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BHUBANESWAR YOUNG AT 64

- Cheers to a six-decade journey from a small town to a buzzing modern city

When Union minister Jairam Ramesh visited Bhubaneswar last May, he was surprised seeing a grandiose Victorian-styled building opposite the 120 Infantry Battalion.

“Oh Jeez! What is this building?” he paused and turned back for a second look. He had mistaken the new police commissionerate office to be a historical monument. “I don’t think any other state has such a palatial building for the police!” he said.

This structure symbolises the changing face of Bhubaneswar, which turns 64 on Friday. Odisha became a separate state on April 1, 1936, with Cuttack as its capital. This was eventually changed to Bhubaneswar on April 13, 1948, coinciding with the Odia New Year.

During its 64 years as the political and cultural capital, Bhubaneswar has grown by leaps and bounds. According to the master plan prepared by German town planning engineer Otto Koenigsberger, the city was to be developed on a 12-square mile area and built at an estimated cost of Rs 2.89 crore. At that time, the capital had only one police station. There are 20 police stations now and there is a proposal to set up three more.

The foundation stone of the capital laid by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948. Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee

The city, originally built for 15,000 people, was divided into six units – Unit-I (Bapuji Nagar), Unit-II (Ashok Nagar), Unit-III (Kharavela Nagar), Unit-IV (Bhouma Nagar), Unit-V (Keshari Nagar) and Unit-VI (Ganga Nagar). The Bhubaneswar of 1948 had both rail and air connectivity.

According to the 1951 census, the city’s population was 16,512, which has now spiralled to 8.83 lakh. The city, now divided into 60 wards, has got the status of a corporation.

Former chairman of the Bhubaneswar Municipality, Gunanidhi Mohapatra, 90, who has witnessed the transformation of Bhubaneswar from a small town to a modern city acquiring the trappings of a metropolis, reminiscences the transformation.

He said the sprawling Governor House, which was located in the heart of the city, was called Bhalu Mundia because it was a dense forest full of wild animals and part of the Bharatpur-Rampur sanctuary.

“I still remember how a tiger had mauled a young boy to death. After the incident, more than 30 people, including me, had gone to the spot to retrieve the body,” he said, adding that the transformation of the forest into Raj Bhavan began on January 1, 1958, and was completed on March 31, 1960.

The city had only one high school — BM High School — that was established in 1940 in the Old Town area. But after the city became the capital in 1948, development took place at breakneck speed.

Now, Bhubaneswar boasts of more than a dozen high schools, management institutes and around 50 engineering colleges. There are four universities — Utkal University, Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, KIIT University and Sikha O Anusandhan University. The city has its own Indian Institute of Technology, an All India Institute of Medical Sciences and is soon to have an Indian Institute of Information Technology.

“The city has emerged as the education hub of eastern India,” said higher education minister Badri Narayan Patra.

Bhubaneswar has also become an IT hotspot with four central institutes including Institute of Physics, Institute of Mathematics and Application, National Institute of Science Education and Research and International Institute of Information Technology.

Earlier, people from the posh Nayapalli and Baramunda areas used to travel to Old Town to sell brinjals and buy milk products. Later, a market was set up near Bapuji Nagar, which now caters to the need of some of the employees of the State Secretariat and new government organisations near it. Today, there are at least six shopping malls and over 30 daily market areas.

From one cinema, Roop Mandir (now Ravi Talkies), where the first Odia film Sita Bibaha was released, the city now has seven movie theatres.

Nearly 100 apartment complexes have come up in and around the city. The growth on the outskirts has been remarkable. “The entire residential pattern has changed over the years. People now live near the Chandaka sanctuary, which was earlier a no-venture zone for us for the fear of wild animals,” said Mohapatra.

When the 12 square miles was taken into account for building a new Bhubaneswar, the plan did not include Utkal University. Only 1,500 buildings were part of the plan. Today, the city is spread over 135sqkm.

From one small hospital in Old Town, the city now has big hospitals, both government and private, including the Kalinga Hospital, Hemlata Hospital for Cancer, Hi-Tech Hospital, Sum Hospital and Aditya Care Hospital.

While laying the foundation stone of Bhubaneswar in 1948, India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had said: “We must develop this famous temple city and re-establish the great heritage of this land.”

Have we been true to Nehru’s words?