Calcutta, Jan. 16: A string of satellite townships is on the drawing board to lessen the population load on the twin cities of Calcutta and Howrah, which are bursting at the seams.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee unveiled plans for two such townships — at Dankuni and West Howrah — which would be built in phases. The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and possibly some other government agencies, too, have been asked to begin the homework.
Bhattacharjee held a meeting with urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya at Writers’ Buildings and finalised the decision to build the two townships — that follow Salt Lake and Rajarhat — in five years.
“There are already 60 lakh people in Calcutta and, if we take into account the adjoining areas, the population is in the region of a crore. Accommodating such a huge population, which is also growing at a steady rate, in an urban environment is a daunting job,” the chief minister said.
“There is no room in Salt Lake, but people keep writing to us for land there. Even today I got a letter from someone looking for a plot in Salt Lake. In view of all this pressure, we must hurry and build several townships to give relief to Calcutta,” he added.
Bhattacharjee was speaking at a function at New Town, Rajarhat, while inaugurating a cluster of 928 flats constructed by the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation for the economically weaker section.
In designing the planned townships, the government would be guided by the experience it acquired in Salt Lake where certain flaws have become visible. For instance, the roads in Salt Lake were not built keeping the traffic growth potential in mind.
“We should take lessons from Salt Lake, where the roads are not wide enough,” said former chief minister Jyoti Basu.
Housing minister Gautam Deb said in Salt Lake the architects did not think about the areas around the township.
“Now, we will have to emphasise the development of the neighbourhood as well. Otherwise, there will be no balance,” he added.
The chief minister indicated that the future townships, as well as New Town, would be complete urban complexes containing all facilities, including academic institutions.
“We want to develop New Town into a comprehensive city where there will be engineering and medical colleges along with commercial establishments and industry,” he added.
Alongside construction of new townships, the government would encourage low-cost housing for the economically weak. At the same time, Bhattacharjee said, the government can no longer provide civic amenities free to those who can afford to pay.
“We have so long provided drinking water free. But the water did not come down from the sky. We had to spend a lot of money purifying it in our treatment plants. So, we have decided to collect a tax for it. Poor people living in the Calcutta slums will not have to pay for the water. But there are others who can,” he added.
Announcement of the proposed township in West Howrah shows the government’s first conscious attempt to address the problems of congested Howrah city from where people are moving out to Calcutta’s adjoining areas adding to the population pressure. In West Howrah, the infrastructure is being planned keeping a five-lakh population in mind.
The CMDA’s perspective plan for the next 20 years emphasises the need for more urban settlements.
The current government thrust will add urgency to the execution of the perspective plan that tackles larger issues of management of urban development.