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Environment sustainability crucial for Smart Cities in India

Sep 02, 2015

With the Indian government rooting for ‘Smart Cities’ there is an urgent need to ensure environmental sustainability of these projects.

New Delhi: The unplanned nature of urbanisation in India has resulted in appalling housing conditions, non-existent sanitation, and increasing exploitation of natural resources.

According to experts there is an urgent need to explore the potential for building synergies across sectors for critical resources in the context of rapid urbanization in India.

Experts feel that the scale and nature of urbanization and increasing need for basic infrastructure to support it signifies that there would be an impact on the earth’s carrying capacity.

Discussing the issue at ‘Trialouge 2047’, a programme organized by  Development Alternatives (DA), a global think tank, experts have called for urbanization within the current resource constrained landscape.

The surge of urbanisation and growing number of cities and towns provides an opportunity to deliver improved basic services, generate livelihood options, offer education and health facilities.

Zeenat Niazi, Vice-President of DA said that the quality of urban life and its resource footprint are strongly linked.  “Increased urbanization is linked with more and more consumption of natural resources like land, water, energy and building materials to meet the rising demand for food, basic services and goods,” she said.

Zeenat said that India is expected to witness an urban transformation, of the scale and speed unlike anywhere else. She urged for a holistic perspective towards inclusive development. “Soil is important because opportunity cost of food is that much more – or water in rivers is more valuable than water in the cities for its ecosystem benefits. We have to look at things from that perspective,” she said.

Nitin Pandit, Chief Executive Officer of World Resources Institute India, urged for creating a balance between the urbanization and the environment. “Urbanization in the history of mankind is not a new thing. With India moving towards the urbanization quickly, it has failed to balance the environment with modernization. Sadly, we don’t have a will to build environment friendly buildings.”

India’s plan for ‘Housing for All by 2022’ with 20 million houses in 4041 towns and urban transformation in100 Smart Cities, ensures there will be huge investment of resources in construction, both financial and natural resulting in competition and conflict over limited resources across various sectors.

The growing need of urbanization will have to answer multiple questions like, should a fertile tract of land be used for agriculture or to build a new city on the banks of the river? Should sand and soil be used to make bricks and cement or grow vegetables and grain? How far can we go without irreversibly damaging ecological flows?

Gaurav Shorey, Founder member ‘5waraj’, regretted that developers in India do not pay attention to the needs of environment and sustainability. “New housing complexes in greater Noida or other NCR regions don’t have sustainability. But those complexes were built on some extremely fertile agricultural land which earlier used to produce the yearly vegetables for the people of Delhi and NCR,” he said.

Shorey added that teaching green building concept to the developers is not easy in this country. “Indian laws talk more about disaster management but never mention the environment friendly housing complexes. Therefore, the proposed ‘Housing for All’ concept not only will ruin the environment but also will affect the future generation badly,” he warned.

A livable city provides its citizens economic and livelihood opportunities as well as caters to their social and cultural wellbeing. There is a need to deliberate on barriers and opportunities that exist for moving towards resource efficient ‘Housing for All’, now and for the future.

Santosh Kumar, Chief Executive Officer – Operations, Jones Lang LaSalle India, said that in the changed times developers are becoming conscious about protecting environment. The scenario of infrastructure crunch in the country often doesn’t give any relaxation to the developers to focus on the sustainability issue, but the situation is slowly changing,” he said.

The urban housing deficit in the country at present is pegged at 18.78 million units (Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA), 2011), which is estimated to increase to 38 million units by 2030(MGI, 2010).

India has witnessed unprecedented urbanisation, with the population growing significantly from 285 million in 2001 to 377 million in 2011 (Census of India, 2011);projected to have additional 400 million people in urban agglomerations by 2050 (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs  (UNDESA), 2014).

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