Once globally famed for its high-quality woolen products, Kanpur's Raj-era 'Lal Imli' mill with its imposing clock tower in the Civil Lines area decays unceremoniously in the sun only to dissolve into darkness as the night falls
. This may have become its fate today but it was mills like ‘Lal Imli’ in this industrial city which in their heydays lent Kanpur the moniker of ‘Manchester of the East’.
The Lok Sabha election in Kanpur due on Monday has once again put the spotlight on these decaying mills, many of which, also iconic landmarks, were shut over 25 years ago after not being able to cope with changing times, forcing several skilled factory workers to take up menial jobs. However, this election, it seems, the buzz is more about Kanpur dreaming of becoming a smart city than reviving its old industrial legacy.
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The Centre’s flagship ‘Smart Cities Mission’, is aimed at developing 100 smart cities, including Kanpur, in the country. From party candidates to youths, including many first-time voters, aspire for a cleaner and greener city, holistic traffic management policy, Kanpur metro and jobs, even as this populous city in Uttar Pradesh undergoes urban churning to keep with time and technology. Twenty-one-year-old Ravi Kumar is a first-time voter in Lok Sabha elections and had voted in the last assembly elections in the state.
A resident of old Kanpur, and an IPL fan, he waits table at a posh cafe in the Civil Lines, located near the ‘Lal Imli’ building, to support his education. “I belong to the downtrodden community but I work very hard. I am pursuing my graduation from a college here but, I aspire to become an IAS officer. That is my dream,” says Kumar, and shows a question paper of employee’s promotion exam he just wrote. “I want my Kanpur to be prosperous, and a not a victim of politics, that it has been over the decades. I want a smart city, but more than that, we youth want jobs, so people don’t migrate to other cities,” he said. Ankita, another Kanpur native, pursuing her MBA from IIM-Ranchi, says, she won’t be able to vote this year, as she is interning at a company in Noida, but, besides smart city, she also would like to see “revival” of these mills, which once made the city prosperous and famous. “We must not forget our past, and Kanpur is famous for its mills and as ‘Leather City’.
We must move forward into a brighter future but, we should not neglect our heritage, which gives Kanpur its identity,” she said. But, if the not the mills, some parts of the city is seeing revival of sorts, and changing times is literally symbolised in the restoration of the colonial-era clock tower or Ghanta Ghar, as it is popularly known as. Kanpur Divisional Commissioner and chairman of Kanpur Smart City Limited, Subhash Chand Sharma, said, “We are currently renovating the old clock tower.
The Briitish-era clock has been repaired.” “Our vision of smart city is, as per the vision of the central government, to develop the city with technological interventions, and yet maintain its historical and other aspects. Besides, our plan includes smart roads, proper traffic management system waste management,” he told PTI. BJP candidate for Kanpur seat, Satydev Pachauri has said if he is elected, he will “ensure” that the projects under the Smart City Mission are brought to fruition “without delay”.
Asked about the revival of mills, he, however, said, “I have not assessed their present condition, so, no it is not much on our electoral agenda right now.” Former MLA from Kanpur Cantonment, Raghunandan Bhadoria rues the decay of old mills, and said, “As an MLA, I had once met a central textile minister on the ‘Lal Imli’ issue but in vain.” “Kanpur also wants clean and smart city, and metro. So, our local and central governments will work to realize those dreams,” he said.