A few weeks ago, I went to inaugurate the International Kite Festival at Ahmedabad's Sabarmati Riverfront. On the banks of the majestic Sabarmati, we witnessed a cultural extravaganza and welcomed participants from various nations across the world. But, the same area was a picture in contrast years ago. My visit to the Riverfront took me down the memory lane to a time when the Sabarmati River was everything but a water body. Youngsters would play cricket and circuses were held on the riverbed.
In the last few years, however, the Sabarmati and the surrounding areas have been transformed significantly. Today not only is there water in the river all throughout the year but also the areas surrounding it have become a lively public recreational spot drawing people from all over. Today, due to the work on the Riverfront the water table has risen and the incidents of diseases associated with the monsoons has substantially declined. Due to a rise in the water table, electricity consumption has reduced.Many international tourists have written to me complimenting the Gujarat Government for the excellent work at the Riverfront, which is being rated as one of the most innovative projects in the field of urban regeneration.
Transforming Our Cities to World-Class Urban Spaces
This landmark transformation of the Sabarmati Riverfront is a part of our larger determination to transform Gujarat's cities into world-class urban spaces. It is a fact that in this day and age, urbanisation is here to stay. A large number of people are being drawn to the cities. Gujarat is among the most urbanised states of India. Over 42% of the state's population lives in towns and cities and the decadal growth rate of our urban population stands at 35.8%.
We are aware that rapid urbanisation brings to the fore many challenges. The infrastructure of the towns and cities is severely tested. There are always enormous challenges of pollution, traffic problems, etc. However, we will never achieve anything if we see urbanisation merely as a problem. We should embrace the challenges of urbanisation, not berate them and that is when we can achieve change at the ground level.
I am glad to share this is exactly what Gujarat has done. I can say with great confidence and pride that Gujarat's approach towards addressing the challenge of urbanisation is not only far-sighted but also one where the fruits of progress will not be concentrated in the hands of a select few, but will reach each and every person. Through innovation and a structured as well as institutionalized approach we have converted daunting challenges of urbanisation into meaningful opportunities for the people.
I remember that when I took oath as Chief Minister, the expenditure for urban development was less than Rs. 200 crores. Today, the budgetary plan provision for urban development stand at Rs. 5670 crore, which is a 25-fold increase! With a focus on holistic, pro-active governance to improve our cities, the Gujarat Government launched the Swarnim Jayanti Mukhya Mantri Shaheri Vikas Yojana (SJMMSVY) in 2009. The noteworthy approach of this initiative lies in the fact that it caters to the development needs of Gujarat's eight municipal corporations and 159 Nagarpalikas across the state, bringing at their doorstep facilities usually associated with bigger cities. The initiative is completely funded by the state Government and while it started with an initial budget of Rs. 7000 crore, today this figure has increased to a staggering outlay of Rs. 15,000 crore.
Strengthening Transport and Urban Mobility
One aspect of city life that we have to interface with every single day is the roads. Very often, the first impression of the city is formed depending on the quality of roads, the traffic etc. Understandably, the roads are put under severe strain as population and number of vehicles increase. Complaining about traffic jams is very common but how many of us have thought of doing something to mitigate it?
Recognizing that urban transport is a vital cornerstone of economic growth, due importance has been given to roads and all facets of urban mobility by the Government. In Gujarat, we have built many flyovers that have streamlined traffic movements in congested areas of our cities. Surat is now known as the ‘Flyover City of Gujarat' due to the impressive flyovers that have eased the congestion in traffic prone areas. In Ahmedabad as well, many flyovers and underpasses have brought about significant improvement in the traffic condition.
Apart from the above-mentioned efforts, we are leaving no stone unturned to enhance our urban transport infrastructure. When you are travelling around Ahmedabad, it is difficult to miss the much-acclaimed Janmarg, the city's BRTS. Surat and Rajkot are following suit. We have constituted a Multi-Modal Affordable Transport Authority (MATA) to draw the roadmap to promote safe, affordable, convenient and reliable urban transport.
Innovative Rickshaw Service
During your travels to big cities you would have heard of ‘Radio Taxis', ‘Call a Cab' but have you heard of an Any Time Rickshaw Service? Thanks to an initiative by a Foundation based in Gujarat, a team of auto drivers has come under one umbrella to form G-Auto that provides reliable auto rickshaw service round the clock. The service in these G-Autos is wonderful- when you sit in the rickshaw the driver offers a bottle of water and even a newspaper! The service is active in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Gandhinagar and in the coming years will spread its presence to other parts of the state. Such initiatives not only provide more convenient and commuter friendly transport options but also give opportunities combined with soft skills to the drivers!
Overcoming the Challenge of Urban Housing
With so many people moving to the cities, adequate housing facilities pose another challenge. As a Government, it becomes our duty to ensure that as many people have the shelter of a roof. A home is not only four walls but also the locus of one's existence. We have taken several steps to strengthen the urban housing facilities across the state.
In order to make Gujarat slum-free, we have already completed a survey of converting over 25 lakh Kuchha houses into Pukka houses. As opposed to the 10-lakh houses built by previous Governments over the last 40 years, we have already built 22 lakh houses in the last decade and the beneficiaries of this have been the poor of Gujarat. In the coming years, we will continue with our determination to ensure that the challenge of urban housing is effectively mitigated.
Efforts to Promote Twin-City Model
We would want to see Ahmedabad to shine but along with Ahmedabad we would want Gandhinagar to shine as well. Why must two urban centres in close geographic proximity not get the opportunity to grow in equal measure? That is how we came up with the Twin City Model. Gujarat is actively working on Twin Cities of Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar, Surendranagar-Wadhwan, Surat-Navsari, Vadodara-Halol, Bharuch-Ankleshwar and Morbi-Wankaner. Twin cities will surely add a fresh impetus in Gujarat's initiatives towards creating outstanding cities.
Along with Twin Cities we are also going to develop Satellite Towns and are well on the way to building world-class cities that will take Gujarat into the vibrant future! A city like Delhi took hundreds of years to grow so big but Dholera will be twice the size of Delhi, six times the size of Shanghai and much more advanced in terms of modern infrastructure.
Some of our innovative landmark projects like the Kankaria Lake Development Project and the Science Centre in Surat will go a long way in enhancing the quality of life of urban residents. You would be delighted to know that in the last few years our various urban development initiatives have won over 50 awards!In fact, data from the Central Government has shown that Gujarat has topped the list of completion of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) projects and scores impressively in the utilization of funds from the same initiative.
Beyond Cities: Rurbanisation- Aatma Gaam Ki, Suvidha Sheher Ki
We have focused on cities but we are not stopping there. The need of the hour is to provide better services and infrastructure to the smaller towns and villages. Our Mantra of Rurbanisation envisions our villages that preserve their unique cultural identity but at the same time are invigorated with facilities of a city (Aatma Gaam Ni, Suvidha Sheher Ni)!
Urbanisation was a key focus area during this year's Vibrant Gujarat Summit. I attended a very fruitful panel discussion on Rurbanisation in the run-up to the Summit and after the Summit concluded I met Professor Paul Romer, who directs the urbanisation project at New York University's Stern School of Business in USA. Professor Romer had very kind words to say on Gujarat's strides in urban development.
Fortified with the requisite political will, backed by a dynamic team of officials and with the unwavering support of the people, the Gujarat Government is all set for an urban regeneration that will create new world class cities and take top class facilities to the villages so that both urban and rural areas can effectively contribute in our quest towards a Bhavya and Divya Gujarat.