Press Release: VSCL and NIUA hold a City Stakeholder Consultation to facilitate and realise the vision of a Sugamya Kashi (Inclusive Varanasi)

Louise Gebbett
Sept. 7, 2021

Press Release:

VSCL and NIUA hold a City Stakeholder Consultation to facilitate and realise the vision of a Sugamya Kashi (Inclusive Varanasi)

National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) in partnership with Varanasi Smart City Ltd (VSCL) organised a city stakeholder consultation in Varanasi on 7th September 2021 to create a collaborative and participatory roadmap towards the vision of Sugamya Kashi (Inclusive Varanasi).

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. 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, including the UK Aid funded case study research being led by GDI Hub as part of the AT2030 programme. 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.

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, etc. to collectively discuss and engage on transforming Varanasi as inclusive and accessible 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 the Disabled Peoples’ organisations and keeping the topic of “Inclusion” always in the spotlight.

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 the 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.

Sh. Pranay 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 approaches 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 the presence of persons with disabilities living in Varanasi. 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.




Established in 1976, the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA, is a premier institute of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India for research and capacity building for the urban sector in India. The Institution has been actively working on bringing forth key areas of concern for urban India to build the urban discourse at various urban scales and is committed to aligning its efforts towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through all its initiatives and programs. It has utilized its competencies in research, knowledge management, policy advocacy and capacity building to address urban challenges and continuously striving to develop sustainable, inclusive, and productive urban ecosystems in the country. It has emerged as a thought leader and knowledge hub for urban development in India and is sought out by both Indian and International organizations for collaborations and partnerships in India’s urban transforming journey.

BASIIC programme

The Building Accessible, Safe & lnclusive Indian Cities (BASllC)” is being implemented by NIUA in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) and support from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the UK Government. The programme is supporting two partner cities (Varanasi and Pune) through a Technical Assistance Support Unit (TASU) established at NIUA. It endeavours to promulgate the tenets of accessibility, safety and inclusivity in the ethos of urban planning and design. This will be achieved through focused policy-level interventions, pilot demonstration of innovative solutions, capacity building and sustaining the above through the application of robust monitoring and evaluation mechanism.


Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) is a research and practice centre driving disability

innovation for a fairer world. Operational in over 35 countries, the hub works with more than 70 partners, delivering projects across a portfolio of £50m. GDI Hub has reached 12 million people since its launch in 2016 by developing bold approaches, building innovative partnerships and creating ecosystems to accelerate change.


AT2030 is a UK Aid funded programme that tests ‘what works’ to improve access to life-changing Assistive Technology (AT) for all; investing £20m over 5 years to support solutions to scale. Led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub and funded by UK aid, the AT2030 consortium brings together partners who haven’t traditionally focused on AT, with experts, innovators and AT users to experiment with new ideas and thinking.

Varanasi Smart City Ltd

Varanasi Smart City Limited (VSCL) has been formed as per the directives of MoHUA, Govt. of India as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) under Smart City Mission of Government of India for implementation of Smart City Projects in Varanasi. The mission aims to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give their citizens a decent quality of life, a clean and sustainable environment through the application of ‘Smart’ Solutions. This Special Purpose Vehicle carries end to end responsibility for vendor selection, implementation, and operationalization of various smart city projects within Varanasi city.