National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) in partnership with Varanasi Smart City Ltd (VSCL) organised a city stakeholder consultation in Varanasi to create a collaborative and participatory roadmap towards the vision of Sugamya Kashi (Inclusive Varanasi) in New Delhi.
The consultation aimed to engage with the relevant city stakeholders and apprise them of the progress of the Building Accessible Safe Inclusive Indian Cities programme and ongoing city engagement activities being implemented in Varanasi on disability inclusion. The UK Aid funded case study research being led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) was also discussed. The effort was to also sensitize the stakeholders and mainstream the dialogue on disability inclusion across policy and project interventions and facilitating technical assistance to the city beyond the BASIIC programme timeline. The consultation was a joint endeavour of Varanasi Smart City Limited (VSCL) and the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), and its partner the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), London.
It was attended by key nodal officials from various government agencies in the city including – Varanasi Nagar Nigam, Development Authority, Town and Country Planning Department, Department of Empowerment for Persons with Disabilities, Tourism Department, Road Safety and Traffic Department, Smart City SPV, Private Organizations, Academic Institutions, Disabled Peoples’ Organizations, Community & Citizens to collectively discuss and engage on transforming Varanasi as inclusive and accessible for persons with disabilities.
Mr. Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, elaborated on the unique character of the “oldest living city” and its aspiration towards an “Inclusive Innovation Plan.” He emphasized the importance of accessibility and inclusion for the city in its endeavours of rejuvenation of ghats, riverfronts, heritage sites, temples and other water bodies to become a world-class spiritual and cultural destination. He is hopeful that the key findings and the recommended solutions from the study would assist the stakeholders in devising phase-wise action plans for implementation.”
Dr. D. Vasudevan, the Chief General Manager of Varanasi Smart City Ltd. emphasized the need for solutions and innovations that are contextual and tailor-made to the characteristics of the city. He is also optimistic that the smart projects in pipeline, with technical assistance from NIUA, will be planned, designed and implemented with a special focus on making them accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities.
The event was graced by the presence of Minister Counsellor of UK government, Ms. Katy Budge. She congratulated the leadership of Varanasi Smart City Limited for its efforts in making Varanasi more accessible for its citizens and visitors. She expressed her delight in the successful completion of the city audit assessment study (jointly conducted by NIUA and GDIH team) which will act as great learning to all Indian Cities. She emphasized the need of staying connected, learning from each other and learning from Disability People organisations and keeping the topic of “Inclusion” always in the spotlight.
Sh. Pranay Ku. Singh, CEO, Varanasi Smart City Ltd. and Municipal Commissioner, Varanasi Nagar Nigam, expressed that the concept of “Inclusion”, which is multidimensional that encompasses persons with disabilities, gender and demographic diversity should be integrated into the future action plan for Varanasi city development. He further quoted, “ We are facilitators and will continue on our efforts to integrate inclusive planning and design approach within the smart city interventions for enabling universal accessibility.”
Members of the civil society appreciated the efforts in making Kashi more inclusive. They also emphasized on removing intangible barriers – attitudes and perceptions. The consultation was also graced by members from the PwD community. While they were pleased with the continued dialogue in mainstreaming disability inclusion, a need was expressed to make ghats, public buildings, and transport more accessible for persons with disabilities. Moreover, recommendations gravitated towards practical and demonstrational workshops to educate and sensitise officials, elimination of the invisible barriers existing in the city by sensitisation of the larger group, provision of a comprehensive understanding of inclusion and activation of the entire network of the quadruple helix to mainstream the agenda of disability inclusion into urban development.