Kakinada: Oohalu Gusagusalade (Imaginations Whispered) ran a timeless classic melody from the 1963 Telugu film Bandipotu as visitors lazed under the trees of Lalitha Kala Pranganam in Kakinada, an idyllic coastal town in Andhra Pradesh.
Located in the heart of the city, the 20-acre park is a favourite hang-out of locals, mainly those hailing from slums and lower middle class neighbourhoods in a city where the only entertainment option is a string of movie halls on Cinema Road. About 40% of Kakinada’s population hails from economically weaker sections and lives mostly in slums.
The weather in Kakinada is usually hot, more so during the summers. Trees offer much needed respite from the sun, as cool breeze sweeps the park built around a square-shaped pond called Kulai Cheruvu. Locals also call it the Raja Tank after the Raja of Pithapuram, who once ruled over Kakinada.
The park is maintained by the Kakinada Municipal Corporation (KMC), the civic body entrusted with the job of transforming the city of 350,000 into a smart city over the next 15 years.
Kakinada, built with agricultural wealth from the fertile Godavari Delta, was named in the first 20 Indian cities that will be developed as smart cities.
The city is the headquarters of East Godavari district, a prosperous belt of Andhra Pradesh with verdant fields and a labyrinthine network of canals built by the British before Independence.
Kakinada was primarily an agrarian and fishing town at the time of Independence.
Slowly, farmlands gave way to fertilizer factories and deposits of oil and gas were discovered—first in early 1980s and then significantly over the last decade in nearby Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin. The need for labour saw migrants come to the city, whose landscape began resembling that of a typical middle-class Indian town, full of white and pastel-coloured low-rise buildings.
KG basin is the largest natural gas basin in the country and Kakinada is the base for Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd’s eastern offshore asset. The city’s location in a natural resource-rich area opens up huge investment and job opportunities.
Kakinada is part of the Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR), one of the largest petrochemical hubs in the region that is expected by the AP government to bring investments worth Rs.3.43 trillion in the next 5-7 years. About Rs.1.74 trillion of investments have already come in from the likes of Reliance Industries Ltd, Air Liquide SA, Eisai Co. Ltd and Baker Hughes Inc., according to the Andhra Pradesh PCPIR website.
The city is also strategically located in the East Coast Economic Corridor, the country’s first coastal corridor. Early in June, Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE Corp. said it would develop a joint incubation centre with the AP government in Kakinada and invest Rs.1,000 crore to develop a Kakinada-Visakhapatnam corridor modelled on the lines of the Shenzhen industrial zone in China.
Infrastructure firm GMR Infrastructure Ltd operates Kakinada SEZ Pvt. Ltd, a 10,500 acre port-based multi-product special economic zone (SEZ) near the city. The company last year inked an agreement with China-based Guizhou International Investment Corp. to jointly develop a 2,000-acre industrial park for power equipment, electronics, wind and solar energy and smart technology companies at an investment of $2.5-$3.5 billion.
Identifying its potential, Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city, has offered to develop Kakinada into a smart city.
It might not be easy.
To begin with, the city’s problems are aplenty. The city’s infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep pace with its rapid growth over the last decade.
Around the park’s periphery, for instance, commercial buildings, hospitals and diagnostic laboratories, have mushroomed offering views of the green space and the water body. But look below the surface: you’ll find that the sewerage and storm water drainage systems are inadequate.
Very few buildings in the city have parking facilities due to poor urban planning. Hence, you see motorcycles and cars parked on the sides of the roads, choking traffic during the rush hour.
One of Kakinada’s best known restaurants, Subbaiah Gari Hotel that has been serving plated meals of rich East Godavari cuisine since 1955 has vehicles lined up on the sides of the road because it lacks a parking facility. During lunch and dinner, as patrons flock to the place, leaving their vehicles haphazardly parked on the street, the pace of traffic slows down outside.
Recently-built commercial establishments with no provision for parking have been accorded construction permits over the last few years.
Over 90% of Kakinada’s roads lack footpaths and the few footpaths that do exist are home to hawkers.
No state-run buses ply the streets of Kakinada today. The city’s public transportation needs are currently met by 7,000 three-wheeler auto-rickshaws. Most commuters transit by sharing rides.
No public toilets exist in the city. The city’s streets double up as public urinals.
KMC proposes to address all these issues in its smart city plan.
Kakinada’s smart city proposal
To begin with, however, only 20% of the area would be converted into smart zone over the next five years. Kakinada will be gradually transformed into a smart city through retrofitting and redevelopment strategies, according to the area-based development plan.
In its pitch to the Union government, the municipal body broadly divided the 31 sq. km city into seven zones. Five of these zones in north central part of Kakinada have been considered for retrofitting while two slums spread over 65 acres and 52 acres in the city’s south east have been considered for redevelopment.
An online poll on government’s MyGov website saw 65% vote in favour of zone 1 for retrofitting and 80% vote in favour of Dummulapeta slum (zone 6) for redevelopment.
After extensive discussions between elected representatives and officials from different government departments, retrofitting Kakinada’s central business district (zone 1) spread over 1,375 acres was identified as the best option for first stage of smart city plan.
It was easier to retrofit zone 1 and showcase it as a model smart zone to the city’s denizens than zone 6 whose residents were unwilling to relocate while their slum is developed into a smart zone. Zone 6 was identified as a “potential risk” while retrofitting zone 1 would be a lot “easier”, according to the proposal.
Because zone 1 contains the core of Kakinada—bus station, two railway stations, government offices including that of the district collector’s, government and private hospitals, apart from commercial establishments and older part of the city, the basic infrastructure is in place. It is easier to upgrade this infrastructure in an area where citizen participation is high, and where residents are willing to pay for better services.
“The successful implementation of smart initiatives/project in this zone will have high visibility and impact,” KMC’s proposal states. “The successful smart initiatives/project in this zone can be easily scalable to other zones.”
Zone 1 will be developed at a cost Rs.1,866.11 crore with pan city solutions costing Rs.126.92 crore out of total project cost of Rs.1,993.03 crore.
The biggest chunk of investment would go towards setting up transportation and walkway network at a cost of Rs.370.52 crore. The city’s smart transport and mobility initiatives include 84km pedestrian-friendly pathways, setting up a 50km bicycle track, encouraging public bicycle sharing and e-rickshaws, and developing intelligent bus shelters and smart traffic signalling systems.
The biggest grievance of Kakinada’s citizens is the city’s poor sewerage network and its inadequate solid waste management. This was a recurring complaint echoed by almost everyone Mint spoke to, during a visit in June. The city even lacks a designated waste disposal site. KMC acknowledges that it does not even have a temporary disposal facility which is leading to indiscriminate dumping and burning of waste.
In the public poll on MyGov website, 38% of the voters wanted improvements to the city’s solid waste management plan. Another 4% wanted a better storm water drainage system while 6% desired a good underground drainage system.
The poll’s findings were not lost on government officials. Kakinada’s smart city proposal allocates Rs.261.81 crore to set up a 140km underground drainage network with a 13 MLD (million litres per day) sewage treatment plant. It will spend another Rs.307.04 crore to build a 254km storm-water drainage network.
It plans to spend Rs.43.87 crore to beef up the city’s solid waste network by collecting waste at doorsteps (for a monthly fee), setting up mechanized sweeping and bulk garbage collection units, identifying a waste disposal site and activating an information and communications technology-enabled waste management solution.
The city expects to meet 10% of electricity needs from renewables. It will install solar projects covering 11.28 lakh sq. ft, at government and public buildings and on rooftops of 188 apartments at a cost of Rs.190.82 crore in people, public, private partnership (PPPP) mode.
But how receptive are the city’s inhabitants to change?
The solar PPPP proposal is welcome but only if the incentives are here to stay, said V.V. Satyanarayana, who trades in mango pulp and mango jelly. “We should also remember that Kakinada falls in a cyclone-prone zone and the solar panels should not be damaged or fly away in a heavy storm,” Satyanarayana said.
“Petrochemical industries are harmful but inevitable and necessary. But how will they be able to treat pollution from these industries. Does smart city have measures to check pollution in the future?” advocate Dhanarasi Bhargav pointed out.
KMC’s storm-water drain proposal has to be carefully thought out, Bhargav further said. Kakinada is located at a height lower than the sea level and therefore water will not naturally flow off into the sea. This means water from the city’s drains will have to be pumped out using electric motors, which can complicate things.
“If power supply gets scarce or if unit cost of electricity increases, it will become unfeasible,” Bhargav said. “It will then turn into a white elephant.”
K. Siva Prasad, a lecturer at a local engineering college echoed, these concerns. He further suggested that storm and drain water can be dumped into pits located at street intersections of residential colonies. This can also help in rejuvenating the ground water table, said Prasad.
Subba Rao, a 72-year-old, who has been making pesarattu dosa, an Andhra breakfast delicacy made of green gram, for over 40 years, has seen the city transform before his eyes. The current day “Big Market” did not even exist when he set up a humble shack opposite Santha Cheruvu in the older part of Kakinada. As more farmers sold land in their villagers and settled down in the city, opening businesses, the city gradually grew, he said. The 20 paisa dosa he sold back then costs Rs.15 today.
He has been reading about the government’s smart city plans. “Let’s see what they do. I don’t see how it will affect me or my business. These kinds of things are incremental in nature,” he says in Telugu.
Indeed, Kakinada has been making baby steps to smarten up its infrastructure. The city’s street-lighting system uses LED bulbs.
On 11 June, traffic moved at a snail’s pace on Jawahar Street, as the road was dug up to lay underground cables, one of proposals in KMC’s smart city plan. It was not clear if the activity was related to the proposal.
On the “Main Road”, Kakinada’s commercial street having the showrooms of top retail brands, street-lighting was missing even as roads were dug up on the sides to build a covered drainage system.
At the farmer’s market adjoining the bus station, vegetable sellers will soon move from the streets into a permanent structure, currently under construction. Fish sellers are as relieved as their customers are in Jagannaickpur in the older part of Kakinada after civic authorities built a roofed fish market in 2013. Earlier, fish would be sold right next to a flowing drain in which pigs lumbered.
Kakinada, the pensioner’s paradise, is slowly coming of age.