William Shakespeare famously said that there is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Such a tidal flood moment has arrived in the history of Kochi; because now the city is poised to receive unprecedented levels of investment for improving urban infrastructure: for schemes like the Kochi Metro and the Water Metro as well as the Kochi Smart City project; which involves the upgradation of selected locations in the city, as well as the improvement of the delivery of public services like power, water, waste disposal and sanitation.
The makeover of Kochi started with the implementation of the Kochi Metro Rail project at a cost of more than Rs.5000 crore. The extension of the metro rail to Tripunithura and Kakkanad is a project of around Rs.2500 crore. The new Water Metro project alone, which aims to make water transit on the Kochi lagoon as convenient and modern as in global cities like Istanbul and Hong Kong, would cost nearly around Rs.1000 crore, while the selection of Kochi as one of the twenty Smart Cities in India, is expected to bring in investments of more than Rs.2000 crore, thus bringing the total investment for improving public infrastructure in Kochi to the staggering total of around Rs.11000 crore, which is a historically unprecedented figure for an Indian city of the size of Kochi.
The challenge before the implementing agencies like KMRL, Cochin Smart Mission Ltd., Kochi Corporation, GCDA and related Government departments is to ensure that these funds are used wisely and prudently, and in an acceptable and transparent fashion for realising project objectives. A great deal of planning is also required for ensuring that these projects are well integrated with each other, and are also complementary to the other public investments that are planned for the city, like the expansion of the Kochi Info Park and the IT Smart City project.
It may be recalled that the Kochi Metro Rail project aims not just to build a modern metro traversing the city of Kochi, but also to completely revamp the public transportation system, by integrating the metro, the buses and boat systems for ensuring that public transport becomes more convenient, more comfortable and faster than using one’s own personal transport vehicle. The Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority Act is a necessary step in this direction, for upgrading public transport in Kochi to world standards.
In sum, the Kochi Metro Rail project will radically alter the mobility architecture of Kochi and people’s movement habits, while the Smart City project is expected to improve the delivery of essential basic public services and also make the city a greener and more pleasant place to live in.
What makes the city of Kochi globally unique is its priceless setting amongst the backwaters, which comprise around 20% of the area of Greater Kochi. The advent of the Water Metro is expected to completely transform the lifestyles and the mobility practices of the people living on the islands, and along the coast of the Kochi lagoon. The revival of the urban transportation system with the advent of 78 boats and the creation of 38 jetties is also expected to give a huge fillip to Kochi’s attractiveness as a global tourism destination.
The Kochi Smart City project is particularly complicated and audacious in its sweep and ambition, since it aims at nothing less than transforming the quality and reach of the delivery of public services like fresh water, power, waste disposal and urban mobility, through IT based smart solutions; apart from redeveloping large tracts of the city with improved layouts and upgradation of basic infrastructure for services like power, water, sanitation and sewerage. The Smart City project also attempts to make streets convenient for walking and cycling, and to give the city a brand value and cultural identity based on its cultural moorings.
One of the primary reasons for the relatively smooth progress of implementation of the Kochi Metro Rail project has been the tremendous goodwill and support extended to the project by the people of Kochi. Likewise, the proposed new Kochi projects will have to take the people along, with frequent public consultations and a philosophy of complete transparency regarding project objectives and implementation strategies.
KMRL, which is a youthful organisation, with youngsters from all across the country, and with high-quality technical talent, plays a key role in the implementation of these three major projects, while the Kochi Municipal Corporation is a key stakeholder of the Smart City project. Those of us who are involved in project execution are planning a large-scale outreach programme, particularly using social media for keeping the public informed about the project goals, outcomes, execution strategies and problems. We would also like to set up a system whereby the suggestions, complaints and ideas emanating from the citizens of Kochi are fed back into these projects for improving their quality.
In sum, all citizens of Kochi as well as the project implementing agencies need to work together hand-in-hand in this great endeavour. If all goes well, we can transform Kochi into one of the most liveable cities in Asia, as well as a leading global tourism destination by itself, given the city’s unique historical and cultural endowments and lacustrine setting.
Managing Director, KMRL