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Tag Archives: Urban sprawl

Sustaining Mumbai – making possible, the impossible.


English: Sustainability chart

English: Sustainability chart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following up on my thoughts expressed in earlier articles Green Business Ideas: Carbon Credits opportunities in Green Townships.and Sustainable Development Goals: The dangers of Urban Sprawl and its long term affects on the National Growth has become important once more because of the recent developments which are taking place in the Realty Sector of Mumbai Metropolitan Region and Maharashtra. And similar development must be happening around the country can not be discounted. Governance is a political art, which requires a person while practising politics to become a Statesman. Sadly the time of Statesmen of Indian politics have long gone. Today we are burdened with most who have no foresight. And those who do are not making much difference because of the overwhelming odds. While many by now are aware of Sustainable Development Goals,very few understand it. Therein lies the problem. Sustainable development is holistic and all encompassing and approaching it must take all stake-holders into account in every step of the way. National policies must get formulated based on a singular principle of development which is the same at Union and Federal level devoid of vote bank politics. And the most important thought which all must understand is the inter-connectivity of events. Nothing can happen is isolation. Seemingly diverse subjects happening in different parts of the Globe are inexplicably related, not obvious to casual observation. The sentiment of which I had tried to capture in Sustainable Living : How to read the seemingly unrelated dots which coalesce together to create disasters.

With the general elections around the corner in 2014 and the debilitating fiscal deficit due to populist measures carried on too long, India Inc. is poised dangerously to make mistakes detrimental to Climate Change abatement. Mistakes not because it would want to do so as a deliberate act; but because short-term economic gains which make for “good development” would take precedence over common sense. While there is no escape that Economic development brings in prosperity, it also brings in the Acid Rain and Ozone Hole in its wake. Facts no Economist or Corporate Czar or Government can deny as fiction. And which is further vindicated by the article recently published by World Resource Institute: New National Climate Assessment Shows America on Course for Unprecedented Warming: A new federal report reveals alarming statistics on climate change. According to the 3rd National Climate Assessment, released in draft form today from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the world could warm by more than 12°F by the end of the century if action isn’t taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The evidence is clear and mounting,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, in response to the report. “The United States sits at the center of the climate crisis. Record heat is devastating crops, rivers are drying up, and storms are bearing down on our cities. Climate change is taking its toll on people and their economies, and will only become more intense without a strong and rapid response here in the United States and around the globe. It’s not too late to take action, but given lags in policy and geophysical processes, the window is closing.” This assessment comes on the heels of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) announcement earlier this week that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the contiguous United States. According to NOAA’s National Climate Data Center, the country saw 356 all-time temperature highs (and only four all-time lows) tied or broken and experienced 11 extreme weather events each causing more than $1 billion in damages.

What India must do, is to fall back on its infinite wisdom and believe in its people to bring about Economic prosperity balanced with Ecological sensitivity which is inherent in the Indian culture. And its Corporate Czars schooled in the western model of “prosperity” & “development” take the care to adopt the best practices inherent in the western model while indigenising  the path to progress. Only then India can become the torch-bearer in  ways mentioned in the recently published  Inclusive Wealth Report 2012.

And to begin, we can adopt sensible design approach in developing the satellite cities around the megalopolis of Mumbai. And also at the same time improve the living conditions of Mumbai. We must at all cost not try make a Shanghai out of Mumbai, but a climate resilient Mumbai. It is no secret that while China can be called the next economic giant; in the markets of India flooded with cheap Chinese goods, one would never find a vendor giving a guarantee on any Chinese product. Thus India, must learn to be wary of the fast and shiny “growth” of China and try not to emulate it. And that applies to developing future cities too.

Pollution at dangerous levels in Beijing
Beijing: Dense smog shrouded Beijing on Saturday, with pollution at hazardous levels for a second day and residents advised to stay indoors, state media said. The municipal environment warning centre issued an alert advising the elderly, children, and those suffering respiratory or cardiovascular illness to avoid going out or doing strenuous exercise. Those who did venture out wore face-masks for protection, with visibility low and the sun hidden in the smog.

This could easily be happening in Mumbai or New Delhi ( which too is very highly polluted) in the immediate future if development measures are not taken in accordance to the ecological consideration. While the unfortunate news of Beijing is no cause for glee and may not completely be due to bad urban planning. The fact that Urban Planning plays a major role can not be discounted. What India needs to do, is already known to many experts. And there lies the problem. The people are not aware of it. And as long as there is no participation form the people, the governments would not make it main-stream. Thus the need to advertise and spread awareness on Sustainable Living becomes more urgent as we climb closer to the 2°Centigrade Global rise in temperature. While some basic collections of ideas from WBCSD are mentioned in Building A Low Carbon Economy with Energy Efficient Buildings We begin with a few suggestions which we can easily implement and in the shortest possible time to make the City of  Mumbai a Climate resilient city.

The Underpass Hawking zone:

FS

Example : Fashion Street Underpass Hawking Zone at Church gate Mumbai

Let us begin with de-congesting our city foot-paths from ill-legal hawkers. The very word “ill-legal” causes confusion. How can poor and needy people earn an honest lively-hood, if not sell their wares in the busy city streets ? It is hard and at-times frustrating work to just earn enough to eat. And good governance must cater to providing equal earning opportunity to all. But before the corrupt governance authorities start patting each others back, while collecting “hafta” ( protection money a la Mafia style ) they must ensure that the city which is choking in its own filth and squalor gets a new lease of life. Existing  & new municipal laws must be applied to get rid of the menace of squatters on public space while providing them with alternate means within the same area which Mumbai planners are mulling now and should be supported only if planned properly, within the existing City and rules framed to cater to such eventuality at the design stage itself for upcoming Urban centers . The concept can be repeated in many places in the suburbs too. Thus keeping the popularity and thereby the business potential of the place intact while correcting the wrongs in Urban planning. One must bear in mind that the flea market is symbiotic to all the eateries and entertainment centre within its geographical proximity as youth often take these outings to as a package deal – shopping -cum- cinema – cum – fast-food. Which has a direct bearing on the economy. Thus sustainability is a complex system which needs to be understood from all aspects.

Example: De-congesting Andheri Suburban Station and Terrace Farming

Example:De-congesting Andheri Suburban Station and Terrace Farming

The same concept can also be applied around the rail stations and if possible the rail ministry itself should promote above the tracks or above the platforms the vegetable markets & shopping areas, run by the illegal and “legal” hawkers encroaching the city foot-path and spilling over the foot over-bridges and streets. Railways would mint profit from the vertical space it owns. Not only by selling of vegetables but also growing some of it, It would provide direct employment opportunities to the land-less farmers who come to the city losing their land due to various reasons. The hands that feed the Nations must never be lifted to beg for alms; if we really want it that way, then we must act towards doing so. And in the process we shall also be de-congesting the streets, especially near the Dadar suburban station where nearly a third of the street is packed with fruit, vegetable and flower sellers; which the administration turns a blind eye to, while vehicular movement suffer and belch more noxious GHG fumes in the process. Imagine creating such facilities every 5th station along the Western, Central and Harbour suburban rail lines. The greenery itself would reduce the heat-island effect. And in the process also remove from the city roads quite a few smoke belching tempos, carrying stale vegetables, improve direct contact between consumer and farmer, thus earnings of the lot improves and sustainability wins.

Bus Depot

Example: Vertical Farming over Dindoshi Bus Depot

But we all know that just the rail stations and the space above the platforms would not suffice feeding a hungry city. We would require more space. And that space is available right at the centre of the city, waiting to be exploited by the municipal authorities.The Bus Depots. Mumbai has bus depots both large and small dotting the city. All one needs to understand is that the vertical space can be utilized for the betterment of the society while bringing in some hard currency to the B.E.S.T undertaking. Taking one of the big bus depots in the suburb, the Dindoshi bus depot at Goregoan as a pilot project, we can create vertical farms similar to the ones Singapore is building with great success. Why do we need to wait to import the technology ? When IIT- Bombay is just a few miles away?  That the Government of most Asian Nations are goofy, is understood; but we have some of the top notch Corporate Czars residing in this city and a few do dabble in the fresh food market. They must take the opportunity before Wal-Mart comes up with a proposal.

Parking

Example: Elevated foot-path with hawkers gallery and parking space underneath in Bandra suburb.

While the above will take care to some degree the pressure on fresh-food and vegetables, Mumbai being a dynamic city which keeps growing, the pressure on infrastructure is enormous. And the most telling is transport. We have to find ways to de-congest the city streets. While to some extent people do use VoIP to do their business, for Mumbai the government of the day must utilize the idea of virtual office. VoIP – “Skype” the new medium to reduce Global Warming ?While it would certainly reduce traffic on the roads, it would still not solve the problem of parking. The idea mooted earlier, of providing extra FSI ( floor space index ) to developers who allow for municipal car parks, as usual got mired in corruption and controversy. With hardly any relief to the problem it was supposed to address. The principal reason being two-folds. First, it is dependent on the location of the building vis a vis a congested road and second availability of re-development along those congested area to the developer. Thus we have buildings far and few which can cater to the requirement. So, the next best thing we can do is create elevated foot-paths and then allow for parking under it.

Bandra

Example: Underground hawking space, for displaced hawkers in new city areas.

While we must find solutions to the existing city of Mumbai, we must not let the city fringe become hostage to the same mess, Mumbai is facing. All the warning signs are already available, if one looks at the up-coming development around a SEZ and proposed International Airport of Mumbai. Why we have this mess has been mentioned in the article Sustainable Development Goals: The dangers of Urban Sprawl and its long term affects on the National Growth.and I quote : 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.

Residential construction is at break-neck speed, at Ulwe, whereas infrastructure development will put a snail to shame. Ditto goes to far-sightedness. While one enters the road towards Ulwe, one notices locals sitting along the road-side selling food and other wares. Presently these shanties are few, Soon all free land would be encroached upon, the well-oiled system of hafta will begin, while another portion of the city and its citizen suffer. It is here that the administration take into account all the possible urban design options and cater to the needs of all section of society. The faster we understand that sustainable practice can not be sacrificed or evaded, the better it would be for the City and the country. Else it would not be very far in the future that living in Mumbai would be next to impossible and that would affect the economy of this country directly.

 

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World Habitat Day: Resource Efficient Cities


As part of ongoing events of 1st October, the World Habitat day, I was fortunate to attend the UNEP-SBCI webinar and hear the presentation of Mr. Arab Habolla, Head UNEP, Chief of Sustainable Consumption and Production on the 3rd of this month. On his opening remarks he set the agenda in a simple manner, immediately outlining the gravity of the problem at hand.

Currently Cities occupy only 3% of the Land surface, however the impact it has on the Environment is enormous. Almost 50% of the Global waste; 60-80% of the Global GHG emissions; and 75% of the natural resources are consumed by the Cities. A mind-boggling statistics which parches the throat of any environmentalist. And it could get worse – currently we have 50% of the World population living in Cities. Estimates are that by 2050 AD, it would increase to 80%.

While these data mean a lot to those who are attuned to the problem, my article would once again focus to bring this closer to the average person by relating it to events and then pointing towards solutions, which only a ground-swell and active participation of the populace can perfect.

While I concede that when it comes to the Planet, none of us are “experts”. Its too complex a subject and thus it needs the collective advice from all stream of thought. Economic and Philosophical thoughts leading the stream. However, through this article, I would once more attempt to bring out what is being said at the various forums like the UN; and bring to the common person by relating a series of events which are taking place around them. And by adding the various links to earlier articles, refrain from repeating what I’ve already penned before.

Parel mill lands, Mumbai

Parel mill lands, Mumbai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me begin my argument with this DNA newspaper article Going vertical with a vengeance;  – Areas which were not too long ago dotted with settlements for mill workers now boast of skyscrapers. Given the city’s high population density, developers argue that high-rises are more convenient and hold the answer to our housing problems….Several areas in central Mumbai like Lalbaug, Parel and Sewri, which until a few years ago had settlements for housing mill workers and lower-income groups, have now undergone a sea change. They now boast of apartments which cost upwards of Rs5 crore (50 Million Rupee ). Lower Parel, which was once dotted with textile mills, is now in the middle of a metamorphosis. Old, dilapidated structures are being pulled down to make way for sprawling malls, glossy office buildings and skyscrapers. From the 65-storied Indiabulls Sky and the 75-storied tower at the Jupiter Mills site, to the 80-storied Raheja Platinum in Worli and the 55-storied Lodha Bellissimo at Mahalaxmi, these concrete edifices are soaring into the sky, changing the landscape — and the skyline – of central Mumbai. Architect Hafeez Contractor, the pioneer of superstructures in the city, says, “Mumbai has a population of 20 million and but its area is only 470sqkm. When you are looking at such a large population over a small area of land, vertical is the only way to go.”  He predicts that the city’s population will rise to 30 million in the years to come. “How will Mumbai deal with such an increase [in population]? The only answer is to increase the FSI (floor space index). Only when we do this will the city get on its own feet and earn enough to create the infrastructure that will be needed to sustain this vertical growth.”…..

Business persons do not pause to think that their actions can contribute disaster to the already fragile situation(Sustainable Cities – Why town planning is important )and are using the popular media to influence the members of the public as  how their need for housing would be solved by they creating the high-rise. However, the well written article by Rathod, uses a tounge-in-cheek method to show how wrong this is; while remaining true to his journalistic ethics of reporting without adding his bias – Several areas in central Mumbai like Lalbaug, Parel and Sewri, which until a few years ago had settlements for housing mill workers and lower-income groups, have now undergone a sea change. They now boast of apartments which cost upwards of Rs5 crore.How on earth a common persons dream to own a house be possible if the rate of these flats in the high-rises be 50 Million Rupee? And here the city administrators need to most educate the average person as why Town planning is important. We shall deal with a few recommendations in the later section of this article.

While I do not deny that Vertical Growth and Economy of a city is important, short-sighted irresponsible comments by those who are deemed as experts is not a happy situation. Just as in Medicine, so in Architecture. The architect is responsible not just to his/her narrow interest but must look beyond in creating the social fabric of the society. They can define the culture of a place by their imagination turned into reality. It’s the architect who created a City which inspired a Bard to write one of the most beautiful romance – Romeo & Juliet. And it was another architect who created the “Heaven on Earth” another lasting testimony to Love – The TAJ.

One can benefit and even profit by following sensible approach to design,( Green Business Ideas: Carbon Credits opportunities in Green Townships) however unplanned and short-term greed would make our life impossible, which in the City of Mumbai is not too great to begin with.(Sustainable Development Goals: The dangers of Urban Sprawl and its long-term effects on the National Growth) The dangers which the UNEP chief spoke of are real, this needs to be understood by the authorities at the earliest and most importantly educate the grass-roots on the matter and carry out reforms which are sensible.

English: The Seven Islands of Bombay (Now Mumb...

English: The Seven Islands of Bombay (Now Mumbai) before they were merged to form the island of Salsette. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And for this the media must highlight the truth constantly, which the DNA Newspaper did by the follow-up article – Better safe than sorry in seismic Mumbai an analysis by Dr V SubramanyanThe uneasiness associated with high-rises stems from the fact that most of Mumbai has literally risen from the sea and has only reclaimed land to offer for construction. Only compacted soil is available for the foundations of such proposed buildings. When earthquake vibrations pass through them, water in the soil gets released, leading to liquefaction. This converts soil into a jelly-like mass.This causes considerable damage to very tall structures.The architects who are in favour of going vertical argue that they build taller buildings on raft foundations, which behave like “a ship, pitching and tossing during a storm, but not sinking” during an earthquake. However, researchers in the University of Pennsylvania had claimed in an article in ‘Discover’ magazine (July 2005) that this much-touted raft foundation only tilts the tall buildings and does not effectively contribute to their structural stability during earthquakes. In ‘Going vertical with a vengeance’ (DNA, September 27), the writer has projected the developers’ argument that high-rises are more convenient and hold the answer to our housing problems, given the city’s high population density. The article also comes out with some seemingly grandiose information that at least a dozen buildings with more than 60 storeys are nearing completion, 50 similar towers are underway and at least 100 buildings taller than 70m (with about 22 storeys) are in different stages of construction. But, it is difficult to share the enthusiasm of the government at its plans to forge an international image for Mumbai through a jagged skyline like that of Manhattan, Hong Kong and Singapore. What has been conveniently forgotten is Mumbai’s high seismicity. The city faces the risk of being hit by an earthquake of sufficient magnitude (6.5), which can knock tall buildings off their bases. This, in turn, imposes indisputable restrictions on the heights up to which skyscrapers can be safely constructed, despite adopting the best earthquake-resistant designs, because experts cannot guarantee the safety of high-rises beyond a certain limit. Charles Correa, a reputed architect and town-planner, does not subscribe to the credo that going vertical is the only solution to our housing problems. He had, in fact, dubbed Mumbai’s skyscrapers “monstrosities” some time ago.

While the above is a challenge which needs to be understood by the policy makers, that the City of Mumbai already suffering from population density, failed municipal administration and has a low liveability index, the problems which one does not easily associate with bad urban planning must also be understood. Quoting from my favoured Newspaper the DNA, I present the article  October heat leaves city sick; Mumbaikars complain of weakness, nausea, body pain and perspiration…The sultry weather has forced many with electrolyte imbalance to rush to the doctor. In simple words, this refers to a disturbance in the level of amount of electrolytes (like calcium, sodium and potassium) that is required for normal health and functioning…  this article underscores what I had written earlier on how unplanned Urban growth affects our everyday life; (Sustainable Living : How to read the seemingly unrelated dots which coalesce together to create disasters) It is time the citizens of Mumbai read up on Bombay (as it was then called)  in the early 1900; even with all the mills dotting the famous central Mumbai which developers want to turn into sky-scraper riddled concrete jungle, which would stifle the already stale air further; people did not get sick in Mumbai and the month of October is actually cool. Pune experiences it till date. Even Vashi in Navi Mumbai experiences it a little’, which soon the concrete jungle of Vashi – Panvel will destroy; unless arrested with planned and eco-sensitive development.

So what must be done ? How do we develop the climate responsive cities which is so required in the present. The answer is not simple. Because it involves many stake holders. And among the stake-holders those whose opinion matter most ( second to People power ) usually tinge their opinion with Economical consideration as supreme over others. This must change. The datum of thinking must begin with ecological considerations which then would bring in long-term economic growth.

Taking Mumbai as an example; the first thing the policy makers must do is by an act of the Parliament bring about change in land laws. ( Affordable Housing: The Simples rules required.)

The City must have a ceiling set on the cost of land. It must not be dictated by the demand vs supply chain. Zone wise each district of the city must have an upper and lower price band. This will make sure that the seller of the land gets the legitimate price while the developer does not have to sell his last shirt to buy it. If the upper limit is set just 20%, chances are the sellers would choose their developer on qualifications other than monetary, such as their track record in sustainable design development etc. The State legislature must qualify a set of developers who submit an affidavit that they shall always comply to sustainable design development. Punitive punishment to the developer and design house, such as barring the developer from conducting any business within the city limits and a monetary fine be levied via extracting the cost it would need to remodel the project as per sustainable standards from the design house.

If an architect does not design incorrect, there is no way a developer can build wrong. The UN must target the young minds through sustained media campaigns.

Further,speculative buying must be stopped. Investors must be barred from real estate purchases of finished flats. They can however invest on the development. This would encourage the development of rental homes. An economic model be devised, where the leesee can have the option of buying the house on the 5th year at the market governed price. Else they vacate and the property is sold. This will give equal benefit to the user, developer and the investor.

For the Developer can hold on to a property which he has not been able to sell, while at the same time be less pressured from the investor, to whom he can pay the interest he gathers via rent.

The Investor normally seeks profit on his investment, so would wait for 5 year to have the value of the property increase, while getting his interest.

The Home seeker, who may not be able to afford to buy a home in a certain locality gets to live, instead of looking at locked-up empty houses booked by investors who would never need to live there.

And lastly and most importantly, The Government would be able to live up to its promise of providing shelter to the citizens and tax-payers who genuinely require housing.

The next step should be freeing up the old city and converting the plots into Bond & Shares. Then developing the area scientifically. Those who would receive areas smaller than what they had, would have the options of using their bonds to buy space,either in the same site or move to another part of the city. Going away to another town to use their bonds would also give them far more return, as the cost of homes beyond Mumbai are less.

Last but not the least should be codifying the development style. Based on the climatic zone, Cities and Mumbai must build only a fixed pattern of structure. The buildings near the coast must not rise beyond 4th floor, while the ones inland can be tall-buildings which adhere to the building norms of the city including taking into account the Earthquake preventions. We all love symmetry, and this extended to buildings too. Venice would not have looked as beautiful today had the town planners allowed monstrous design and construction to happen. Further allowing only 3-4 styles of architecture with special emphasis to indigenous designs would also help assessors quantify the actual cost of the building based on types of material used and amenities given. Thus quality would overtake hype and the Citizens would benefit. Mumbai, can and must understand this and become one of the beacons of C40 cities. India under the UPA-1 had begun well, its time that we carry out the ideas which our PM has -(Green Business Ideas : P.M.Manmohan Singh’s idea of Terminal Market Complex is a superb Green Idea which needs to be implemented) to make our Country and our cities truly climate responsive.

 

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Sustainable Living : How to read the seemingly unrelated dots which coalesce together to create disasters


In the long forgotten text-books, it was written that the Earth is a hospitable planet and various types of flora and fauna are found such as – trees, shrubs, insects, fish, birds, tigers, elephants, humans, chimpanzee  etc. And the animal known as human are the most intelligent among all (?). However, the actions of Human today puts some serious doubts on this self-professed claim.It is only through sustained campaign to create awareness among the primary stake holder – the human, that reversing the dangerous Climate Change phenomenon is possible.

With the tags like – Government, Politicians, Corporate and Citizen, the populace of all Nations confuse themselves and rarely do we use the tag –Human on ourselves, which otherwise would help connect us directly to the Ecosystem and help in addressing the problem of Global Warming & Climate Change as a collective.

Continuing the thoughts in  my articles on sustainable development especially the last ; Sustainable Development Goals: The dangers of Urban Sprawl and its long term effects on the National Growth I would once again reiterate my appeal that common person must associate in understanding the development rules and identify their actions as part of the problem. The markers of the impending problems are seen in bits and pieces, but by joining these dots one can trace the history of the reason of the problems and learning from them similar problems can be averted.

So let us see once again how seemingly unrelated events are part of the same issue, the subject here again being  Sustainable Urban Development. The image by alongside, is of the article published in today’s DNA Newspaper. The tag says – “two motorcycle-borne youths carrying a plastic drum to store scarce drinking water negotiate a huge rain-inflicted crater… ” in the one of the suburban roads of Mumbai City.

The other news is an excellent report on the reality of the just received UNSCO status of the “Western Ghats”;

The DNA article by Akshay Deshmane reads “Here,projects pip ecology”Even after the Western Ghats made it to the World Heritage List, the state is hesitant to use the status to safeguard the fragile ecology. It has raised objections to recommendations of Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel as it would mean stalling major projects. The 160,000sqkm Western Ghats, which are older than the Himalayas, has been included in the prestigious World Heritage List. On July 2, the world heritage committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) recognised 39 sites of the Western Ghats as being among the rare natural heritage spots in the world. Of the 39 sites, six are in Maharashtra.

UNESCO noted that the Western Ghats are among the world’s eight hotspots of biological diversity. Its forests include some of the best representatives of non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests anywhere and are home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species.
But the Maharashtra government is far from happy because now it has to follow the recommendations of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP). It has raised objection to three-tier eco-sensitive zones (a crucial aspect of the report), the ban on new licences for mining and quarrying, the ban on diversion of forest land and decommissioning of thermal power plants. In other words, the most important recommendations for conservation have been opposed.
Maharashtra, like other states, has tried to delink the Unesco tag from the recommendations made by the WGEEP to save the fragile ecology of the mountain range. The state took this stand a week before the Union environment and forests ministry planned to announce its views on the controversial WGEEP report……

It is really amazing to see that how the consumerist high carbon economy model has completely distorted our thinking. And especially of those who actually wield the power of change. It is really a sobering thought, to know that the future of mankind are in the hands of those who either do not know or care enough about the direct link between prosperity and sustainable economy.

Today, the woe-full image of the common person negotiating a pot-holed road in search of water is a telling warning of the things to come, should we not wake up to reality and look for solutions beyond our narrow immediate needs. The image so vividly showcases multiple problems of  Urban planning gone wrong. When, people do not try to look beyond their narrow needs and allow paving over the catchment areas and most importantly agricultural land which provide us with food and also store ground water; ‘re-claim’ land by filling over lakes and water body, to build ugly and chicken-coop type buildings, which the builders pass off as “dream homes” wherein actuality they become nightmares for the people who spend their life’s saving in buying into them and get trapped in a locality which has bad-roads; as landfill, catchment areas by default will spew groundwater and the soil by default of being soft sink every monsoon thus creating craters and water logging; but there would be no potable water because the  the “Western Ghats” would be decimated alongwith the fragile ecosystem of the rain & “rain-shadow” areas . Thus ending the cycle of natural replenishment of fresh-water bodies, the details explained via this link.

But it would not end there because the unique biodiversity of the western ghats have some of the best herbal medicinal plants which have been recognized by  World Health Organization, which plays an important role in the health care of about 80 percent of World population in developing countries and who depend largely on traditional medicines. This too would be lost. While the ‘developed’ Nations populace shell off million of dollars on herbal heath-care, we are all geared up for ‘development’ by decimating our Natural capital ! It is time we hold up the mirror of truth to one and all and explain that ‘development’ needs ingenuity. Development techniques which has brought the Earth to such a sorry state can not remain the model for growth and prosperity. Its time to pause and understand the Inclusive Wealth Report 2012, Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals.

And to this effect Media, both print and electronic can play a major role. The pen of a seasoned journalist can create the magical revolution which can only be paralleled by an orator. And the Earth needs both !

 

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VoIP – “Skype” the new medium to reduce Global Warming ?


Every day millions of diesel and petrol driven automobiles, revs up and starts to trundle down the same boring commute of home to office.

Everyday millions of tons of CO2e ( Carbon–Di–oxide and equivalent gases;  refer to – Green House Gases: Reduce it to earn Carbon Credits – in my blog to know in detail about these gases. ) is spewed into the atmosphere causing untold misery.

Everyday, well-intentioned and brilliant people all over the world sit to ponder how to tackle the ever-growing menace of Urban sprawl and its transit oriented problems. And when it comes to South Asian Countries, with high urban population density and resource crunch, like Mumbai in India, the problem is endemic.

For those not familiar with India and Mumbai (Bombay)in particular, it’s an

Island City created from 7 small islands ( by filling up the rivers & creeks in between them, a classic & historical example of destruction of natural ecosystem )  by the British ! And the Mumbaikars, as the Citizens of Mumbai along with its polity likes to call itself, merrily continuing to decimate whatever good is left of it.  Bad roads, dangerous overhead construction zones along the bad roads and the chaos of traffic snarls  makes life of an average Mumbai citizen totally unenviable. Dilapidated buildings, narrow by-lanes, choked drains and poor civic sense making a time-bomb of disaster waiting to happen.

But of late there is an awareness for the good, amongst urban Indians in general  ( villagers are anyways ZED or T-ZED in their approach to life in India ) and Mumbikars in particular, that solutions must be found to stop Mumbai slide down year on year on the world livability index ie; not be counted as the World’s most worst city to live in. To meet that, a major re-haul of the infrastructure with proper town planning and Development Rules  be created at the earliest are being discussed within the States Legislative Assembly.

This article would  attempt be to provoke some thoughts which have been around for sometime but mostly considered as “intellectual talk”. And how it can help change the situation in a practical and scientific way.

During the birth of Computer era  many talks floated as how we could aspire for a paperless office. This idea took come time to germinate, in the developed world like Japan, you can do almost everything from the cell-phone. Buy your travel or movie ticket, do e-banking etc. In the developing Nations like India some Urban pockets are taking up to the idea and slowly a turn-around can be perceived. Similarly with the dawn of the Internet the dot.com boom began. Business could be done from afar, employing labour at cheaper cost overseas was possible. The time of BPO‘s had arrived. So what are these BPO’s – are they not offices to which employees commute to everyday? They are, BUT with a difference. Here the employee commutes to office but not within the parent Country/city of the Company which has employed them. To put it simply.

Let’s stretch the imagination a bit and assume that these people were working from home via the Internet and voilà! we have a solution at hand to arrest the menace of failing infrastructure in Mumbai. And perhaps for similar cities around the world.

As the main cause is the overwhelming population and ceaseless traffic which makes difficult any task of maintenance and upkeep. Add to that the Co2 emission form  automobiles driving to and fro from the suburb to the various business districts within the City, a distance of 30-40 KM average.  On bad roads with heavy traffic and unruly driving the amount of fossil fuel being burnt is immense.

What if – a legislation be pronounced after due diligence that non-critical work be executed from home. Almost half the automobile traffic will reduce. Allow for web-cast and live streaming of College education, bus loads of commuters will vanish, leaving the municipal authorities to do a proper job of rebuilding Mumbai.

Once the idea takes off, MSME’s ( micro, small & medium entrepreneurs & enterprises ) would take hold of this idea and creative business solutions would be found. While manufacturing units need human presence in front of the machines, consultants like Architects, Media professionals and many more who sit all day by their desks can link up over the WAN and even have meetings with intercity clients and staff over the VoIP ( Voice/ Video over Internet Protocol ). Monitoring a staff presence is not difficult as many security tools are available to measure presence in front of the Computer / Laptop. Encryption can help avoid IP ( intellectual property ) theft.

Along with reduction of pollution the immediate advantage would be reduction of usage of fuel which is a scarce and costly resource for India. And then there would be international acclaim. India too has agreed to reduce its Carbon emission along with 194 UN member nations. Such program of activities could find its way as legitimate CDM ( Clean Development Mechanism ) tool and adopted by UNFCCC which will then encourage other Nation and people to adapt to a limited-commute life style and thus a CO2 free city can rise out of the smog.

Perhaps the C40 and other Climate Resilient Cities  program could look at it.

A brief look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World’s_most_livable_cities and a very interesting  http://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living  lets you know how your city fairs.

 

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