Smart City Coimbatore, going smarter…

It is this buzz, and the ecosystem of entrepreneurship that the city provides, that has drawn business-oriented people from far.

The city now seeks to build on its position as a pre-eminent economic hub by focussing on creating plug-and-play infrastructure for manufacturing, with a continued thrust on talent development to attract and nurture talent and to build on ongoing State and national initiatives while improving on the ‘ease of doing business’ indicators.

Industrialisation history

The history of Coimbatore, or Kovai as it was known then (and is still referred to), can be traced to the Sangam period.

However, Coimbatore’s record of industrialisation has its roots in 1866, when the municipality was established with Robert Stanes as its first Chairman. It was he who pioneered the industrialisation of Coimbatore, establishing a number of textile mills.

During the early part of the 20th century, rail and road connectivity facilitated the transportation of goods. Further, the city’s strategic location amplified its importance as a trading post on the trade route between the West Coast and Tamil Nadu.

The city’s salubrious climate coupled with its industry-led growth prompted people to relocate here in those early years.

Pitfalls of rapid growth

And as more people started moving in to ride its economic boom, the population density grew and with it so did traffic congestion. This influx, and the attendant inconveniences, did not seem to bother the locals, who were focussed on powering their city to greater heights.

Coimbatore’s growth, however, was not without pitfalls. The city’s water sources became polluted as industries released their effluents directly into the river and lakes in the vicinity.

Environmentalist groups objected, and the Pollution Control Board initiated action. A number of units that had been thriving until the mid-90s started closing shop.

Ecological wake-up call

Coimbatore witnessed its worst times in 2003. The ground water table levels depleted excessively; there was acute shortage of drinking water and extensive stretches of the green cover were removed. The land of the Noyyal river was ablaze in the heat and the dust.

For the people of Coimbatore, it was a wake-up call. A few business houses then joined hands to address the water and environmental problems. A trust named Siruthuli (meaning “a tiny drop”) was established; today it has become a people’s movement for ecological restoration.

Citizens from all walks of life took up the cleaning, desilting and deweeding of the Valangulam Tank, located in the heart of the city.

It is this kind of hands-on engagement of the people with the city that gives Coimbatore an edge as it draws up plans afresh to refashion itself as a smart city.

Reviving water bodies

The Corporation has proposed the rejuvenation of tanks and the linking and development of the eight water bodies under the smart city project proposal.

It plans to clean up the tanks’ catchments, prevent sewage inflow, install micro sewage treatment plants, remove silt and garbage and set up recreation spaces on the bund.

While the Corporation has administrative control of the tanks, it does not have control over the inlet channels; that rests with the Public Works Department, say those familiar with the power dynamics of the city. It’s complicated by the fact that “all the inlet channels are interconnected,” they add.

For instance, the Narasampathy tank gets Noyyal water from the Chitirai Chavadi Anaicut through the eponymous channel; surplus water from Narasampathy reaches Krishnampathy tank; water from the latter feeds the Selvampathy, which in turn supplies water to the Kumarasamy tank; from here, it flows into the Selva Chinthamani tank, which in turn discharges its surplus to the Big Tank.

Given that the tanks are interconnected, they cannot be seen as being different from the channels. In other words, the tanks’ development will have to begin with the channels and not the tanks, as the water won’t reach them if the channels are choked, reasons Vanitha Mohan, Managing Trustee of Siruthuli.

Corporation Commissioner K Vijayakarthikeyan says the PWD will be brought in to develop the tanks.

Other proposals

Tank rejuvenation is, of course, a major component of the area-based proposal, but the authorities are also looking to build greenfield infrastructure in extended areas of the Coimbatore Corporation, create adequate commercial, built-up space, establish mass-transit systems in select corridors and make investments in public transport, provide facilities for non-motorised transport and pedestrian movement, create WiFi hotspots at 10 locations, and provide GPS-enabled intelligent transport solutions, among others.

These are ambitious plans, but the city’s can-do spirit should see it through. An enlightened and engaged citizenry may well be needed to monitor the implementation of the projects. And that’s one thing Coimbatore, the city that means business, has an abundance of.

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