Google assisting Modi to develop Varanasi as cultural and heritage hub

NEW DELHI: Narendra Modi won his Varanasi Lok Sabha seat with a massive majority and now the prime minister wants to say thank you to the people of the temple town. All election winners pledge sincerely to work for their constituency, then promptly forget about it.

But Modi aims to be different — he’s already kicked off the process of developing Varanasi as a national hub for culture and heritage. Among those said to be working on the project is Google, apart from professionals and consultants engaged in identifying tourism hotspots in and around Varanasi, beautification, landscaping, mapping the city for better movement and security.

That should hopefully ease some of the congestion that chokes the city besides reducing pollution levels and making Varanasi a nicer place to live in and visit. After Modi announced his interest in the development of Varanasi in May, many companies have come forward with proposals to assist the government in projects related to cleanliness, tourism and infrastructure.

Many are in talks with Modi’s team. The PM himself discussed the prospects of using social media for projects on cleanliness and governance with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg during her visit to India last month.

Google declined to comment on whether it’s undertaken any work specific to Varanasi but a spokesperson said, “As part of our ongoing initiative with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to bring India’s national monuments online, we continue to explore opportunities to collaborate further. We have nothing more to share at this point.”

People who have attended two meetings held by Modi to draw up a development roadmap for Varanasi say he has stressed the need to preserve its “pauranik swaroop” (ancient ethos) while implementing the socalled Kashi Vision that is expected to get a high-power launch on August 20. Kashi is the ancient name for Varanasi.

The municipality has been asked to go full steam ahead on a cleanup programme. Besides this, Modi also wants a tourist help centre, an upgradation of the local airport and visas on arrival for eligible international passengers in the next few months.

He also wants to establish a stateof-the-art music academy of global standards in what’s being seen as an attempt to revive the city’s ancient traditions, such as organising the kind of concert festivals that Varanasi was once famous for. Modi wants the proposed institute to act as a patron for musical families from Varanasi, said mayor Ram Gopal Mohale.

A team is working on plans for the institute featuring an auditorium, for which land has already been acquired. Singers Channulal Mishra and Girija Devi have been suggested as the institute’s resident musicians, Mohale said. Some pointers are being taken from PM’s home state of Gujarat.

“The survey and makeover of ghats along the Varuna river on which the old city stands has started and is likely to get over soon,” says Varanasi Development Authority secretary SR Mishra. “They are being modelled on the Sabarmati river front development.”

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