Tale of the Tiny City Undergoing Metamorphosis into a Modern Metropolis

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Foundation stone of capital city, Bhubaneswar laid by by Pt. Jawaharlal Neheru (Photo: Tikan Mishra)
Foundation stone of capital city, Bhubaneswar laid by by Pt. Jawaharlal Neheru (Photo: Tikan Mishra)

By Kapilas Bhuyan

Foundation stone of capital city, Bhubaneswar laid by by Pt. Jawaharlal Neheru (Photo: Tikan Mishra)
Foundation stone of capital city, Bhubaneswar laid by by Pt. Jawaharlal Neheru (Photo: Tikan Mishra)

Bhubaneswar is geared up to celebrate its 64 th foundation day from April 13 to April 15, 2012.

Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha is no doubt the fastest growing urban centre. Now, the price of land has become at least twenty times more than what it was two decades back, alhough there is no suchgenuine reason behind this. However, some people argue that since Bhubaneswar is a peaceful town, many non-Odia residents prefer to have a home here. But is Bhubaneswar really a peaceful town?

Looking at the crime rates, particularly the daylight snatching of gold ornaments from women and the gun-point robbery of people who either withdraw or deposit large sums of money from the bank, one may not feel safe to leave behind one’s family in such a perilous city, just for the fact that their children could get good education at a cheaper cost and avail healthcare facilities a stone’s throw away. The mushrooming of the private schools, +2 & Engineering colleges and hospitals at every nook and corner of the city has created a demand on the land mass of the place. The private builders have made it worse by turning out to be land grabbers of first order to come up with their villas and apartments. If one has a lot of money, he or she can buy a house, but never a patch of land.

In order to maintain the balance between the old and the new towns, both Koenisberger and Vaz had come up with structures having temple like tops; viz.; the main Market Building, the Capital Police Station, the Daily Market, the UP Schools in various units, the Unit I & II Girls High Schools, the State Assembly Building, Rabindra Mandap and the Red Building meant for the office of the R&B Department etc.

Five decades ago, the Government was forcing its employees and small business owners to buy land and construct houses so that the city could grow in size. But today, the growth is so fast that, the city spreads to its South-West, North-East and East to get Khurda, Cuttack and Pipili respectively under its ambit to become a metropolis within a span of one and half decade. In the initial days, when the foundation stone of the new capital at Bhubaneswar was laid on 13th April 1948 by Pt. Jawaharlal Neheru, the whole place was a vast barren land. Most of the Northern-Odisha politicians were in favour of having Cuttack as the capital of the state. However, the Southern politicians were in a pull for Rangailunda of erstwhile Ganjam district for the purpose. It was Dr. Harekrushna Mahtab, the then Governor of Bombay who manipulated the situation through his closest aide Satyapriya Mohanty, the Ex-Speaker of the Odisha Assembly to make Bhubaneswar as the Headquarter of Governance.

Until very late up to early 1990’s, many people had the wrong impression that Bhubaneswar was planned by Le Corbusier. The confusion had prevailed simply because both Bhubaneswar and Chandigarh were developed as two modern Indian cities at around the same time. But as a matter of fact, Bhubaneswar and Chandigarh were developed by a German Town Planner and Architect Otto Koenigsberger (13 October 1908 – 3 January 1999), who had worked mainly in urban development planning in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 1948 Koenigsberger had worked in collaboration with the Goanese Anglo-Indian architect Julius Vaz to give shape to the new capital, Bhubaneswar. Later in 1950 he involved Switzerland born French Architect Le Corbusier to create Chandigarh.

More often than not, until a few years ago when people used to refer to the Master Plan of Bhubaneswar, they normally meant to the plan that was developed by Koenigsberger. It’s needless to mention that the city of Bhubaneswar in its earliest form had been one of the very well planned cities of the country. However, “in 1953 Königsberger moved to London and became head of the Department of Development and Tropical Studies at the Architectural Association, which later became the Development Planning Unit of University College, London, where he worked as a professor until his retirement in 1978”. (Courtesy: Wikipedia) And later around late 1950’s, when Julius Vaz left Bhubaneswar, the structural aspect of the town had started deteriorating to such an extent that today, when we look at the city’s skyline, it seems as if it does not have any character of its own.

Looking at the prevailing temple architecture, rampantly available in the old town of Bhubaneswar, both Koenigsberger and Vaz decided to structurally balance the new town with the old one. Besides, Koenigsberger wanted the city to have self-sufficient units of human settlements. A large open land at one end was decided to be the place where the Governer’s house would be built. A straight road was drawn to connect the other end having a over bridge to give room for railway tracks – “there shall be a major traffic array alongside of which there will be self-sufficient and independent units of localities” – and that is evident even today when we find a market, a park, a playground and separate schools for boys and girls in every unit of Bhubaneswar along the roadside that connects Governer House square to Kalpana Square. This order was maintained upto Unit – VI. Later Unit VII and VIII and were added on both sides of the Governor House, and Unit IX was located totally deviating the order.

The number of units initially were limited to VI and the infrastructure was developed having a futuristic projection of 40,000 population. But by mid-sixties 3 other units were added, and by early 1970’s units were dropped for accommodating Nagars, and later on Vihars were suffixed as the new nomenclature for the new residential areas.

Unlike Sir Lutyens’ Delhi which is composed of circles, Bhubaneswar is composed of rectangle grills. Thus, one finds the vehicular traffic movements on the roads at the outer peripheries of units, whereas the inside roads are virtually devoid of it.

In order to maintain the balance between the old and the new towns, both Koenisberger and Vaz had come up with structures having temple like tops; viz.; the main Market Building, the Capital Police Station, the Daily Market, the UP Schools in various units, the Unit I & II Girls High Schools, the State Assembly Building, Rabindra Mandap and the Red Building meant for the office of the R&B Department etc.

The Red Building is no more red and has lost its unique identity as the Government has changed its colour and included it within the precinct of the State Secretariat since a long time. The ‘earthen reddish accent 2’ shade was chosen to colour the buildings by the planners with the intention to make the town look bonded to the earth and exude a feeling of oldness as of the old town of Bhubaneswar. Thus, it can be well understood that the approach was more assimilating than creating any contrast.

The temple like structures of buildings are long forgotten now, only with the exception of the buildings like the National Aluminum Company (NALCO), the Head Quarters of the East Coast Railways and the Hotel Swosti Plaza, which although are built very recently, have retained the spirit of the town as intended by its original planners.

We find the Government Quarters of that time which are of hexagonal or octagonal shape having multiple breaks. Most of the Government buildings are found to be having impressive corridors. These corridors, apart from being used as passages are also intended to protect the walls of the office rooms from the direct hit of the sunrays. For example, the corridors of the State Secretariat are found to be very wide and positioned facing the west, thereby creating a vacuum to hold the heat and protect the walls from the direct hit of the rays of the afternoon sun.

It is believed that Julius Vaz being a Goanese Anglo-Indian had the understanding of the tropical weather, and therefore had built the corridors so as to provide the administrators of the state a space to work comfortably, even without the air conditioners. But today, we find most officers of high echelon of the administration including their political bosses, to be oblivious of this architectural provision to tackle the summer heat and opt for air conditioners matching to their power positions.

The State Secretariat was built with vertical columns at its main entrance and spreading wings of administrative offices on both sides, to exhibit its uniqueness as the power hub of the state. Also with its extended wings the State Secretariat looks all-inclusive inviting the people of the state. However, the recently built building of the Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Commissionerate of Police has flouted all those thoughts and undermined the intended spirit of the State Secretariat. This monolithic and towering structure, largely adhering to the British architectural form abruptly outshines all other Government structures in the town and stands superior than all other structures, including the State Secretariat and the Assembly hall. Thus, it naturally sends a wrong message to people as the most powerful body of the state and creates a wrong notion.

In those early phase, Bhubaneswar probably had the best well-planned drainage system. However, due to lack of maintenance it got damaged and it is yet to be restored, particularly in the down town. On the other hand, the city encounters artificial floods during the monsoon season as the seven natural drainage channels prevalent in the town are obstructed by buildings constructed flouting all norms on their passages. Despite being marked as the natural drainages in the Master Plan, why people are allowed to reclaim land and build houses right on the passage of the channels? The Bhubaneswar Development Authority which is in charge of sanctioning the plans for building houses in the city is found to be breaching its rules to oblige the people in power positions and is creating chaos.

We, as passersby, everyday come across the widening or restructuring of the road that is currently undergoing at different parts of the city. But what is being constructed in a particular day, is being demolished to create something new within six months. This gives a feeling that the authorities do not adhere to any definite plan. Apart from this the roads are widened and some are made six lane tracks for convenient vehicular movement. However, the authorities seems to be oblivious regarding how the pedestrians will cross the roads.

Until now the city has been growing horizontally, but as the availability of land is on the decline, it’s time for the authorities to think of vertical growth of the city with multilayer vehicular traffic facilities. It’s heartening to know that the IIT, Kharagpur has come up with a new master plan having a projected vision upto 2025, and if the guess iscorrect, Bhubaneswar by that time will definitely grow into anothermajor metropolis of the country.

(The author is a Senior Journalist and National Award winning Filmmaker.)

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