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Calcuttans urged to help city turn around

The promise of making Calcutta a better place can only be realised through active participation and contribution of the inhabitants, speakers at a symposium on urban development stressed on Friday.

The state government pleaded that the challenges of a metropolis bursting at the seams are vast and appealed to academicans, architects and students to come forward and help reshape the city.

“We as the government are so busy with day-to-day tasks that sometimes it becomes difficult to chart a long-term vision for the city. We need the people to come forward with ideas and research and work jointly with us,” Debashis Sen, principal secretary in the state urban development department, said on Friday at the valedictory session of Sound Square, a two-day symposium organised by the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art (KMOMA).

The symposium was held in association with the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The Confederation of Real Estate Developers Associations of India (Credai), Bengal chapter, supported the event.

“The population of the city will double in 20 years and so will the challenges of managing it. Today, the city requires 135 litres of water daily for each individual and the total money required for urban development in the next five years will amount to Rs 1 lakh crore,” Sen said, providing a glimpse of the Herculean task ahead.

Speaking at the inauguration of the symposium, urban development minister Firhad Hakim had highlighted how the city had struggled to manage its population, poverty and traffic congestion.

Sound Square discussed over six sessions ways and means to turn things around. Academicians, government officials, engineers, architects and students shared a platform and exchanged ideas in an attempt to find solutions to the problems the city faces.

Friday’s first session was a panel discussion — “Heritage and Cultural Continuity” — on the task of maintaining the cultural identity of the city in the midst of rapid urbanisation. It was chaired by Swapan Chakravorty, professor of English at Jadavpur University and former director-general, National Library.

The speakers were historian Sugata Bose, Harvard professor and chairman of the Presidency University mentor group, Partha Maharaj, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, and Arunendu Bannerjee, chief consultant to Jorasanko Thakurbari Heritage Conservation Committee.

A once-glorious capital of British India, Calcutta is struggling to hold on to its spaces and promenades that are under the threat of being swallowed up or retain its architectural identity in the face of indiscriminate urbanisation, the speakers pointed out.

The second session, which invited the perspective of students on urban planning and development, saw presentations by civil engineering and architecture students of Jadavpur University and IIT Kharagpur.

While students of Jadavpur University analysed the traffic and pedestrian problems at the Gariahat crossing and suggested greater access to pavements for pedestrians, the IIT-ans focussed on the evolution of the neighbourhood into a blend of residence and commerce.

“Gariahat today has a population of over 20 lakh and is home to 20,000 shops and covers 12 wards,” an IIT student said.

Filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhyay addressed the final valedictory session. “Architecture begins where engineering ends. I am sure the discussions of these two days will usher in some positive changes in the city,” he said.

Some felt that a few of the changes were beginning to show. Raghu Mody, chairman of Rasoi Group, said: “Many friends and relatives who have visited the city recently have commented on the beautification of Calcutta and the easing of traffic woes.”

Students of IIT Kharagpur handed over an action plan report for the city to Debashis Sen. The report will “help the government develop the city”, Sen said.

“I had requested minister Firhad Hakim to let me know the list of projects undertaken by the Bengal government and he mailed me a detailed list,” said Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, director, IIT Kharagpur. “We have handed over an action plan to the ministry, which is the first step towards engaging with the government.”