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Visakhapatnam – Andhra Pradesh: City of Destiny grapples with development issues


Once no more than a tiny fishing village on the east coast, Visakhapatnam is now the largest city in Andhra Pradesh, and is often referred to as “the city of destiny” by the locals.

They are probably right, as Visakhapatnam is likely to emerge as the growth engine for the State even though Amaravati-Vijayawada-Guntur is the capital region. It is a port town, having two ports (Visakhapatnam and Gangavaram), an industrial town (Visakhapatnam steel plant, the Hindusthan Shipyard Limited, HPCL oil refinery, BHPV-BHEL, a number of special economic zones), and an upcoming IT centre and is a tourist hotspot for its beaches (picture, at right).

Even though the history of the city dates back to the times of Emperor Ashoka, the foundations for modern Visakhapatnam were laid during the British Raj, when they laid the railway line (Madras-Calcutta) passing through the city in 1904 and then built the Visakhapatnam port in 1933.

Industry-led growth

After Independence, the Scindia steam navigation company (now Hindusthan Shipyard Limited) and then in the 1950s the Caltex refinery (now HPCL oil refinery) were established here. More PSUs were set up like Bharat Heavy Plate and Vessels Limited (now merged in the BHEL) and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited , paving the way for the city’s growth.

It was during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US that an announcement was made that Visakhapatnam would be one of three Indian cities to be developed as smart cities with US technical assistance. The Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) and the US officials later held a series of meetings.

AECOM prepared the vision document for the smart city challenge round for Visakhapatnam. The US Trade and Development Agency will part-finance the project with a grant of $1.4 million.

In the initial phase, for five years, ₹1,700 crore is likely to be spent on the smart city project in Visakhapatnam in the three selected sites. Of this, the Centre is likely to provide ₹500 crore, the State Government a matching sum (₹500 crore) and the rest is to be mobilised through PPP projects and other means.

According to Vishal Kundra of AECOM, there are some misgivings in the public mind about smart cities; one of them is that it is an elitist concept not suited to Indian conditions. There is apprehension that a smart city will be costly to live in as the public have to pay additional taxes for better civic services.

Inclusive development

“These assumptions are not well-founded and a smart city project is designed in such a way that it benefits the entire city in the long run, even though only a few areas are covered initially. There need not be fears over a heavy dose of taxation, as revenue can be generated in various ways,” he explained.

Implementing the project is also expected to improve the quality of life in the city. Arun Das, a tax consultant, says that a “smart city is what a smart city does. It is certainly a desirable concept, and there is nothing elitist about it. It will improve infrastructure, and bring in investment and that in turn will generate employment. The trickle-down effect will reach slum-dwellers as well. There will be a definite improvement in the quality of life for all. A beginning has to be made somewhere.”

Fisherfolks’ concern

There are also concerns that the fisheries sector may be adversely affected and the fishermen community, living in areas such as Pedajalaripeta, may be marginalised or even displaced.

Arjili Das, a representative of the community, says that in future there may be no place for fishermen in Visakhapatnam, which was originally a fishing village. “In the name of development, the fishermen community is being subjected to untold hardship. In building the Gangavaram port, two major fishing villages — Gangavaram and Dibbapalem — were displaced. Till now, they have not been properly rehabilitated. There has been a proposal to shift the fishing harbour from its present location in the city to somewhere near or beyond Bhimili. A smart city will be built for the elite and fishermen will be shunted somewhere even if that place is not at all suitable for fishing activity,” he complains.

The State Government and the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) are going ahead with the project with great enthusiasm and gusto, in spite of such reservations. “There will always be naysayers and doubting Thomases to any project. It is basically a sound project,” says a high-ranking GVMC official, seeking anonymity.

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