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Smart City – Choosing between a Planned Development & a Development Plan.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, on his 3 Nations tour is bringing once more the Nation into the World focus, therefore sooner than later the World economies would come. Especially to build those 100 Smart Cities. For that is a lot of money and a lot of business. But before that happens, it is important that the Common Man, as we like to call ourselves in India get to know the pros and cons of building ourselves more concrete jungle, in our quest to be called “developed”.

A City is a complex mix of building and infrastructure. But the most important component of a City is the Citizens. Devoid of it, many a Great City has perished & the Civilisation the city harboured followed suit. It is therefore imperative that we strive towards more Climate Resilient Cities, because the Climate is changing. And with every Epoch of Climate Change, Extinction follows!

As per the IPCC 4th Assessment Report, The building sector contributes up to 30% of global annual green house gas emissions and consumes up to 40% of all energy. Given the massive growth in new construction in economies in transition, and the inefficiencies of existing building stock worldwide, if nothing is done, greenhouse gas emissions from buildings will more than double in the next 20 years. Therefore, if targets for GHG reduction are to be met, it is clear that decision-makers must tackle emissions from the building sector. Mitigation of Green House Gas emissions from buildings must be a cornerstone of every National Climate Change strategy. (UNEP DTIE; Sustainable Consumption & Production Branch.)

According to the 2011 India Census, there are about 30 crore houses in the country. The census defines a house as a building or part of a building having a separate entrance from a road, common courtyard, stairs and so on. About 71% were occupied while 7.5% were vacant. In the cities of India 136 lakh homes were vacant. While 111 lakh rural homes were found empty. The above data would be read as a statistical roll out for the untrained eye, but for those who choose to care it shows how “development” as we call it is becoming lopsided. The simple reason being that while of the 136,000,00 homes lying vacant in Urban centres most would be due to following reasons.

1. Occupants were living in an alternate abode within the city or in some other city around the world.

2. It was an “investment” in Real Estate.

3. It was unsold Real Estate inventory.

And if one would delve deep into the reason of empty homes in villages the compelling reason would be that the villager was trying to eke out a living in the concrete jungle we so lovingly call a City.

But very soon, it would perhaps be the city dwellers who would be gasping for the breath of life, if changes which are important and urgent are not addressed by all stake holders.

This article would try and connect unseeingly disparate dots together to create a debate in the minds of the readers to look at events that take place in a more holistic manner to arrive at better building solutions for a Smart City.

We shall look into the reasons as to why Energy Efficient Buildings (EEB) which have the best of Energy Efficiency Measures (EEM) requires to be built in accordance to a mandatory legislation. For today “Green” buildings as we like to call them are not mandatory. And most being built are nothing but a “Green-Wash”. Either due to ignorance or avarice. We shall through this article build up bit by bit why we must look at solutions to build wise. Development is a necessity and it can not be stopped. But it can definitely be made more responsive and in sync with Nature. To do that this article shall dwell on two parts – 1. what a green building actually is and 2. how it can build climate resilient cities.

Not everyone understand why the term “Green Building” is used as an epithet for Energy Efficient Buildings. Therefore lets understand it in layman terms. Experts are excused from reading further.

1. What is Green Building?

A building which during its construction and occupancy, if by utilizing the best of construction methods and practices follow the principle of Reduce – Reuse – Renew – Recycle – Refuse; can be termed as a Green Building.

Reduce –

The building industry is the single largest consumer of all the industrial sectors. A building consumes Steel, Iron, Aluminium, Copper, Nickel, Tin, Cobalt & Various rare earth materials. It uses wires, paints, varnishes which need to be mined. Forest extracts not only means logged wood but with destruction of forests, wild-life too dies. Thus from paper to petroleum, textile to leather; there is almost everything even the mountains themselves, cut into slabs to adorn the floors of the house. Destruction is the first and foremost process of building a modern Building.

By reduction of use in construction materials through efficient design and construction practice; virgin materials need to be extracted less. This helps in retaining the “Green Cover” of the as yet unexplored mines for Ore or Coal. Or building and/or upgrading of existing Hydro-power plants or deep-sea Oil wells. The former inundates vast swats of lush green forest cover, and also most of the time the homes of the city pavement dwellers, who were perhaps proud farmers eking out an honest living and most importantly producing something which no city dweller can ever do – GROW FOOD !

Before the rising backwaters of the dams flooded their homes and sank their hopes for ever.

If one has ever seen a picture of an oil spill on the sea and the associated dead sea-life nothing more needs to be added beyond reminding that with every Kilo-Watt of power produced in India via Thermal (oil or coal fired) power plants; one can in a simplistic calculation consider use of 1Kg or Coal and 1 litre of water to produce the same. The Coal is ripped form the bosom of Earth by a tear called open-cast mining; with rips out every tree & grassland. Destroying the homes of burrowed animals like rabbits and proud tigers alike. In its wake it leaves a slush which contaminates the rivers, which slowly die. Both from reduced rain-fall as well as silt.

While the burning coal creates Green House Gas emissions, the likes of which today plague Indian cities. With every bit of reduction a construction engineer brings into a building project. Sustainability of life continues.

Reuse

By utilizing existing construction materials, through a complete supply chain recycling process and most amazingly by utilizing existing best designs! Yes designs. If one but pauses by any modern township or towers being built around any of the Indian Cities, one would find either flats, row-houses, bungalows of almost the same dimension and shape being built within that very project.

Simply put, a residential tower is nothing but stacking of row-houses horizontally and vertically; with services areas thrown-in. Thus almost everyone is having an identical house, made into an unique home by the way its is lived in! If a developer-builder company, utilizing a little more imagination beyond being swayed by Occidental designs and obscene RoI; could cash in on registering a few best designs and keep building them. It would then be promoting its very own “Signature” Style.

With each new building being built, the design and construction team would be able to keep raising the bar of excellence! For even if a design is the same, each project would throw in its own unique challenges and tweaks would have to be incorporated. But on the flip side the Master Material Sheet would become leaner and better. Design print-outs would be minimized as many details would still be relevant, within the old set of drawings from an earlier project.

Thus by the simple act of Reuse; a building and construction Industry can save life on Earth even while generating financial wealth for itself.

Renew –

The money saved thus could be utilized to buy the E-Paper Printers. Electronic paper, e-paper and electronic ink are display technologies which are designed to mimic the appearance of ordinary ink on paper. Unlike conventional backlit flat panel displays which emit light, electronic paper displays reflect light like ordinary paper. Many of the technologies can hold static text and images indefinitely without using electricity, while allowing images to be changed later. Flexible electronic paper uses plastic substrates and plastic electronics for the display backplane. This in effect would spur growth and business of a different dimension, while help check the destruction of virgin forests. To start with, about a half of the forests that once covered the earth are gone. Every year, another 13 million hectares disappear (although afforestation adds another eight back), and the World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that only about 22 percent of the world’s old growth forests remain intact. The activities of the pulp and paper sector threaten the habitats of several rare wildlife species such as Asian big cats (including tigers), Asian elephant, Asian rhinos, and Orangutans. The remaining natural forests in Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, Russian Far East, Southern Chile and the Atlantic forest region in Brazil are endangered because of growing demand for pulpwood, among other threats. Forests also maintain the world’s abundant biodiversity, essential for life on Earth.

Renewal of life by the simple act of saving forest.

Recycle –

While it sure looks fashionable when a debonair man and a pretty woman tango together to break and destroy all that was a fully functional home around a tap ! (an advertisement by a tap company)

Unfortunately in India, the one that is destroyed and the one that gets built around the famous tap, the décor are “inspired” western designs. Thus near zero in climate responsiveness. The only message its sends out is how to induce further pollution. This unfortunately is the reflection the psychology of the society today. The best of practice would be to become more Oriental than Occidental.

The former is application of mind over matter. The latter is always mindless destruction of everything intelligent and vernacular. Especially in the Oriental context. The deep rooted culture of India has traditionally been towards conservation and recycling. An heirloom gifted to the daughter, the priceless Silk Sari handed down with pride and care. The feeling of pride to sit on the rocking chair which once belonged to the grandfather, when one himself becomes the grandfather. To use left-over of a dinner to cook a tasty & healthy breakfast. To live for generations in a house built by the ancestor. T

he sense of belonging and pride which has slowly but surely crumbled. Leaving the average Indian city dweller confused by the constant pull and push of cross-culture and time. Having forgotten that it is this disconnect from one’s own culture which is the root cause of Global Warming. Mythology are replete with examples of Man-Animal, Man-Plant co-existence. The Kamdhenu, The Kalpa Vriksha both are giver of plenty. A simple yet profound example set by our ancestors that without the trees and animals, humans can’t have their wish fulfilled. Culminating with the supreme example of Rama -Hunmana relationship. A synergy between Man-Animal, both considered as God themselves.

While modern building can be built and are being built from recycled materials as it has started making more economic sense, much still needs to be done when Interiors are designed. A commercial space be a hotel or hospital have constant wear & tear. Renovation is a must. But by allowing intelligence to dictate the norm rather than trend could save lots of money. A corporate bosses Burma teak wood table could be modified to be a receptionists desk, while the old reception table could go into making the internals of storage shelve. The high VoC which most of the adhesives and glues and paints carry, reduce in emitting their noxious fumes as they get older. It is best therefore to retain old furniture, as it is healthier.

The simple act of Recycling not only insures immediate health benefits, the forest remaining intact insures fresh oxygen keeps getting produced to sustain life.

Refuse –

Not many know that in the deep Pacific Ocean there lies a plastic garbage patch. Estimates of size range from 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 sq mi) (about the size of Texas) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch formed gradually as a result of ocean or marine pollution gathered by oceanic currents. The garbage patch occupies a large and relatively stationary region of the North Pacific Ocean bound by the North Pacific Gyre (a remote area commonly referred to as the horse latitudes). The gyre’s rotational pattern draws in waste material from across the North Pacific Ocean, including coastal waters off North America and Japan.

As material is captured in the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually move floating debris toward the centre, trapping it in the region. The primary source of marine debris is the improper waste disposal or management of trash and manufacturing products, including plastics (e.g., littering, illegal dumping) … Debris is generated on land at marinas, ports, rivers, harbour, docks, and storm drains. Debris is generated at sea from fishing vessels, stationary platforms and cargo ships. Pollutants range in size from abandoned fishing nets to micro-pellets used in abrasive cleaners. Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, the photo-degraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms that reside near the ocean’s surface. In this way, plastic may become concentrated in neuston, thereby entering the food chain.

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals & fish, many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals. Besides the particles’ danger to wildlife, on the microscopic level the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs. Aside from toxic effects, when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal. (Text edited from Wikipedia).

When residential or commercial society post occupancy, refuse using of plastic and utilize proper waste disposal. Refuse application of polymer paint to their furniture or are careful when the materials are being used during interiors, they are saving the environment from degrading further. It would be good to remember that the salt we eat needs to be made out of drying out sea water. Humans already have plastic flowing in their blood stream, by refusing and limiting the use of plastic and other toxic materials into their building pre and post occupancy. One would be perhaps saving their own life.

The above 5-R’s constitute a “Green Building”. And thus by building or buying into one, every person contributes in doing his/her bit in saving the Environment.

2. What is a Climate Resilient City?

The United States of America have the following Climatic Zones – Tundra, Sub Arctic, Highlands, Continental Humid, Mediterranean, Marine West Coast, Desert, Steppe. The Europe has the Following Climatic Zones – Tundra, Sub Arctic, Highlands, Continental Humid, Mediterranean, Marine West Coast, Desert, Steppe.

The Sub Continent of India has the following – Highland, Humid Sub-Tropical, Tropical Wet and Dry, Arid, Semi –Arid, Tropical West.

If one goes for a tour of the Europe and North America one would find buildings built in accordance to their climatic conditions. Thus their City skyline too looks more or less the same.

The skyline of Indian cities also match and feel like any European or American city.Even though we don’t come anywhere close to their climatic conditions. Nowhere in the west would one find a copy of the Indian vernacular architecture. We on the other hand also feel proud to not have a single building designed as per Indian Architecture.

The swanky glass encased building in the long cold winter months, in the American & European countries help trap whatever sunlight available, causing a green house effect within the building. It helps in enhancing the warmth the Air-Conditioners create. Saving precious energy and fuel. With hardly 80+ days of Sunshine it is a smart thing to do in Europe.

Most SME business, in the equally swanky glass encased commercial buildings & shopping malls of India close down within the 5 years of operation as the 200+ days of Sunshine requires the Air-Conditioners to constantly hum in its effort to cool the building, while people sweat under the collars with the induced green house effect a glass house brings as a default. It also drills a large hole in their pockets.

When we start building climate responsive buildings, we would be creating a Climate Resilient City. Indians are by default intelligent and literate. But as with most around the world less educated about the manner in which their life-style affect the health of the planet. An erudite person would consider it foolish to design a wash-room with toilet paper instead of a health faucet. According to a report by David Braun of the National Geographic wrote in the World Watch Magazine worldwide, the equivalent of almost 270,000 trees is either flushed or dumped in landfills every day and roughly 10 percent of that total is attributable to toilet paper. India which traditionally washed itself find wiping more fashionable and thus design there 5-star Hotels similarly. Somewhere we have not got over in wiping a white….

Black or Grey water can be recycled and reused. Making of proper toilets is the beginning of building a Smart City.

A Swwacch Bharat.

The destructions of forests and natural habitat worldwide are leading to catastrophic changes in the weather pattern. The modern life-style must factor in climate change and global warming. And cities are the principal drivers towards this unwarranted change. For all the industry thrive upon the insatiable demand of a city. The need of creature comfort has spurred the race to build automobiles, appliances, accessories which have become more important than the basic building blocks of civilization. Food – Cloth – Shelter.

We are living on the Edge.

The unseasonal rain-fall India experienced early March 2015, has wiped out the Rabi Crop. In Sangli, Maharashtra 26,000 hectares of crop was lost. Pan India the loss is already a cause of concern as we are yet to fully recover from the $7 Billion loss Cyclone Hud Hud caused last year. More disasters are to happen, that we can no more stop. But we can surely adapt.

To conclude, when India builds its 100 smart cities, it should not only look at development but also the development plan. This is what the United Nations Mitigation and Adaptation Plan requires us to do.

 

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Climate Change and Urban Resilience – The Role of Green Building Councils


NEW YORK, 24 June 2013UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlström today welcomed a proposal that “resilient cities” should be one of ten top global priorities in the post-2015 development agenda.

Ms. Wahlström said: “UNISDR has been running the Making Cities Resilient Campaign for three years now and our experience of working closely with both capital cities and small municipalities tells us that urban resilience needs to be at the top of the global development agenda. Many Mayors and local governments around the world are leading the way in reducing risk.” The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN), led by the eminent economist and adviser to the UN Secretary-General, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, has set out ten goals in an Action Agenda for Sustainable Development in the form of recommendations for Sustainable Development Goals. One of the ten goals — Goal 7 — is to “empower inclusive, productive and resilient cities”. Under this goal, one suggested target (Target 7c) is to ensure the integration of “climate and disaster resilience into investments and standards”.

The world’s governments agreed last year at the historic Rio+20 Summit to adopt universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015. To support this agreement, the SDSN has mobilized global technical expertise to identify ten “priority challenges” or potential goals, each accompanied by a set of targets, which can guide global efforts to achieve sustainable development during the period 2015-2030.

A stand-alone goal on cities will serve to “mobilize and bring together the efforts of multiple actors and stakeholders such as local authorities, national governments, businesses, knowledge institutions and civil society across a range of urban issues such as disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation”, according to the Report. “It is essential that the world rallies around a post-2015 global goal to advance urban resilience and minimize creating new disaster risks and adding to the economic losses caused by increased exposure to natural hazards.” From 2011 to 2020 alone, investments in urban development are projected to increase by 67 per cent globally. Much of this new urbanization will unfold in hazard-exposed regions threatening global resilience and sustainability unless governments and businesses start incorporating disaster risks into decision-making. The recently released report by the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 agenda also echoes the SDSN report’s emphasis on addressing urban challenges. In no uncertain terms, it proclaims: “Cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost. “The recommendations of the SDSN and the High Level Panel reports are expected to serve as critical inputs to the deliberations that governments are undertaking to decide on a development roadmap that will go into effect in 2015.

This monsoon season when Uttarakhand was devastated by the mighty land-slide that followed a cloud burst; our Political leaders were quick to lay the blame on the opposition and patting their own back as how they have only let a few thousand die,( about 5000+ & about the same numbers missing) while saving 110,000.

5600 dead. Montserrat island which is a British Overseas Territory has a population of 6000. That would leave a population of 400 – the population of Vatican is 500. (read least populated countries of the World )

The Falkland Islands  archipelago located in the South Atlantic Ocean has a population of 4000. An entire foreign Nation’s population + 1500 and yet our Political masters have the guts to argue and make the matters petty as was seen in several TV News channel. Disregarding the gravity, refusing to learn nothing from it. And none even mentioned Climate Change.

This monsoon season while our Political leaders, mull over grave impacts on Law and Order situations which they claim to have averted, by sacking an Honest and Upright officer who took on the mighty sand mafia…

Similar mud slinging, but the most sinister part observed by the common man was not a single Political stalwart made a comment…

For they know not that the officer was not only doing her immediate duty but was by her act saving the Nation from a calamity which is waiting to happen.

Whenever there would be unregulated exploitation of Mother Nature, her vengeance – terrible and devastating would befall on all of us!

While righteous anger and angst is understandable, before we the “common men & women” spite the politician-mafia nexus must look deep within ourselves.

Will the need of that much of extra sand diminish if we agree not to do the “interior decoration” of our homes every 5 years just to show that we have arrived ? Tearing down the fine polished Italian marble floor which just 5 years ago one was swooning and fawning over while giving that house-warming party?

Will the need for that much of extra sand diminish if we agree not to by that second home ( actually the 3rd or 5th ) which we will hardly ever occupy just because it is – oh! so far away from the madding crowd…in the lush green vale full of fresh air……which the bulldozer of the promoter would destroy and we too with our smoke belching SUV’s.

Just as we all are directly or indirectly involved in the devastation of forests. Our ever more demand for fine wooden furniture, carved wood main-door and that perfect wooden flooring makes us partner to the crime.

How difficult is it to understand a situation like the Jamuma river angry and uncontrollable thundering down from the Himalayas to wipe out a large swat of New Delhi, the so called city of the Rich and the Powerful ?

It is not for no reason our ancestors revered Nature as Mother Goddess. Just as a mother would, she nurtures..she admonishes again and again…her intensity of punishment increase in direct proportion to the level of unruliness. Uttarakhand was a warning, just as Hurricane Sandy was. If we keep on ripping her belly and banks, we will pay for it.

The UNISDR – Making Cities Resilient cannot happen without understanding who the stake-holders are. And the most important stakeholders do not live in the cities. But in the far-flung country side between rivers and mountains from where the bounty of Nature is pillaged to feed the Cities. 

The problem is that without development the modern human civilization would wallow in decadence and perish. Creating chaos far greater than what is now. This fact can’t be denied or ignored. But solutions which are there must be presented in a proper way.

This is where the role of the Green Building Councils comes to play. They are a consortium of Business organization who wishes to make a difference. Who can make a difference.

The approach, in my understanding has to be two pronged. The first is to abate the destruction and the second is to mitigate it.

To abate the situation of people wanting to build more just because they can afford to must be stopped. Now legally no one can do that, but socially it is possible. By engaging thought leaders and socially popular personalities the Green Building Council must show and rightly so..that the Taj Mahal, the Czars Palace, the Vatican and many more would not have retained the “wow!”  Factor had the owners of these amazing buildings changed the interior décore every 5th year.

The simple though of antique is good must be made popular and fashionable at the same time. It can and will save a lot of environmental damage. While the manufacturing industry may suffer a slowdown initially, the service industry especially operation & maintenance would get a boost. We must argue the fact that their can never be “sunshine” everywhere at the same time. Inflation in currency or depression both give equal opportunity to growth.

What is opportunity for some can be misfortune for another. Capitalism however smart, still in some way follows the laws of Nature. The Carrot – The Rabbit – The Snake – The Mongoose each have a different perspective on opportunity and misfortune.  But if the rabbit lets even a little of the carrot uneaten the plant can regenerate back to life.  It is called Sustainability.

That is the art Business must adopt.

This brings us to the next solution – to create a conducive environment where waste plastic and other discarded material or composites can be used (10 Cutting-edge, Energy-efficient Building Materials). The business industry has already come up with some ideas,  what is required is to make them popular and indigenize them where ever possible. Some ideas are very futuristic(10 Building Materials from the Future), but if the Green Building council along with the CIICESD or the WBSCD come together, even these products may get created from recycled products or waste.

The infrastructure industry must make mandatory use of Composite materials and the implementation of cutting-edge technologies, such as nanotechnology,(read more). This is perhaps the only way we can limit the dependency on traditional building materials.

Moreover, there must be a legislation that industry use composite materials made of waste plastic to build their factories and warehouses. And slowly but surely try to reduce the size of the garbage island using (How the oceans can clean themselves: Boyan Slat at TEDxDelft). Once the idea is understood by all and sundry that money can be made business will surely boost the concept the clean technology propogators have been trying to introduce. (Green Business Ideas : Tall Buildings made from waste plastic is possible & its LCA is cheap – a builders delight and boon to Environmentalist)

It is one thing to be ruffled by the inconsiderate manner some people try and exploit nature for short term gains. To reverse the trend the mind and heart must think sustainable.  It is only then the world’s governments which agreed last year at the historic Rio+20 Summit to adopt universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015 would act.

It is only then – “Many Mayors and local governments around the world are leading the way in reducing risk.” may also become true in India and around Nodia, Uttar Pradesh. (read more)

 

 

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World Environment Day – the don’t practice but preach day!


AHow many times does it happen to almost all of us that we listen to a captivating lecture or a documentary or even a film and connect to it completely ? While walking out of the hall, you almost bond with complete strangers and some have animated discussions on the subject while reaching the exit gate, exchange contact details and as the vehicle you sit in moves, start the process of completely forgetting about the episode and focus on the day ahead ?

This is what happens to all of us especially those who have taken upon themselves to do public good….that is become a Politician. Everyday most of them think how they can do some good for the public, especially in India. And the World Environment Day is no different.

One can not fault any person and especially those who have taken upon themselves to do public good be focused in doing good in one sector alone. They need to focus in all areas lest they be seen as partial. Therefore in a prelude to the Environment Day our thoughtful leaders did think of doing some more good. And as an observer of the good our leaders bestow upon ourselves,this article would try and record them with a perspective.

CMumbai, is a city which is situated in the western coast of India, and very close to the famed Western Ghats, which the UN incidentally has declared as a very fragile and varied ecosystem which needs to be protected. And our thought full leaders both at the Centre & State who’s heart beats for the äam aadmi,(common man)  always eager to eliminate poverty, can not but come up with gem of ideas to improve the lot of the people, even at the cost of throwing away all the recommendations which the Ministry of Environment and Forest ( MoEF ) may have put.

It was mooted sometime ago that the city of Mumbai must become World class and some even wanted it to be better in comparison to Shanghai in China. As to why a city from China was chosen as an example instead of EIU’s 1st ranked Melbourne Australia, which is still considered to be the top most when we rank it in the liveability index simply beats me.

DThe Economist Intelligence Unit Liveability Survey liveability index rates each city on a scale of 0-100 based on 30 indicators, grouped in five categories.  Weights ranging from 10 to 25 percent are assigned to each category to determine the overall rating.  The EIU’s categories, weights and indicators are as follows:

  • Category 1: Stability (25%) (prevalence of petty and violent crime; threat of terror, military conflict and civil unrest/conflict)
  • Category 2: Healthcare (20%) (availability and quality of private and public healthcare; OTC drug availability; general health indicators adapted from the World Bank)
  • Category 3: Culture & Environment (25%) (climate; corruption; social/religious restrictions; censorship; sports/culture availability; food and drink; consumer goods and services)
  • Category 4: Education (10%) (availability and quality of private education; public education indicators adapted from the World Bank)
  • Category 5: Infrastructure (20%) (quality of road network, public transport and international links; availability of good quality housing; quality of energy and water provision; quality of telecommunications)

The overall Liveability Index 2012 is an integration of categories such as demographic, education, health and medical standards, safety, housing option, socio-cultural-natural environment, economic environment, and planned environment. It identifies those areas where progress is being made or maintained and areas where we need to be vigilant and allocate resources in order enhance its prosperity levels. In addition, it has taken a holistic approach in order to gauge the status of liveable cities in India by taking into consideration both, urban and rural factors. A city is termed as liveable if it provides a favourable living environment to its residents and indirectly benefits the people who visit it. The favourable environment comprises of various measurable factors such as, presence of quality education and health institutions, planned environment, appropriate infrastructure, safety of the people, strong administration etc. It has to do with answering questions like ‘can I live here happily with my family’? This goes beyond quality of life which is merely a single construct and a part of liveability. Similarly, for corporates who require well-connected roads, regular supply of power, skilled employees etc. for their business processes.

While none of our cities figure in the World top ten, by comparing our cites internally….

Liveability Index 2012

Highlights

  • New Delhi losses out by scoring high on the crime parameter.
  • Chennai grabs the numero uno position by beating Delhi, which was stable with its 1st rank for the last two years
  • Hyderabad is spotted at 2nd position and gained two positions
  • Other two top metros, Mumbai and Kolkata slide down from their previous ranks and are placed at 3rd and 7th position respectively
  • Kolkata arises as the city with the best supporting infrastructure in terms of residence, drinking water, source of lighting etc.
  • Major positive as well negative shifts are noted in the ranks of few cities such as Vijayawada, Gurgaon, Kozhikode, Varanasi, Ludhiana, and Puducherry etc.
  • The index provides insight into the quality of life available to people and provides evidence on the future state of the city in terms of its liveability.

South Indian cities dominate the top ten cities slot as Nagpur, Pune, Nashik, Madurai and Bengaluru exhibited a lot of improvement and have significantly risen from their previous low ranks. (more).

EWhile New Delhi could be considered as the King of Indian cities,where I schooled from and Mumbai the Queen where I found my livelihood, seeing the lopsided development which has no direction makes one wonder as had it not been for the people of this city and some very concerned and able people especially those who are connected to the Advanced Locality Management created by Mr. Verien Merchant in 1996 and supported by many around the city. This beautiful city would have sunk.The ALM Warriors (read more) as they are called are the need of the hour and not only in saving this city from filth but also in the process save the environment from degrading further.

The onslaught on Mumbai by vested interest is ceaseless. Plans to usurp an open space (The Royal turf club)  in guise of developing it into an world class park for the public is nothing but a sham. Because, it is but obvious that there would be some commercial activities planned around it which would be controlled and captured by those who are in power. One needs to look into the history of encroachment and the Builder-Mafia-Politician nexus to believe otherwise.

FNo urban planning is Eco-friendly because we have the unflinching ability to pour concrete in every square-foot of open space we get in our hands in the name of development. Preservation of eco-system which has been undisturbed for the last hundred year since the development of the city as important as preserving the lively hood of more than many poor labourers who maintain the said open space presently. While none can be against a proper approach to development; evidence show that the administration can not be trusted to safe-guard what belongs to the Planet first, its people later and to the rulers never!   An open green patch of land!

Read The Green Roots of Turkey’s Urban Unrest.- The street protests that spread from Istanbul to some 60 cities around Turkey in recent days have focused on a broad range of grievances, particularly what some see as the unresponsive nature of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the initial spark was a government plan to uproot hundreds of trees and turn a park abutting Istanbul’s Taksim Square (interactive panoramic view) into a shopping mall.

The most important factor is that open spaces allow percolation of water & growth of trees which provides us with the much needed oxygen and controls the much dreaded carbon. And without ground water & air their can not be life.

The tragedy is we have set goals such as Environment Day, Earth Hour which starts and stops within the 24 hours of its arrival for most. And for our administrators it is but just a notation in their day planner, wherein a short half-hour or half-day function suffices with a meaningless gesture amongst equally hollow sound of applause.G

But that applause would soon be met with a deafening silence. As the elixir of life – Water ! becomes more dearer by the day due to the short sighted polices of those who are meant to govern.

One must pause to understand that civilization rose to its pinnacle on the fundamentals of  FOOD – CLOTHING – SHELTER. That is the basis of modern economics. In  Hindi we say – Roti (food); Kapada (cloth) aur (and) Maakan (shelter)

{Roti denotes sustenance without which life is impossible; Kapada denotes clothing but also captures the essence of the service and manufacturing industry while Maakan takes care of the infrastructure sector}

But human greed wants to mirror this datum into SHELTER – CLOTHING – FOOD.

Somewhere in the development of modern humans the mental make-up took a turn for the worse where developmental agenda started focusing less on sustenance and sustainable practices and more on self aggrandizement. The hoarding of riches outstripped the need to preserve wealth.

Environment is about sustainability and the planet we call Earth became sustainable to support life in a long-drawn continuous process. The next time we should declare the beginning of the Earth & Environment Year ! And follow it through till each city-town-village of our Country and the World can safely vouch that the day of a better Environment has begun.


 

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Green Business Ideas – Less known inventions may have answers to CDM


Once in a lifetime, the World sees a sea-change and the Civilization as we know it takes a quantum leap. Historians mark it later as an ‘age’. We are familiar of the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, the Industrial Age, the Atomic Age and presently

The Climate Change & Economic Meltdown Age.

Both can be averted, should the Pundits of KP2 understand what should be considered as a true clean development project and allow for financial support.There has been amazing inventions which cut across all sectors – Housing, Transport, Food, Clothing, Energy Efficiency.

We must herald in the Renewable Energy Age.

While most of them can be found under the search term “future”; what is most important is that there were some which once could have been termed as future but now been relegated to the failed past. Now that they have failed during their launch does not necessarily make the invention a failure. It was more of an marketing and economic failure than the failure of the invention itself.

Segway

It 2009 Segway the inventor of the battery operated 2 wheel transport system came up with the P.U.M.A. along with GM and it was supposed to be launched in 2012. With hardly a fortnight left in the year, it is obvious that success did not kiss the feet of this invention. Just as the Segway is more of a tourist attraction than a serious alternate Urban transport even in India and other Asian countries where if popularised (By adding a bicycle seat and more ergonomics. Once past the novelty factor, one seriously looks for a little comfort)  and given a  rebate in price many would definitely opt for, albeit with a little nudge from the Government as mandatory, at least in the seriously congested Burroughs of our Mega Cities. We could begin especially in the High-street market areas, where parking becomes a serious problem and can be avoided to a great extent, yet help commuters negotiate the distances which they otherwise would want a transport too.

Piezo Electric tiles

The next which allures me is the Piezoelectric tiles. Till date we have only six locations where it has been effectively used. Where as the potential of this is so huge. Especially again in India and Asia as a whole where density of population is immense. In my article Green Business Ideas :Bombay can produce 2MW / day of Electricity by just adding Piezoelectric tiles on railway stations.would indeed be a great CDM idea, and I’m sure Indian scientist could definitely indigenize what the UK, US, Hong Kong and Japan are using at their walk ways and metro rail stations.

Combining this with the piezoelectric parking lot, which the west is seriously looking into we in India could solve a great extent of our electricity problems. As in the megalopolis of India, the density of population which is a bane for most Urban development project would become a boon. In my limited understanding, the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) would greatly benefit should we allow the piezoelectricity to be harnessed in the same manner as in JNNSM. A public-private partnership where the energy generated by the populace is given back to them for common good. It would also help reduce the enormous load the existing power plant have in its effort to supply to the City at the cost of a village. As an egalitarian society we must not just strive for  equality but also seen to be doing so,

Moreover, it makes perfect business sense and CIICESD, which is in the front-line for sustainability in business must make it their case and make aware the opportunities in piezoelectricity to the enterprises under its membership.

Moving onwards we have extremely superb potential in Felix-Solar panels. While it is true that a wide application is happening with it, what I don’t see as an Energy Efficient Building designer the application of it in India’s swank and energy guzzling glass buildings.

The most innovative Green Business idea for it was to build a curtain with it. Which MIT did. But if we want efficiency we need to design it as we would do with a standard SPV installation, giving it the same inclination while facing south. To be exact louvred blinds and place it inside the glass wall. It would not only act as a shading device but also capture the sunlight and convert it into energy much more efficiently than the concepts presently available. In fact almost all the prime business districts of Nehru place in New Delhi, Nariman Point in Mumbai and the new centres of Gurgoan and Bandra-Kurla complex in these cities can avail the advantage. And it is most suited for south facing windows. And in-fact in some cases it is the only solution because the roof area is usually taken up by host of plant and machinery required for a modern building. Those with large East-West facing glass buildings need not despair as solution for them too are available, which by far would be the most innovative if implemented.

This concept would also be most useful for Hospital and Hospitality which have many windows which can be put on good use. Imagine the south wall of major hospital having solar louvres ? It is already being done in the west. The power generated can directly of-set the cost of cooking food for the in-patients. Which also consumes CNG. While one can always argue the RoI of piped gas to that of Solar, but we are talking of Climate change mitigation not a business proposition. And for business proposition we already have the RESCO’s offering Solar PV solution in OPEX format.

 

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The BASIC need to build Resource Efficient & Climate Responsive Cities to avail GCF


When I wrote the article Bangkok floods – Next, New Delhi ? and followed it many moons later with Hurricane Sandy & Cyclone Nilam – “Our cousins would be visiting soon” we had skirted from UNFCCC – Cancun and were preparing to wipe out Doha with the same intensity as Typhoon Bopha,which tore through Philippines leaving 902 dead and 80,000 homeless.

Should the BASIC, LDC & Small Island Nations believe that things would be built on the outcomes of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Action Plan; post Doha they need to do some serious review and approach the issue with innovation.  The idea of enhancing the collective ability to discuss climate change under the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities in facing the adverse effects of climate change should be re-written.

If one understands the internal compulsions of EU & USA, it would be clear that “Enhancing the ability of developing countries to undertake nationally appropriate mitigation actions that are supported and enabled by financial resources and technology transfer from developed countries pursuant to the Convention”; – would remain a very clever draft on paper till another clever draft takes its place. After all which superpower wants to create another superpower, that too at its own expense ?

The only way for removal of barriers to technology support and transfer to be provided to developing countries pursuant to the Convention would come when at least in the BASIC countries, which have the most wherewithal and therefore the least chance of being clubbed with the LDC’s and Island Nations; swiftly put in place a loss and damage measurement mechanism along with enhancing operational action on capacity building  with smarter trade treaties with the Developed World. The concept of which I will expand in the later paragraphs.

While China along with India too is unhappy with the lack of commitment and silence from developed nations especially on the question of finances, intellectually property rights and technology transfer and equity. Together they are the next rising stars of the world economy. And everyone including the BASIC members themselves know that. This very reason would limit any serious commitment from the financially troubled EU and the USA.

Add to that the recent comment by President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday – “For Russia to be sovereign and strong, there should be more of us,..I am sure that a family with three children should be the norm for Russia. But much needs to be done to make this happen.” Putin said in his annual speech to the Federal Assembly of both houses of parliament.

By the time the UNFCCC meets for CoP 19 in Eastern Europe, the USA and others would have calculated how much GHG the expected population rise would produce and factor that with the India + China population and throw up their hands in despair. But, if one must be fair, there is truth in this. One of the biggest challenges to Climate change mitigation would be the huge population we India + China possess.

And while we await an innovative idea about how we make a few million Russians out of Indians & Chinese and thus solve the Russian population problem and ours too; we need to seriously prove that our burgeoning population does not harm or come in harms way due to the vagaries of Climate Change.

Almost all Asian and South East Asian Countries have high density population in very small land-mass. So much so that Historical cities, which were built near the confluence of rivers and sea and the deltas have encroached the flood-planes. In the Island city of Mumbai, one would find shanties perched precariously just above the high-tide. Therefore in an unfortunate event of Tsunami or Cyclone loss of life and property is colossal.

How then it be possible to make a difference to the Climate Abatement and solve the crisis of the Cities ?

For that let us look as an example the city of Mumbai. To de-congest it we need to create business centres away form the main city. And to make the business centre successful we need to create residential townships. This is already been set into motion at Ulwe village area of Navi Mumbai, where the  Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City complex in Navi Mumbai spread across 135 acre is also earmarked. In an unusual diversification, the Anil Dhirubai Ambani Group will build integrated townships, residences, hotels and commercial spaces through a joint venture with Chinese giant Dalian Wanda Group.

This is a classic example of Sino-India business relationship which would have great bargaining power across the oceans to have technology transfer happen. Should it be developed in the lines of a climate resilient city, which it must, the EU and the USA would be looking to do business with it and would thereby transfer the technology they posses to make it a 100% Green township.

With more such projects encouraged, albeit in less Eco-sensitive zones and with proper diligence to Bio-diversity, none of the issues of technology transfer and related matter especially – …nationally appropriate mitigation actions that are supported and enabled by financial resources and technology transfer from developed countries pursuant to the Convention would matter. Because with each import of the technology transfer done to the developing world, the technology provider would need to discount the price of the plant & machinery or consultancy sought,  to avert climate change. This could be one of the smart trade treaty. Let the BASIC block allow entry of those goods which factor the “rebate” of climate related loss the developing nations have faced and is in line with the – loss and damage measurement doing the rounds at Climate meets.

There is a difference between begging for alms and negotiating the price of a technology which the west anyway need to sell to boost its sagging economy. The position across the table completely changes. There is a lesson which the LDC’s and Island Nations can learn. If they come as a group and provide business opportunities to the BASIC block; by virtue of it’s negotiating power the BASIC would make the west pay their way out of the mess they have created, even in those countries who are to weak too do anything today.

 

 

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Green Business Ideas – Sell water at the price of petrol – and reap the ‘fringe’ benefits.


While the United Nations and the top environmental organization around the world are working non-stop to spread the knowledge on the importance of Food and Water, their success in limited. The reason is simple. They haven’t yet shown the money making aspect of it.

Selling water is the Next big business which can make a pauper a King in the coming years. In this article, I shall attempt to give a few ideas of how to amass the wealth. But before that let me set the perspective.

It is a common knowledge that the World’s fresh water is only 3% of the total available water. 97% of the water on Earth is salt water. Of the 3%, water found at the Earth’s surface in lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and swamps makes up only 0.3% of the world’s fresh water! 68.7% of the fresh water on Earth is trapped in glaciers. 30% of fresh water is under the ground.

It is also a fact that the World is heading towards a Food crisis, with the World population heading 9 Billion strong and slated to grow, despite the Climate change due to Global Warming. And it must be fed. And to grow food one needs fertile land and water. And therefore one does not need anyone to have an IQ above 300 to deduce the situation as DIRE. As with ever increasing unplanned Urban sprawl, land use change  is happening at break-neck speed, which paves over fertile agricultural land into “housing plots”  and in the process pushing the agricultural land either into virgin forests or less cultivable areas where only meagre existence is possible, possibly because of a lake or pond near by, which fills up during monsoon. But as soon as these areas becomes habitable, being at the Urban fringe the sale value of land far outstrips the reason to maintain it for agriculture. Thus lakes and ponds along with small rivulets get filled up and paved over to create another concrete jungle.

In the sate of Maharashtra, India; 5000  Villages do not have a drop of Water. Similar are the tales in other states of India. They have to rely everyday for water-bearing tankers for even the very basic need of cooking and hygiene.Almost all the big metropolis bring water to the city by denying the rightful owners of the lakes in far-off villages; Delhi 300 Km , Mumbai 100km. Almost 80% of the people living in the City of Mumbai have no idea about the source of the potable water reaching their homes daily – river Bathsa , Vaitarna, are names  not known to many.

A south  Mumbai ( posh) locality girl when asked on TV about the source of the water, considers that water comes from the tap ! Sure it does so that one can have a pool party while the people of the villages near the rivers and lakes, which feed the cities walk around 1000 KM per year, just to collect drinking water. Some need to walk as much as 5KM per day. As it is not possible for a mother to carry all the water required, they press into service girl-child as small as 8-10 yrs old to help collect water!

Before the British ruled India, in the Kingdom of Mysore (a district near Bangalore, Karnataka, India ) had around 40,000 lakes. The Maharaja of Mysore used to spend from his treasury 50% of the expense required and the other 50% came from the villagers either in form of money or labour for the up-keep of these water bodies.As there was involvement of all, there was a sense of belonging among the people and the lakes thrived. With the fall of Tipu Sultan, the British started to rule the state. Among many atrocities, the greatest folly they committed was that while they taxed the people of the state for use of water, they did not contribute in either up-keep or creation of new water bodies. This led to people slowly lose the bond they had with the lakes and ponds and in time they were lost. The story was the same all over India under British rule. At one time New Delhi boasted of nearly 800 ponds. In time Indians valued land more than water, and price of land with modern times rose to such an extreme that today we see ponds and lakes as prime real estate, waiting to be filled up and built upon !

As surface water bodies were destroyed, we in our need of water, dug deeper and deeper bore-wells reaching to the very bed-rock. We have sucked out water to such an extent without keeping any provision for replenishment that almost all our Megalopolis have scarcity of water. Mumbai has a short-fall of 1.8 Million litre of water per day!

We have even managed to empty the underground water table. It takes 100,000 years  for rainfall to percolate and fill a water table!

Our  lackadaisical attitude, combined with greed and ignorance is such a heady cocktail that today we have been able to completely kill 600KM of the sacred river Yamuna ( all other Indian rivers have more or less the same fate) so much so that the water flowing in it is nothing but discharge from the sewers of New Delhi which reaches the holiest city of Vrindawan. Not content with that, the Industrial Estate which were set up at the fringe of the Megalopolises; with complete disregard to rules and in connivance with State the Pollution Board & Environment officials dig deep-bore wells and discharge highly toxic waste into the water table. Substance like Arsenic, Fluorides, Lead, Mercury and Cadmium either go into the Rivers directly or into the ground-water table. It has been found that around certain regions of Delhi, the Spinach which is grown and considered a very healthy food, has a few 100 times more than the “permissible” ( a corrupt corporate practice followed all around the world ) limit as envisaged under the food & drug act and the pollution control board.

And we all know that, lead -arsenic-mercury-cadmium poisoning can not be good for the health.  Yet, successive governing agencies have not only allowed industrial discharge into the rivers and aquifers, but have been lax in checking or finding a solution more conducive. Furthermore treated industrial water, foolishly thought to have been completely decontaminated is used for irrigation, thus permanently poisoning not only the area around the industrial waste but everywhere and everyone who come in contact with the food or food product around the Country.

This knowledge is slowly percolating down the thoughts of the common person through sustained campaign by NGO’s. And they are starting to ask questions to the administration which in India has a default setting of being reactionary rather than pro-active. The link in above image  tells us how much percentage of water is safe drinking water.

But the problem is that we have exploited the water system to such an extent, we are left with nothing to fall back on. Today, it is shameful to call our Nation a progressive one because more than 80% of India still depends on the yearly rain-fall to grow crops. We have made a hash of our irrigation scheme and decontaminating our rivers. And the recent irrigation scam unearthed has perhaps taken us back by decades in this effort.

Simply put, without fresh water life is not possible. Because whatever age of civilization we might happen to be, the 3 basics – Food, Clothing & Shelter would stay in same order of importance. And for growing food we need WATER.

Therefore the best Green Business Idea today for millions of Rural Indians would be to create their own village comity and practice the age-old wisdom of capturing rain-water. The famous stepped-well of the western India to the lakes and ponds which belonged to the village community should be revamped.

So what is the revolutionary idea in it? Every water expert worth his salt has written tomes of books on it. Well, as per my knowledge goes no one has written about what I am suggesting.

Declare water as a “cash crop” and “essential commodity”. Price each liter of water to the same price of Petrol! Allow it to be traded in the stock market and let market forces govern it. While protecting the poor and the economically weaker section through grants and subsidy, as it has been doing for petroleum products.

Lets look at a few hypothesis –

The moment the government announces a scheme that it shall pay for conservation  of water and allow for trade of lets say 500 million liters of water per day say  at Rupees 10/ litre of water from every rural district of India to feed the city and industries, within one year each and every dried and neglected pond and lake would be spruced up in every village across India with each villager eagerly awaiting the advent of monsoon.

The village panchayats ( elected administrative body) would not allow any pilferage of  funds, which happens in the grandest scale in India and actually build the water reservoirs. It would also ensure that plantation of trees do take place and stop the denudation of the rain-forest, which is principal in retaining the ground water and reduces evaporation.

Let us now take the water requirement of Mumbai. The city’s water requirementis  4250mld. (million liters per day ).  However, it receives only 3,350mld. Six lakes in and around Mumbai supply water to the city. Upper Vaitarna supplies 630mld, Modaksagar 455mld, Tansa 407mld, Vihar 110mld, Tulsi 18mld and Bhatsa 1,900mld. However, 20% of the supply (or 600mld) is lost due to leakages and theft. Moreover, the supply from Vihar and Tulsi lakes is mainly used for industrial purposes.

And what would happen should the government increase the tariff to Rupees 30 /per litre ? The land-sharks who grab prime land meant for parks would be booted out of cities along with their political protectors and citizens would comply with zeal and gusto all municipal directives for rain water harvesting and ground water recharge within their residential societies. Recycle of grey and  black water would become norm. For no water guzzling Indian citizen would like to pay that kind of price for water. They would be better off having their own supply and earn a few million form the government scheme by petitioning it to make it applicable to them too. After all why should the villagers have all the fun?

And if the tariff be raised to Rupees 50/per litre ? Corporates would kick into action and innovation in building design and town planning would be in the lines of building sustainable cities. The unplanned Urban sprawl would be arrested and pristine open ground, parks and lakes within the city limits would become norm. Rivers would get cleaned up and offending industries and municipalities penalized.

Further not only the city dwellers would save the precious water but actually find the ways to trade in water. Just as the large oil tankers berth into our ports, so would Indian water tankers berth into theirs, pumping out the precious water for  the dry and parched countries, which have also been growing in size and population. And desalinated water may be less a requirement, when the exchange rate between the Indian Rupee vs their money is factored. Indian water could turn out to be a cheaper option.

For long experts have been asking governments to charge the actual tariff for water. Now, one can not only think of doing so, but actually be applauded for the effort. And in the process save the total ecosystem.

While with my limited knowledge I may not have got the concept right, but I am sure that experts in the World who understand money and geo-politics would find some currency in this idea because –

A few years ago, the BMC (municipal corporation of Mumbai city) had ambitiously proposed to the state government to draw water from phase II of the Koyna dam in Chiplun (Ratnagiri district), about 300km from Mumbai. The proposal to draw water from the Koyna dam may give 1,69,800 million litres of water on an annual basis to the city as well surrounding regions like Thane and Raigad. According to the state government’s plan, the project would cost about Rs40,000 crore.  According to officials of the water supply and sanitation department, the government discharges about 1,69,800 million litres of water from the Koyna dam to the Vashishthi river at Chiplun after generating power. The state government’s water supply and sanitation department had  decided to undertake the project on a build-and-operate basis. It had invited interest bids to which 12 companies have responded.

As one can see from above, the business of water is a superb business. But it is only understood by a few and exploited for good measure. There would be absolutely no doubt in the minds of ordinary Indians that of the Rs 400,000,000,000 a huge amount would line the pockets of many. While the rightful owner for right of first use to the water – people residing in Chiplun – would be denied even drinking water.

So would it not be possible that similar humongous amount of money be used for some of the concepts I have proposed above ? If the government could find and make popular the Renewable Energy Scheme under the National Action Plan for Climate Change; of the 8 action plan one is for Water !

In this planet the only thing that we human understand is money. Gold &    Black Gold    (petroleum) is hoarded because it has a stupendous price tag. Make water equally costly, give it the respect it deserves. Because, neither Gold nor petroleum can quench thirst! And it is important that all of us recognize this problem. For the very existence of civilization is dependent on it.

 
 

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Sustainable Development Goals: The dangers of Urban Sprawl and its long term affects on the National Growth


The Monsoon in India, is delayed and it is predicted that we shall have scanty rain-fall this year. Every sign of Climate change, which have been predicted are happening. In the USA, the unprecedented power outages and heat wave are prime time News.  Perhaps if in the last 20+ years the World had listened and shifted to a better Economic model, than the “grow quickly rich – and throw everything else into the ditch!” Corny capitalism; things would perhaps be improving by now.

But how does the common person know they are the part of the problem? And how can they help?  Through this article I shall try to weave seemingly different News articles which have been published in various Indian News papers,in the immediate past  and try and show how we still are going horribly wrong at every turn and the efforts of a few, be it in the Governance of the Nation or NGO’s; are not being able to make the desired impact.

English: topographic map of India

English: topographic map of India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all know that at long last the “Western Ghats”; have been accorded with UNESCO recognition. It would bring cheer to many environmentalist, who are deeply concerned with the destruction of this fragile eco-system. However, how much it would be able to help in the ground is something we have to wait and see.

The weekend News papers in India‘s, usually carry features on property. Having been caught up to the developments around UNFCCC Rio+20 agenda, I had not been paying too much attention to them. But over the last weekend the barrage of “up coming” once in a life-time bargain ‘second homes” caught my eye. All these projects are beyond the limits of the megalopolis of Mumbai by a minimum of 150 Km. Most are either on or close to hill stations atop the Western Ghats range, or industrial zones, which are situated in the valley of the ghats. The examples I would like to give here are two – one a hill station, Lonavala and the other an Industrial estate area – Roha. Both are close to Mumbai.  Roha is located in Raigad district in the state of Maharashtra(INDIA). Many big companies have their manufacturing plants there like – Pepsi, Clariant, Sudarshan Chemicals, Excel, Unichem Laboratories etc. It is only 120 km south-east of Mumbai, and with a population of over 40,000 it is only natural that in time, the big builder/ developers would like to set up residential townships, the likes which are found in and around Pune and Mumbai.

The town is surrounded by natural beauty, as it is part of the western-ghats. When I had gone during my “project manager” days in the early 2000, I had worked on a project there. It is a beautiful place, small industrial town, nestled in the valley of the Ghats, which is more or less self-sufficient, but at one time industrial air-bone pollution was at the extreme. Now, we are going to have another danger, far bigger looming around this area. And that, sadly is “development”.  For, if you type into your computers – “Development rules in the district of Raigarh, Roha taluk”; nothing is found.  A vague Environment & Forest Notification is all you find.

No maps clearly demarcating which are industrial zones, forest areas, residential and commercial zones can be found easily. If you notice, you would rarely find a guide-map of the locality you reside; in New Delhi you have them at the entrance of each residential colony. In Mumbai and rest of India its a rare sight. Even if one types “development rules of Mumbai”; a 1999 pdf is available from MMRDA preceded by many latest news talking about amendments.  Compare this by typing -development rules of New York USA.

A country which prides itself on its IT strength, does not have any information, which the common man can find at a click of a button. To keep abreast or simply familiarize oneself of the laws, so that should one find wrong-doing like finding a park area being constructed /encroached upon or an earmarked residential area  or a natural drain, being paved over for creating a shopping complex ; spot it and make aware the authorities to take action. Of-course we have the Right to Information Act, but I’m sure there is no information available or worthy enough to look into of various places which are not large Cities or Towns of India. And even the large towns and cities do not have at times complete information or information which is easily available. The apathy and incompetence, almost seems like a deliberate act to help in corruption. And the loss is always going to be to the Nation and its people.

Last week, in Mumbai a 24 year old girl died due to tree falling over her during a sudden squall. Today the DNA newspaper carries a statistic under the heading –Tree falls claim 21 since 2005. The other news was –Rain fill lakes with 3 days of water supply for Mumbai. Disjointed as they may seem, these two are interlinked not only to each other, but also the the paragraphs above.

Just as in the beautiful lush-green surroundings of  the hill station of Lonawala, unplanned townships are coming up in many locations. Farmlands are getting changed into residential and commercial areas. While there is planning within the perimeter of the projects, infrastructure is never given precedence. Neither are there any strict laws laid down to deter littering. If one looks at the city of Mumbai, in the early 1980’s the now congested suburbs were farmlands and mangroves. Catchment areas essential for groundwater recharge and prevention of flooding, which slowly started to get converted into township, with scant regard to town-planning in the proper sense. Today we have encroachments, super-bad roads and clogged drains; most of the buildings require high maintenance from water proofing and salt water corrosion.

The common person does not think twice before littering the street or not buying from illegal vendors who occupy most of Mumbai foot-paths and foot-over-bridges. In fact it is a welcome sign, to have the first illegal grocery, tea/cigarette kiosk next to the new building  which comes up in far-off locality. Any architect, who has worked in far-off sites, would empathise with me at the relief one gets when a small tea & cigarette shop opens up opposite the construction site across the road; where one can relax the tired limbs and have a “cutting-chai”. ( chai = tea). This happens because when a developer goes to the Urban fringe and builds a township, the State does not cater to the welcoming opportunity the private developer creates for up-liftment of local business and does not match it in pace with infrastructure and innovative schemes which can create proper commercial zones especially de-marked for the urban poor who find an opportunity to do an honest business. These local semi-urban populace do not have the money to buy into the commercial areas, if built by the developer. Their shops usually come up as shanties while the township is under construction to cater to the labourers and even the engineers. But this relief turns into grief for the citizens in time as no infrastructure, such as roads, drainage systems, waste-disposal or safety measures are built around them.

Similarly the shady-tree which once helped the labourers and engineers to have  a momentary relief while sipping into the tea, soon gets surrounded by shops and most of the ground, right up to the bark gets paved over. The tree starts to die, and then one rainy day it falls, taking along with it life of an innocent bystander. The newly built suburban rail station looks exactly the same as all suburban rail-station around Mumbai, filthy and difficult to negotiate through the illegally constructed shops and haphazardly parked vehicles.

Water supply is scarce and come summer, the citizens of this once new town become desperate for potable water. Ground water gets depleted as most of the catchment areas get paved over and constructed upon much before the “development rules” comes into force.

Farm fresh vegetables and live-stock which were once easily available become a distant dream for most as due to land-use change most fertile land are lost. The word “green” becomes a mockery as maximum one finds in patches atop utterly destroyed local ecosystem are some  “Chinese” grass lawns, bottle palms and a few decorative flowering shrubs.  For a water body, a swimming pool is considered a great gift from the developers and accepted with great pride by the residents. Some standard advertisement goes –  live by the river side with lush greenery and natural surroundings. And should one inspect – 9 out of 10 projects would have no safety features, or advisory of how not to litter or degrade the natural surrounds.

Every-time I see the images of a super expensive and super large hill-station township, which got created in the recent past, breaking almost every environmental law as reported in the news. I feel very disappointed. My fear, is not the development of a hill-station as I’m not against development; but if it is at the cost of the eco-system then we are staring at a lot of trouble. And it is around a fresh water lake. With almost zero civic sense in most of us, imagine what can happen, if strict precautions have not been taken by the developer; as each home owner post the mandatory “Griha Pravesh Pooja” would,  giving scant regard to the environmental hazard, dispose the ritual materials right into the lake, tied in a plastic bag, so that it helps pollute the once pristine lake a little more.

The concept of dust-bins, public urinals and civic sense advisory board, along with clean-up marshals or policemen to penalize offenders, is alien in most areas of India.  Therefore if anyone has visited the lake city of Udaipur in the state of Rajasthan or other tourist destinations in India which has a water body, would appreciate what I mean to imply here. And this is also true in the megalopolis like Mumbai, which is also a tourist destination & has a large water body, the legendary Ban-ganga and the Arabian sea; both choking with refuse.

While there is an urgent need for India to “develop”, and we have the right to do so; we as Peoples need to understand the dangers of unsustainable urban living. It is for us to decide the course of growth. With unplanned and unsustainable urban sprawl which would seem as “growth” in economic sense for a short while would actually deplete our resources and would not improve the quality of living. And this in the long run would weaken the Country from all indices of growth. We must adhere to and understand about Sustainable Cities – Why town planning is important.

The World’s Best Places to Live  according to human resources consulting firm Mercer’s, 2011 quality of living survey report looks at living conditions such as economy, socio-cultural environment, politics, education, and the health sector. Rediff.com also did a survey of 15 Best cities of India, but as per world standards – Mumbai is ranked a dismal 117th, New Delhi is ahead at 113th scoring 56.5 and 58.6 per cent, respectively.

And among all the areas of development, I consider Urban development as most important  because without the proper standards of living; which directly affects the overall well-being of the citizens,  the country can not prosper and today  the Indian economic health has not much to cheer about, due to various internal and external factors. Therefore it is imperative we learn our lessons and follow into the path of overall Sustainable Development.

To prove my point (it almost seems to be written in 2012)  below are excerpts from an article published in The South Asian Voice in 2001

As economic growth rates have plummeted throughout the world, India (like the rest of South East Asia) has not escaped the impact. Growth rates have been reluctantly pruned to about 5% for the year, and may have to be revised further downwards if an anticipated post-monsoon pick-up in consumer consumption and industrial manufacturing fails to materialize. While, booms and busts are endemic to “free-market” or capitalistic economies, sections of the Indian media had sought to convey the impression that the switch to greater “market freedom” would result in a continuous economic boom. …..However, it is doubtful if these factors will continue to play as important a role in propelling the Indian economy forward.….There are also several structural impediments to increases in rural incomes. Already India is one of the most densely populated nations in the world. Pressure on land is already very high and existing water resources have been depleting at an alarming rate. Even with a switch to more sustainable agriculture and water-management policies, it is unlikely that improvements in agricultural productivity can take place at previously seen rates.….However, so far, there has not been any serious analysis of the trajectory of the Indian economy or on the policy direction taken by the government. Neither has there been any comprehensive look at the relationship between economic growth rates and improvements in living standards….Consider an article by Jonathon Rowe titled “A misguided quest for ‘productivity'” that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor (June 28, 2001). In this essay, the author bemoans the American obsession with “productivity” without regard for the value of what is produced and whether it contributes to human happiness. “We Americans are not lacking for products. Our basements and garages are groaning. A warehouse industry has arisen to hold all our stuff. Yet they tell us that the benchmark of our economy remains whether we can turn out still more stuff per hour. Is that scientific principle, or fetish?” …….Take the recent fascination with cars. For people to really enjoy the use of a personal car, a country must have enough land for wide roads and large parking lots. And that’s exactly how every automobile ad in India shows off new cars. Cars for the Indian market are shown scurrying along wide and vacant highways in dreamy countryside settings, completely unrelated to the actual Indian reality or experience. After all, some of India’s most scenic destinations aren’t even connected by motorable roads, and virtually all Indian cities are so densely populated that even newer residential and commercial areas are planned with narrow roads and limited parking facilities. There is thus something very surreal about the Indian media’s glamorization of the car……But imagine, if the country produced better means of public transportation. Assuming that a mini-bus costs only three times as much to produce as a car, and assuming that the average mini-bus seats about 30 people (or more) comfortably, there is a ten-fold increase in transportation options…..And this is just one example of a glaring disconnect between economic growth and it’s linkage to all-round social well-being and the overall quality of life. We can also find examples that illustrate the reverse case where an activity may have a low price tag but significant long term social value….Consider how this decade of “liberalization” has marginalized cultural activities that may have a much more profound impact on human happiness, quality of life and social harmony……. – each of these activities may potentially be of much greater value to human health and happiness than their calculation in the country’s GDP….The liberalization decade has not only failed to make such contributions, it has also created an environment where people have stopped appreciating cultural activities. They have also been trained to devalue those activities that can only bring about gains after long gestation periods such as activities in scientific and social research. It is often forgotten that India’s present strength is in no small measure a result of the many direct and indirect benefits of earlier investment in public institutions of higher learning and advanced scientific and technological research.

 

 

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