Tracing The History Of The Diwali Forts

October 19, 2016
Diwali Fort Making

Diwali is not only about the lighting of oil lamps and lanterns but also about building mud forts or ‘killas’ and decorating them with little figurines. As a tradition peculiar to the state of Maharashtra, making the forts is a Diwali activity that children especially look forward to.

Noted historian Mandar Lawate traces the origin of the practice to the time when the forts were made of cow dung with ‘durva’ (three-bladed grass) and flowers being placed on it. People then offered the Govardhan puja to the dung forts. “It was also believed that all the good deeds that one performed during the holy month of Kartik would all be in vain if this puja was not performed,” added Lawate.

Reasoning why forts were the chosen subject for this purpose, Lawate said, “Traditionally forts have been the strength of the Marathas and are a symbol of their valour. The people feel a certain pride in the ‘killas’ of the Marathas.”

Hence when the British came to power in 1818 after defeating the Peshwas, the first thing they did was to bring down the forts of the Marathas, said Lawate.

“In his childhood, the Maratha king Shivaji made mud forts, so perhaps that is also another reason why the practice is carried out enthusiastically by children even today. Apparently the tradition of fort-making is present only in western Maharashtra. In places like Marathwada, these killas are not made,” informed Lawate.

Fort making competitions, baked mud forts made by the potters of Kumbharwada, forts made of icing and handcarts full of figurines of warriors to adorn the forts keep this unique Diwali tradition alive.

Picture Courtesy: Jagadamb Mumbai

This article first appeared on the Sakal Times.

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Airoli-Katai Naka Elevated Road Project To Begin In 3 Months

October 18, 2016
Palava bridge to ease traffic

Thane’s member of Parliament Rajan Vichare said on Saturday work on the long awaited 15-km elevated road project from Airoli to Katai Naka will begin within three months. The project is expected to cut down the distance between Kalyan-Dombivali and Navi Mumbai by 7 km. Currently, the commuter needs to take a detour from Mahape or Thane, which adds to the travel time on the congested stretch.

Vichare said, “It (the elevated road) will be convenient for commuters and is being built following public demand. Work on the first phase of the road will begin within three months.” He added, “Along with Kalyan and Dombivali, this road will benefit the residents of Ulhasnagar, Ambernath and Badalapur too.” The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is constructing the elevated road at an estimated cost of Rs 385 crore. The MMRDA has finalised the plan to connect Airoli in Navi Mumbai to Kalyan via a tunnel cutting through the Parsik hill.

In the first phase of the project, which had been in a limbo for the last few months, MMRDA will construct an elevated road of about 900 metres. The MMRDA had earlier floated tenders for the starting phase of the project. Additional Metropolitan Commissioner Sanjay Khandare said, “The work will start as the contract will be given. In the first phase of the project, the MMRDA will construct an elevated road or flyover measuring 1 km, along with a 1.5-km tunnel under Parsik hill.” The three-lane elevated road will be constructed between Bharat Bijlee and Siemens factory, running parallel to the Airoli railway station.

The four-lane tunnel will start from Siemens factory and go all the way up to Shil Phata. An MMRDA official said the project was delayed as they were awaiting approvals from the MIDC as the project passes through land occupied by two companies in the MIDC area. A consultant was also appointed for getting forest clearances, which officials hope to get soon, sources said.

This article first appeared on the The Indian Express.

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Better Infrastructure To Lead You To Palava

September 29, 2016
government plan to improve transport

A 13-km stretch will be widened with concrete roads, which will have electronic sensors that will activate lights to guide motorists.

With Kalyan, Bhiwandi and Dombivli set to become smart cities in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), the process to have better road connectivity in and around these locations has also started — the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) will be spending over Rs 77 crore for widening and construction of a road from Shil Phata Junction to Kalyan Phata Junction.

More than two weeks ago, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had said that his US visit was to sign an agreement with software giant Oracle for making Kalyan, Bhiwandi and Dombivli smart cities.

Laying the groundwork
“MMRDA’s vision has always been to do development in the MMR and provide better facilities to people… we have invited tenders for the widening and construction of a road from Shil Phata Junction to Kalyan Phata Junction. This will definitely solve commuting woes,” said MMRDA Joint Project Director Dilip Kawatkar.

At present, due to bad roads, motorists going to and from Shil Phata to Kalyan have to face a lot of problems, including traffic jams during morning and evening peak hours. In order to solve this problem, the repairing and widening of the road has been taken up. The tenders for the project that were invited state that the final date of submission of bids is October 21.

The scope of the work, which is part of the project cost, includes widening and laying a cement concrete road that is around 13-km long.

At present, the stretch has uneven patches, with monsoon compounding the problem with an increase in the number of potholes.

Smart moves
The company that will bag the contract will have to complete the project in 30 months, including the monsoon. This road will also have electronic sensors, while the bitumen stretches on either side will have electronic sensor pavers.

These will activate the lights, which too will be installed in the road to guide motorists navigate sharp turns.The MMRDA is also planning growth centres around Kalyan, and as part of this, 27 villages surrounding Kalyan and Ambernath taluka will see mega development in the coming years. A private consultant has been appointed, who will be preparing a Detailed Project Report for the same.

The growth centres would come up in over 1,000 hectares; MMRDA plans to acquire 330 hectares of these, a majority of the land is privately-owned, but is lying vacant.

The authority has made it clear that the owners of the land would be made stakeholders in the project and all the people would be taken into confidence before arriving at any decision, so that there is no opposition to the project and problems do not arise during land acquisition. As per the Town Planning Act of 1973, the regional plan of the MMR had also stated how the area can become a successful place for growth centres.

Future planning
The growth centres will be connected through Metro as well as highways and better roads. Every office building in the business hubs will have to have shops and hotels, which will have permission to operate 24×7, so that those working in these hubs can go at these places. There will also be other features in these places, such as smart parking, Wi-Fi connectivity, and smart streetlights, similar to what’s been planned in BKC.

This article first appeared on Mid-Day.

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Smart Technology Can Make Or Break A Smart City

July 15, 2016
Smart technology

Smart cities are the need of the hour and they have to adopt and take advantage of information, communication technologies and data analytics to improve the management of traffic, solid waste, energy, water and citizen services.

Nestled in 330 acres of sylvan surroundings and home to over 5,000 residents, India’s Rashtrapati Bhavan is being given an ‘intelligent’ makeover with smart technologies and devices like smart meters and smart security, water and waste-management solutions besides smart citizen services.

To ensure that all these services are connected and work seamlessly but without destroying the iconic institution’s heritage, the self-sustained presidential estate in New Delhi now has an Intelligent Operations Centre (IOC) that was launched by President Pranab Mukherjee on 19 May.

The IOC system, implemented by International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), has been integrated with the electrical billing system to provide data on consumption patterns of consumers, public and common areas within the estate. Given that Rashtrapati Bhavan consumes over 100,000 units of electricity daily, the move will help optimize energy management.

Additionally, newer eco-friendly technology such as solar power, LED lamps for street lighting and other applications to reduce energy consumptions are deployed. IBM has also mapped all water domain assets such as underground water reservoirs, pump locations and tube well assets the entire water distribution pipeline on a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) layer to enable faster diagnostic and resolution of water incidents, and allow residents to track complaints in real-time.

IBM has also mapped waste management from waste bin collections, rickshaw routes, disposals, landfill, and processing onto its IOC system. A mobile app platform assists teams in maintaining a cleaner estate. Besides, a Citizens Mobile App, created by IBM’s IOC allows residents to report issues using the web and mobile. The data will be supplied to city offices which can use the insights to make informed decisions.

“The move to convert the Rashtrapati Bhavan into a smart city is unique not because of the significance of that institution but because we also had to preserve its heritage, which means that we could not simply redo the place and put up a lot of instrumentation that would mar the look of the place,” Prashant Pradhan, director-smarter planet business, IBM India and South Asia, said.

As with the work done in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, a poster-boy for the government’s Smart Cities vision, a typical smart city would take advantage of information and communications technologies (ICT) and data analytics to improve the management of traffic, solid waste, energy, water and citizen services. While smart transportation can reduce traffic congestion and air pollution with the help of parking meters and sensors, enhancing surveillance systems can reduce the crime rate and create a smart public safety system. A smart city’s power distribution infrastructure would be built on smart grid technologies and integrated with power demand patterns and grid supply variations.

Cisco Systems Inc. has been collaborating with several state governments in India for Smart City projects across areas like surveillance, smart cities, automation, etc. Cisco recently named Jaipur as the first Smart + Connected Community Lighthouse City in South Asia. The Cisco Lighthouse City status credential is assigned to a select list of cities all over the world.

Cisco has also established a Smart City surveillance system in Lucknow with 280 cameras, 10,000 drones and night-vision mobile vans. Smart surveillance projects that drive citizen safety with round-the-clock monitoring will make digital crime fighting a key focus area.

Vizag Smart City is equipped with the Andhra Pradesh (AP) fibre Net, a state-wide broadband project. Cisco has announced an Internet of Everything (IoE) Innovation Centre in Vizag and is also deploying technologies like Smart Wi-Fi, Smart Safety and Security, Smart Lighting, Smart Parking, Smart Transport, Smart Bus Stops, Smart Kiosks, a Remote Expert for government Services (REGS) and Smart Education.

Microsoft Corp. has partnered with the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) in Gujarat to transform Surat; the hub of India’s diamond trade into a smart city. Surat is the fourth-fastest growing city in the world, with a population of 5 million and a business hub that processes 80% of the world’s diamonds and meets 40% of India’s demand for textiles, according to Milind Torawane, Surat’s municipal commissioner. SMC is working with Microsoft and its partners to develop solutions for water management and urban planning (building plan approvals). Surat has already implemented several e-governance and citizen-centric solutions developed on Microsoft technologies, including those for property tax and revenue collections and material management. Microsoft has also created a city dashboard that provides a customized view of key performance indicators for the city.

Palava’s smart technology, for which it has partnered with IBM, also extends to 500 surveillance cameras that capture real-time data and, in future, will support face recognition for entry and have panic alarms every 200 metres. A smart card given to all Palava citizens will allow cashless transactions at retail centres, access to bus service, public Wi-Fi within the city’s premises, buildings and commercial points of entry.

The fact that cities are bursting at the seams is not lost on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which, on 29 April 2015, signed off on a plan to create 100 ‘smart cities’ and the rolling out of a new five-year urban development mission for 500 cities. The combined cost: Rs.1 trillion. This January, the government selected 20 cities, including five state capitals, to launch its larger urban makeover plan—the first phase of the larger plan to set up 100 smart cities. The next round of the competition is to select 40 cities this year.

To be sure, there are major challenges that the government needs to address as it goes about the task of building smart cities. Besides, building a smart city is “not always about IT but is more about smartly designing a city” according to Jaijit Bhattacharya, partner, infrastructure and government services, at consulting firm KPMG.

Bhattacharya pointed out that most of the work that technology companies are doing for the designated smart cities so far has been ‘pro bono’, implying that now tenders will have to be floated to execute the projects. According to Bhattacharya, a “command and control system (referring to the IOC) is important but there is also a need for a common IT architecture for all states, failing which they (the states) will have to retrofit this”.

Another hurdle is that India has a federal democratic structure, so it needs the cooperation and coordination of states, coupled with that of urban local bodies, to build smart cities.

This article first appeared on Live Mint.

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Smart Cities- The Rising Trend

June 25, 2016
Palava-Smart-City-Lodha-India-Mumbai

Find out how urban city development initiatives are fulfiling India’s need to comply with the smart city trend.

Ever since the Narendra Modi-led NDA government assumed office in Delhi, the public discourse on urban development in India has been dominated by “smart cities”. However, debates on this topic have often been misinformed since there is a lack of clarity on what exactly a smart city is. Interestingly, the guidelines of the government’s Smart City Mission itself state that “there is no universally accepted definition of a Smart City” since “it means different things to different people”.

While globally the term has become synonymous with the use of technology and data for improving various aspects of a city, in India the usage has been less precise. Much of the initial discussion implied that smart cities would be entirely new cities. In fact, the 2014 election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party promised to build “100 new cities; enabled with the latest in technology and infrastructure”.

Hence, when the Modi government announced its plan to create “100 smart cities”, the presumption was that India would get 100 new cities. It was only in June 2015 when it officially launched the Smart City Mission that the contours of India’s smart city policy got some clarity.

One year after its launch, it’s now clear that the Smart City Mission is not about building 100 new cities– it instead aims to make existing cities, in fact only certain designated areas within them, smart. While the Mission also requires each city to have a pan-city initiative, the thrust is to develop a compact area within a city through retrofitting or redevelopment of an existing built-up area or greenfield development of a vacant area.

While smart cities in India are now closely identified with the Smart City Mission, the vacuousness of the term has led to it being invoked for various forms of urban development. If we examine just Mumbai and its surrounding areas, we can get a sense of how different kinds of smart cities are sought to be created in different locations.

The many smart cities of Mumbai

Under the Smart City Mission, there are four different smart cities in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region- Greater Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan-Dombivili.

The smart city proposals of these cities focus on developing certain pockets of the city– Lower Parel in the case of Mumbai and Koperkhairane in the case of Navi Mumbai– and also promote the deployment of smart technologies. Interestingly, the municipal corporations of some of these cities had expressed reservations about the governance structure of the proposed smart cities and eventually, none of the cities in the region were selected in the first round of funding under the Mission.

Independent of the Smart City Mission, the City and Industrial Development Corporation, a state government agency, is developing the seven southern nodes– Kharghar, Kamothe, Kalamboli, Pushpak, Panvel, Ulwe and Dronagiri– in its Navi Mumbai (South) Smart City project. The Corporation also has a greenfield urban development project near the new Navi Mumbai airport called the Pushpak Nagar Smart City, spread across 230 hectares. Much of the developments in the Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area, which covers 561 sq.km are also marketed as a “smart city”.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority is the other state agency which has caught the smart city bug. It is developing Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex as a smart city by providing Wi-Fi connectivity, surveillance systems and smart parking facility. It is also developing 5 hubs along the proposed 126-km Virar-Alibaug Multi-Modal Corridor– Vasai-Virar, Bhiwandi, Greater Kalyan, Greater Panvel and Pen-Alibaug– as smart cities.

Along with state agencies, there are also private players which are creating their own versions of smart cities in the Mumbai region. Palava built by the Lodha Group is the most prominent example of a private smart city. It has partnered with IBM to introduce smart governance through measures like intelligent security systems. Another interesting initiative near Mumbai is the Khalapur Smart City where a set of farmers in 11 villages have pooled 3,550 hectares of land to create an integrated township in partnership with the City and Industrial Development Corporation.

Smart Cities as a marketing trope

As the case of Mumbai illustrates, multiple avatars of smart cities are being built in various locations. The narrative on smart cities in India is hence not restricted to cities under the government’s Smart City Mission. Rather, the term is being invoked for a variety of modernist urban projects whether it’s building new cities, applying technological fixes to existing cities, development of hubs along industrial corridors, retrofitting certain areas within a city or building private townships. By invoking the term “smart city”, these varied urban developments are able to legitimise and market themselves better.

Indian cities are dominated by unplanned developments, an informal economy and messy local politics. This urban realty is increasingly coming under challenge in the post-liberalised era with private capital seeking to reshape the nature of the city. In this context, smart cities are being promoted by the state and the market to create more ordered forms of urban development. The term “smart city” has thus become a trope for promoting a variety of capital-driven planned urban initiatives that is at odds with the predominant forms of urban realty in India.

This article first appeared on Scroll.

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Solar Power Succeeds Through The Roof

June 16, 2016
Palava uses solar power

Find out how a higher solar power plant capacity of 525 MW and new technology is going to make the adoption rate of solar power go through the roof.

Educational institutions, commercial establishments and apartment complexes in India are increasingly turning to rooftop solar projects, reducing their power bills and carbon footprint.

India has an ambitious target of achieving 100 GW solar power capacity by 2022, of which 40 GW is expected to come from rooftop solar projects and the rest from other large and ultra mega solar power plants.

At the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, a rooftop solar project meets 20% of the power requirement within the campus. In late 2012, Mahindra Solar One, a Mahindra group firm, won a tender to install solar panels on the rooftops of buildings at the IIT at a cost of around Rs.7 crore. Rooftops of 13 of the academic buildings within the campus are now fitted with solar panels. The project has a total capacity of 1 MW and generates 1.5 million units of electricity in a year.

“Our power consumption is so high that whatever capacity of solar plants we put, it is always going to be less than actual consumption at any given time. So, whatever power we are producing, it is consumed in the campus, particularly within the academic areas like classes, laboratories or offices,” said Chetan Solanki, professor in the department of energy science and engineering at IIT Bombay.

Solanki said the institute has been able to save around Rs.75 lakh in power bills since it started using solar power. The total amount of electricity bill it currently pays is Rs.25-28 crore a year.

Solanki has also incubated a solar power company called Kwatt Solutions Pvt. Ltd at the institute’s incubation centre. So far, the firm has installed 500 kW of rooftop solar panels at four educational institutes in Indore, Hyderabad and Nagpur.

Others such as the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru are also looking at installing rooftop solar power plants.

IIM Bangalore currently uses solar power to heat 60,000 litres of water daily in its hostels, management development centre and all staff quarters. It is also used to generate steam for cooking at the hostel mess, where meals for around 1,000 students are cooked every day.

“We are planning to install a 300-400 kilowatt peak (kWP) capacity solar rooftop power plant. A feasibility study in regard has already been completed,” said Vasudeva M, Manager, electrical section (estates department), IIM Bangalore.

Similarly, IIM Ahmedabad is also looking at installing rooftop solar power plants at most of its new infrastructure within the campus.

Commercial buildings and offices are also plugging into solar energy. Many of the commercial buildings of India’s largest real estate company DLF Ltd, including three shopping malls, have been using solar power for the past three years.

Solar panels installed on the roofs of DLF’s commercial buildings have a total capacity of around 2 MW and can generate an estimated electricity of about 2.5 million units a year. An official of the company said the amount of electricity generated by these solar panels currently makes up only a small portion to its total consumption—in addition, the tariff paid is almost same as grid power.

“However, going forward, we expect solar-based electricity would be cheaper by about 20-25% than grid power. Right now, higher capex has been the biggest challenge so far. But that would soon be over once new technologies come in,” a DLF official said on the condition of anonymity.

Recently, Walmart India announced a plan to install rooftop solar power plants with a total capacity of 5 MW in 15 of its wholesale stores in five states. The company has tied up with Amplus Energy Solutions Pvt. Ltd for the initiative.

Mumbai-based real estate firm Lodha Group is running a pilot project using solar energy at Palava, a 4,500-acre township which it is currently developing in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The rooftop solar panels installed in their residential buildings can generate 62,000 units of electricity, which have led to savings of around Rs.10 lakh since 2012.

“The pilot has been extremely successful, we plan to scale up to 4 lakh units (of electricity) by next year and are also evaluating setting up a solar farm,” said Shaishav Dharia (regional chief executive officer), Lodha Group.

Besides, residences, malls and other commercial establishments, office buildings are trying to harness solar energy and bring down the cost of their daily operation. For instance, 60% of the rural branches (around 150) of a non-banking financial company (NBFC) Fullerton India have started using solar power since the past three-four years.

“We are the only NBFC in India that uses solar energy to power our branches, eliminating the need for diesel-powered generator back-up. As of December 2015, the company has saved 116,000 litres of diesel,” said Rakesh Makkar, (executive vice-president and head of urban and rural business), Fullerton India.

The company plans to add solar energy systems at another 36 of its rural branches by the first half of 2016.

While industry experts said the current phenomenon is “just a tip of the iceberg”, it is expected to pick up as newer technologies enter the space and with the government encouraging to use solar energy by providing subsidies and tax incentives.

As per a report by Bridge to India, a consulting and knowledge services provider, the total installed capacity of rooftop solar power plants stands at around 525 MW as of 31st October, 2015. Of the total, the industrial segment uses about 210 MW, followed by commercial and residences with 172 MW and 143 MW, respectively.

“Adoption rate of rooftop solar power plant is somewhat modest at the moment. It is slightly on the slower side as people take time to spare cash or budget separately for this kind of venture. Nonetheless, it is growing pretty strong. Economics are in their favour mainly,” said Kameshwar Rao, leader (energy utilities and mining), PwC India, a research and consulting firm.

This article first appeared on Live Mint.

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