaras becomes a better place; congestion must go and become a livable city. L Those who visited the city five years back will not see the same things when they visit the city next time in 2018. Banaras is already part of smart city project. Work is in progress. Apart from smart city project there are other schemes like AMRUT, HRIDAY which are being implemented here to maintain the city and keep its heritage intact. You all are working hard to make it a better place to live. There are many public sector units who are supporting this endeavor.

On my way to the venue from airport I asked Mr. Mohley why we are not able to make it ODF and he told me that with the support of citizens of Banaras we will do it soon. I am sure you will all be able to do it. Situation is ripe to bring change. Contact people, connect with them, bring them together. Be faithful to it, changes will be evident. There will be times when tough decisions will be taken, may hurt a few, may benefit many. Reforms are there to stay. If nation gets benefitted by them, political costs would not be an impediment. 

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