Development may take different forms depending on the intent of the government.
Though largely it is apparent through infrastructural improvements or technological advancements, in Varanasi, the developmental route has not been limited to these sectors alone, but has also focused on spirituality, traditions and religion.
Though there has been a holistic development of the city that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself represents in the Parliament, the last seven years have seen major strides being made in the area of spiritual tourism, particularly with regard to cleanliness of religious centres.
Kashi, as Varanasi is commonly referred to by its residents, has been a historically revered place with a deep-rooted spiritual ethos that is now being protected with utmost care. Recently, a state-of-the-art facility built with Japanese support, i.e., the International Cooperation and Convention Centre titled ‘Rudraksha’ was inaugurated by the Prime Minister.
Touted as an advanced and well-equipped facility meant to host large seminars and workshops, Rudraksha has the potential to emerge as an ideal venue for intellectual discussions as well as various cultural activities.
In fact, within days of its inauguration, reputed art surveyors and numerous art connoisseurs flocked to Varanasi to witness the marvels of this newly-developed Centre first hand.
Most importantly, unlike many state-of-the-art facilities, this one is inclusive by its very design and character to facilitate individuals needing special care.
Therefore, it is widely expected that art aficionados from across the world would begin to accord priority to Varanasi that would enable the city become a genuine centre of cultural exchange as it was in the years of yore.
Further, while the centre has been developed with the intent of holding cultural programmes, it also possesses the potential to give a solid thrust to trade and business.
In the realm of textiles, with the world famous Banarasi silks and weaving patterns originating from this place, the lives of weavers, handloom workers have taken a turn for the better with schemes in places that specifically benefit this segment.
With Rudraksha developing as a new centre, weavers, officials, entrepreneurs and merchants can get together under a single roof to transform the place into a unique forum meant to blend people from different cultural backgrounds engaging in varied livelihoods.
In the health sector, the region of eastern Uttar Pradesh of which Varanasi is a part was traditionally known to have meager medical facilities. However, with acute planning and rapid pace of decision-making, Varanasi has today emerged as a medical hub for the local residents.
With the establishment of medical colleges in and around the area, facilities have almost quadrupled. Treatment of those diseases which required regular visits to Delhi or Mumbai are now aptly handled in Varanasi itself with adequate infrastructure in place.
Recently, a complete overhaul of the medical setup was undertaken with a 100-bed maternity and child healthcare wing set up within the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in a span of few months. Similarly, a 50-bed district hospital also became functional within months of its expedited approval.
However, no account of Varanasi can be complete without a reference to the ghats of the river Ganges. Better connecting corridors and sanitation facilities have been built along the ghats to make them more tourism-friendly.
For better safety of visitors, particularly women, advanced surveillance cameras are being installed at more than 700 locations within the city and especially at the ghats. Large technology-equipped TV screens have been put up at the busiest junctions to provide information and updates about relevant events and occurrences in the city.
These interfaces have been crucial in providing valuable information to the tourists and visitors about the architectural wonders and crafts related to this historical place. In addition, these screens broadcast the famous Ganga aarti and the main ‘aarti’ at the Kashi Vishwanath temple enabling every passerby to immerse himself/herself in the spiritual experience this holy city has to offer.
Undoubtedly, while maintaining its traditional identity, the city of Varanasi has moved ahead on the path of development incorporating construction works related to a massive National Highway, multiple railway overbridges and flyovers that facilitate better connectivity.
Together with local stakeholders, NGOs,cleanliness workers, the administration has also been working hard to ensure provision of better facilities in the sectors of health, education, sanitation to not only positively impact the lives of citizens but those of tourists as well. At the cusp of tradition and modernity, it is true that a visit to Varanasi with all its aura and spiritual energy is something one should just not miss.