by Kapilas Bhuyan

Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha is no doubt the fastest growing place. The price of land has become at least twenty times more in last two decade, though there is no genuine reason why it is so! Some people argue that sinc e Bhubaneswar is a peaceful town, many non-Odia outsiders prefer to have a home here. Is Bhubaneswar really a peaceful town?

Looking at the crime rates, particularly the daylight snatchings of gold ornaments from women and gun-point robbery of people who draw large sums of money from banks one may not feel safe to leave behind his family in this place, only because his children could get good education at a cheaper cost and avail healthcare facilities at a stone’s throw. Yes, there has been mushrooming of private schools, +2 & Engineering colleges and hospitals all around the city. This creates 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 got a lot of money, he or she can buy a house, but never a patch of land!

Six decade ago, the Govt. had been forcing its employees to buy land and build houses so that the city would grow in size. 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 last two decade.

In those initial days, when the foundation stone of the new capital at Bhubaneswar was laid on 13the 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 to make Bhubaneswar as the Headquarter of Governance.

Until very late up to early Nineteen Nineties many people had the wrong notion that Bhubaneswar was planned by Le Corbusier. The confusion had prevailed simply because both Bhubaneswar and Chandigad were developed as two modern Indian cities at around the same time. Rather Bhubaneswar was 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. He collaborated with the Goa-born Anglo-Indian architect Julius Vaz to develop Bhubaneswar as the new capital town of the Odisha state.

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 in 1961 when Julius Vaz left Bhubaneswar, the structural aspect of the town had started becoming chaotic, 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.

Pt. Jawaharlal Neheru-Ottokoenigsberger-Amrit Kaur-Lord Mountbatten

Looking at the prevalent 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. The hillock 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 track – 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.

The numbers of units initially were limited to VI and the infrastructure was developed having a futuristic projection of 40,000 populations. But by mid-sixties another 3 units were added, and by early seventies units were dropped for accommodating Nagars, and later on Vihars having been suffixed as new nomenclature.

Unlike Sir Lutyens’ Delhi which is composed of circles, Bhubaneswar is composed of rectangle grills. Thus, one finds the vehicular movements on the roads at the outer peripheries of units, whereas the inside roads are virtually very peaceful without any traffic.

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 Rabindra Mandap and the Red Building meant for the office of the R&B Department etc.

The Red Building is no more red and not with its unique identity as the Govt. has changed its colour to white and included it within the precinct of the State Secretariat since a long time. In fact the earthen redd

Mo Cycle cycles parked in Bhubaneswar
Mo Cycle cycles parked in Bhubaneswar

ish shade that 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 could be well understood that the approach was more towards assimilati ng the two towns than creating any contrast.

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

Even we find the Govt. Quarters of old time are of hexagonal or octagonal shape having multiple breaks. Most of the Govt. buildings are found to be with impressive corridors. These corridors, besides 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, and thereby creating a vacuum space to hold the heat and protecting 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 seem 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 exude its all inclusive uniqueness as the power hub of the state. However, the recently built building of the Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Commissionerate of Police has undermined the intended spirit of the State Secretariat. This monolithic and towering structure, largely adhering to the British architectural form surly outshines all other Govt. structures in the town and stands as if superior to all other structures, including the State Secretariat and the Assembly Hall.

In those early phase, Bhubaneswar probably had very well-planned drainage system, however, due to lack of maintenance it all got damaged and yet to be retrieved, particularly in the down town. On the other hand, the city encounters artificial floods as the ten natural drainage channels prevalent in the town are obstructed by building structures on them.

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 flouting its rules to oblige the people in power positions and creating chaos. But things are improving a lot over last one decade or so as many correctional majors have been taking place to make Bhubaneswar one of the smart cities of the country.

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.

Bhubaneswar is growing as a smart city at a very first rate, and if the growth rate continues at the same pace it won’t be a wonder that a large number of people from the other parts of the country will prefer to come here to set up their homes.

(The author is a Senior Journalist and National Award winning Filmmaker who can be reached at kapilasbhuyan@gmail.com)

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