An epidemic which has been brewing in the outskirts of Hyderabad for more than 20 years, awaits justice at the National Green Tribunal, Chennai May 9th 2013.
The valley of Patancheru in south-central India lies downstream from scores of pharmaceutical factories. Its waters have suffered heavy pollution by all sorts of industrial effluents for decades, with dire consequences for village residents and farmers. Over 1,75,000 people are affected in the 20 villages and the suburban areas of Patancheru, a number of water streams and lakes are severely contaminated affecting agriculture productivity, human health and livelihood.
Rishab Khanna of EnvirohealthMatters has visited Patancheru and recorded the current state of affairs on film . “The situation at Patancheru has still not changed and effluents in the water are still contaminating the environment but also the people who live in the area, drink the water and eat the food grown there.“The people of Patancehru have suffered greatly in the last 20 years, we at EnvirohealthMatters, support the demand of the impacted communities and the action being taken by advocate P. Niroop”.
Is there a cure?
There is broad concern in the global North over the effectiveness and safety of drugs imported from Asia; however, the impact on people and the environment in the places where drugs are produced is rarely considered. The US Food and Drug Administration is carrying out more inspections of foreign drug plants than it once did, but the focus of those inspections remains on the quality of the product being exported, not on the effluents going out the back door.
Technical fixes are available. Treatment of effluents with ozone, ultraviolet light, or activated carbon can break down drug compounds. But manufacturers who depend on selling their products as cheaply as possible will oppose any additional processing that would increase their costs. And the municipal sewage-treatment plants that receive drug-factory wastes shouldn’t be expected to take on such costly processing – to provide, in effect, a subsidy to a single industry.
Ake Wennmalm, advisor to EnvirohealthMatters, who worked in the city councils of Sweden, says much could be done on the demand side to curb the problem. Recently in Sweden, for example, county councils have begun requesting that companies supplying them with prescription drugs that provide environmental emissions data from the faraway factories that produced the drugs. And the Swedish government has proposed that official “good manufacturing practices”, which are required of all facilities that produce drugs for sale in Europe, be amended to mandate pollution control, wherever the production takes place.
Advocates of a more transparent production chain, like Joakim Larsson from the University of Gothenburg, suggest that sources of all active ingredients in all drugs should be published and available to all, so that medical personnel and patients can keep away from “dirty” drugs.
Such measures at the production and consumption ends of the pharmaceutical industry, along with concerted efforts to curb the overprescribing of drugs – a pervasive problem in affluent societies – are needed if we are to avoid doing grave harm on one side of the world while doing good on the other.
A team of researchers led by Joakim Larsson of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden published their chemical analysis of effluents from a water treatment plant that was receiving wastes from Patancheru’s industrial estates. They tested water flowing out of one of the plants (into a small local stream, after being treated) for 11 drugs – antibiotics, as well as remedies for high blood pressure, ulcers, and allergies. The result, they wrote, was that “to the best of our knowledge, the concentrations of these 11 drugs were all above the previously highest values reported in any sewage effluent”.
The researchers noted that the antibiotic ciprofloxacin was flowing from the plant’s outlet pipe at the rate of 45 kilogrammes per day – about 45,000 typical daily doses. As we will see, that was almost certainly having far-reaching ecological consequences. But people living downstream might have seen more immediate effects. Fluoroquinolones, the class of antibiotics to which some of the other drugs being made in Patancheru belong, are known in some cases to have frightening physical and mental side effects, even after a single dose.
In 2009, the team returned to find drugs at high concentrations in village wells downstream from the plant. And in one nearby lake, concentrations of ciprofloxacin and ceterizine (an antihistamine) exceeded the concentrations of those drugs that would be found in the bloodstream of a patient who is being treated with them!
- Create appropriate health facilities for the treatment of villagers
- Design a programme to restore land and detoxify rivers and the lakes with support if institutional partners from around the world.
- Create stricter regulation and standards for the pharmaceutical industry in the region
- Every unit in the area needs to have tertiary treatment of the water, including treatment of the API residue.
- There needs to be an interdisciplinary institution in the region which would host all the work to be done for the impacted community.
EnvirohealthMatters is a non-profit organisation.
For more Details:
Contact: Rishab Khanna
Please find out more on http://www.envirohealthmatters.org/ and Please do sign the petition on the issue:
Biodiversity Conservation and urban poverty alleviation through employment generation, can they go together? Many will argue that urbanity sustains itself by plundering the biodiversity of surroundings. So the usual answer for it is going to be “No”. For many the whole idea of conservation is very elite. Only those who have time and money will engage in it as a hobby. Why are we trying to bring them together? The scale of resource loss, environmental degradation in cities is massive. The number of urban poor is increasing and will keep amplifying in the context of mass distress prevailing in rural areas and increase in prices of essential commodities in urban areas. Both need ‘Mission’ like approach.
For employment generation and poverty alleviation, the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA) is envisaging National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM). There are few very important elements in the document i.e. ‘Skill and training for employment’, ‘Urban Wage employment’. Both are extremely significant for conserving biodiversity in the cities.
Biodiversity Conservation at a very surface level includes rejuvenation of eco-systems, monitoring of different species. These are the basic tasks which are built on scientific skills. They can be imparted through the trainings planned forward. Those who are churned out of those trainings and skill building exercises can move on to create or rejuvenate natural assets (biodiversity). The ‘Urban Wage Employment Programme’ of Swaran Jayanti Rozgaar Yojna , was merely used for construction of essential infrastructure. The scope of the same programme which is now incorporated in NULM can be increased to natural asset creation and management in urban areas. For example the poor can be trained in rejuvenation of a lake or minor a stream in the city. Further to make the venture sustainable support can be provided through NULM funding and other seed funding mechanisms to start fish-breeding or growing bamboo. Within months or years depending on the measure undertaken the venture can become self sustaining. Post that management of it can be passed on to a Self Help Group or the Federation which undertook the process of transformation. Those federations and Self Help Groups can be answerable to the City authorities and State Forest Departments, State Biodiversity Boards.
In many cases the ventures will need additional financial support throughout, particularly the monitoring of bird species, creating niches for them or de-silting the lakes. In that case there is large scale funding available through both Corporate Social Responsibility which is a growing domain, lot of money is being poured and then there are Inter-governmental Organizations like UNESCO & International Union for Conservation of Nature, Global Environment Facility to hold on to. This at present is not utilized at the scale it is desired.
In addition to what has been stated before, we have large vacant urban spaces which are lying fallow. Many are asking for unlocking it to avail land. In several cases we can’t do that as there are risks associated and they have to be there in order to provide clean air and space, for example the land with Indian Railways next to a railway track or recreational parks. They have a huge potential. These can be used to grow minor vegetables and herbs.
Can it be done?
Farming of vegetables next to Mumbai Sub-urban railways is a classy example and is age old successful model. The quality is checked time to time. There is a mechanism through which the tender is given to those who want to farm. There are many illegalities but it is still functional and vibrant. It adds to food security and keeps the poor and real estate developers away from taking the over the land. Our park spaces can be used for planting medicinal herbs and flowers which can be harvested again through federations or self help groups. Their additional and essential responsibility will be to manage the parks while using it as a resource to earn respectable livelihoods.
Do we have institutional capacity to undertake such a task? We do. We have proved it through Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), which is world’s largest social security programme, that it is very much possible. It provided employment to many. The impact of it was not limited to employment generation alone; it transformed the rural landscapes in many areas. Barren hills turned green, dead ponds recreated to supply water during scarce days are few examples from the list of many.
Adding more to the response, India is one of the foremost countries where there are lot of well functioning and vibrant environment organizations, our universities are bubbling with environmental scientists and educationists. They can be engaged in imparting and facilitating trainings and workshops.
In order to keep our commitments for Convention of Biodiversity, we created National Biodiversity Authority & State level Biodiversity Authorities/Board. Their current function is very limited to access and benefit sharing of the biological resources. They are yet to undertake their most important task of conservation. Many civil society actors are a part of it and shared their frustration for being unable to take it up. By enabling them to join hands with urban employment creation, it is assured that cities will have green and affordable future.
In recently held Conference of Parties for Convention of Biodiversity cities across the world were sharing their successful models to undertake such a herculean task. Sadly we had none. Here is our opportunity.
Currently in the Governing Council of National Urban Livelihood Mission we have no representation of Ministry of Environment & Forest. Even at state level and district level they aren’t represented at all. The first and foremost task is to have them in the system to brainstorm possible avenues. Later the involvement of State Forest Departments & State Biodiversity Boards/Authorities can be encouraged to impart both skills and monitor the work commenced. The 74th Amendment of Indian constitution placed the bucket of Poverty alleviation in the hands of Urban Local Bodies and called it their ‘legitimate’ function in NULM. The same 74th amendment also placed the task of environment conservation and management in the hands of the same urban local bodies.
Keeping that in mind, above all in the era of climate change, the time is ripe for the municipal authorities to integrate these different domains for betterment of the city ecosystem as a whole.
With wet eyes and heavy heart I am making this announcement that our dear friend and crusader of the river Ganga Prof. Veer Bhadra Mishra (Mahant Ji) has departed. Prof. Mishra was the Founder of Sankat Mochan Foundation and initiator of Swetcha Ganga (Clean Ganges) Campaign. Because of his incredible work the Time Magazine named him the hero of the century in 1999. An active member of slow functioning “National Ganga River Basin Authority”, he always pursued the Government of India to take positive action for the betterment of
the river. His organization played the role of constructivist and proposed an effective solution apart from acting as a watch dog. As a part of the way out they proposed appropriate technology which relied more on natural ways of treatment. Sadly Dr Mishra died before seeing his dream become a reality, largely because of bureaucratic delays within the Government of India.
His departure is a personal loss for all of us. A friend, who was an optimist, and strived harder till the end to achieve the vision of seeing Swetcha Ganga, Nirmal Ganga. Few years ago he told me ‘Kabir ji when I see young people like you I feel excited and inspired’. Those humbling words still ring in my head and motivate me during the times of trouble and loss.
Keeping his legacy alive is important for all of us. His bequest is not limited to the frame of environment. He was the successor Goswami Tulsi Das author of Ram Charitra Manas- the text which gave Rama the status of God. And later the same God was abused the communal elements for their own vested interests. Mahant Ji never stood by such folly. His message was full of love and compassion. He brought people from different communities together. Such was his charisma.
It was his dream that Varanasi should be the model for success for the rest of River Ganga. To achieve this dream, the following action is needed.
- Capture: Install an interceptor pipe appropriate to each location, to capture all the sewagebefore it flows into the Ganga.
- Clean: Install sewage treatment plants that completely treat
- the sewage; that reclaim water and precious nutrients; that require minimal electricity to operate; that remove harmful disease causing pathogens; and that sequester carbon.
- Coordinate: Coordinate all existing bodies, national, state and local, to ensure they are working together; ensuring effective pilot models before replicating; ensuring that the sewage treatment capacity matches the levels projected for future population needs.
- Check: Regularly verify that the sewage treatment system is functioning properly and monitor river health.
The Sankat Mochan Foundation (SMF), Friends of the Ganges and Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) are calling on the people and Government of India to come together and make Dr Mishra’s dream come true.
Mahant Ji it is tough to part with you. Bless us with courage and optimism to take your work forward. You will always live in our hearts, minds and souls.
Indian Youth Climate Network
Verdict is not yet out
Photo Courtesy: parisaramahiti.kar.nic.in
Lake conservation has never been a priority in any part of our country. In case of Bangalore the transformation of Dharmabudhi tank to Bangalore city bus stand or Challaghata tank to Golf course reflect this reality. In the new urbanity it seems that lakes are not important as they appear to be encroachments on pricy land which need to be brought in the market. The description holds some truth but due to increasing citizen strokes and for some intelligent reasons of their own the Governments at different levels are now getting into action. In case of Bangalore the lakes were either with the Forest department or Bangalore development Authority (BDA) some were with Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP). With the formation of National Lake Conservation Plan in 2001, Karnataka state government formed Lake Development Authority (a nonprofit entity) to look after the lakes in 2002. The LDA has around 9 lakes rest are either in the hands of BBMP (55 identified lakes) or BDA (115 identified lakes), 4 lakes are still with Karnataka forest department.
In past there were around 263 lakes in Bangalore but as per the documents provided by BBMP there are 183 identified lakes, this estimate is optimistic and is different from the claims of Citizens’ group. According to them, there are not more than 127 lakes. Almost all of them are either drying up or at different stages of contamination.
Status of Lakes in Bangalore
The analysis of the water quality test reports obtained from the Karnataka Pollution Control Board laboratory clearly shows that the Bangalore’s lakes are severely contaminated. The Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), which is indicator of level of organic matter in the water, is higher than the safe limits in most of the lakes. Dissolved nutrients like Nitrate and Sulphate are predominantly high in the lake water. Further, the microbial contaminant indicator (coli form) is also extremely high indicating the inflow of untreated sewage into the lakes. The coli form content is as high as 9200 CFU/100 ml in Ibblur Lake when the safe standard for drinking water is less than 10 CFU/100 ml. The bacterial contamination is higher than 5000 CFUs in most of the lakes in Bangalore which is a serious cause of worry as it can potentially contaminate the ground water. This has serious implications to the growth of the city as a large proportion of its population and industries depend on ground water for meeting their potable water requirements. Contamination of lake water also impacts the flora and fauna living in it. This will directly impact the community of people like fishermen who are dependent on the lakes for their livelihood. The unique biodiversity of the lakes which includes rare water birds will also be impacted due to the deterioration of the water quality and silting of the lakes. A recent study conducted by the KSPCB has concluded that nearly 82% of all lakes in Bangalore are polluted and are in serious need of rejuvenation.
I am going to focus more on the relevance of Public Private Partnership in lake development & conservation. In order to contextualize the ideas and thoughts there will be some historical, political and geographical aspects which will keep meandering through out.
Public Private Partnership as the term goes is a partnership between public institution and private. There are multiple reasons to engage private bodies for delivering or managing the public services. There are instances where the public institutions lack capacity. There the buck is passed on to private authority which has both expertise and can ensure smooth implementation in given resources. In case of urban infrastructure development, operation and management we are having large scale private entity participation through PPP. Construction of roads, managing solid waste, ensuring water supply etc. are the areas where we see PPP in action. There are projects which failed and collapsed, some survived and are going well. So the verdict on PPP is not yet out. There is a pressure both from Inter Governmental Organizations like US AID, World Bank, different corporations and their collectives like Confederation of Indian Industry, to pursue the path of PPP. On the other side of the fence we have organizations and citizen groups who are condemning this act. They see it as “Privatization” of resources.
PPP in lake conservation
The National Lake Conservation Guidelines which came out in May, 2008 doesn’t explicitly encourage Public Private Participation. The road map for funding the conservation plans is 60 percent by the Central Government, 30 percent by the state and last ten percent by the Municipal (local) body. The state governments with their low budget are not keen to take over the job themselves so they prefer the private institutions and citizen groups.
In case of Karnataka they started leasing them out to private entities since 2004. The effort of lake conservation is either taken over by the citizen groups like Puttenhalli Neighborhood Lake Improvement Trust or Private Institutions like Siemens as a part of Corporate Social Responsibility, Hebbal Lake was handed over to Oberoi hotel Groups who planned to develop the lake with a hotel on its side. In most of the cases apparently it is all the effort of private entity and no investment is made by the LDA or BBMP. Handing over the lakes like Hebbal to Oberoi, Vengaiahkere to Par-C, Nagawara to Lumbini, Agara to Biota groups raised certain level of distrust in the citizenry. In order to generate revenue to manage the costs, institutions seems to be active to charge whosoever visits. This made the lakes exclusive. There were also plans for developing them as entertainment or amusement parks which are definitely more harming than leaving the lakes to the status quo.
The active environment group “Environment Support Group” challenged the outsourcing decision of LDA in Karnataka High Court through a public interest petition. Taking a note of petition Karnataka High Court appointed a committee under NK Patil, Judge Karnataka High Court which came up with a report stating that “Consequential Commercial Interest” is not a solution for development of lakes in the city. In this whole debate lakes were looked at as commercial interest areas with aesthetic value. The environmental value of the lake ecosystem was neither acknowledged nor appreciated. Wherever citizen groups took initiative for the management of lakes, results are good but again the measures are exclusive. The lakes are reserved for the rising urban bourgeoisie. Will they allow other sections of our society to enjoy the lake? Probably not!
The parameters to check the performance level of PPP are the benefits to the end user as well as those who are investing in it. In case of lake the end user aspect is very vague. There are unaccountable numbers of “Stakeholders” who need to be included. From the current flow of lake conservation programme it doesn’t seem that the approach is very inclusive.
For the benefit of understanding let me identify the stakeholders (it can be institutions & individuals as well as wider ecosystem) in case of Lake Conservation:
- First and foremost: Urban Ecosystem which includes birds & migratory birds, plants & water body organisms, animals etc, Catchment area of the lakes.
- Residents of the area & general citizenry of the city and surrounding.
- Different Agencies looking at the management of lakes
- Active Citizen Groups for monitoring
- Vulnerable groups and others who also may have direct stake in the lake like downstream farmers or fishermen.
- Water Supply & Sanitation, Solid Waste Management wings of Local body.
In the current framing of PPP none of them are included. The plans include construction of island for nesting of birds, walk way, playing space for children, idol immersion tank & seating arrangement. Too Anthropocentric! LIn most cases it is walk way, some bit of treatment (which is very recent) and playing space for children gets the priority. The plants planted in the surrounding are ornamental and importantly alien to the ecosystem of the area. Upstream and downstream ecosystems rarely configure in lake development and conservation plan. I am not saying this out of mere rhetoric but a walk (or a long ride) from the Sankey to the Kengeri Kere can unfold the reality which I am highlighting in my argument.
In most cases the water quality as mentioned in the current status of lakes is bad to worst. There are plans to place sewage treatment plants and treatment plants for Storm water. I am not an expert to say how they will function. Their optimum utilization is very important for lake rejuvenation.
Can PPP be a solution? What do we need to rework?
As I have mentioned before, the verdict is not yet out. The commercial interests cannot be sole focus to rejuvenate ecosystems. There need to be more holistic approach, where lakes become a functioning active ecosystems, a space to harvest rainwater, naturally treat waste water which further can be a source of water supply as well as an open space where people mingle. The vision seems to be larger than what can be achieved but it can happen.
As a part of organizing team of J&K Solutions Fair (Collaborated effort of Federation Chamber of Industry Kashmir & Indian Youth Climate Network) I got a chance to visit Nageen Lake in Srinagar adjacent to Dal Lake. The J&K government has formed Lake & Watershed Development Authority for the management and conservation of Lakes. Even after the inception of institution the growth of weed in Dal Lake is increasing, encroachment is increasing, water quality is degrading.
On the contrary Nageen Lake is different. It is clean; weeds removed regularly which are used as fertilizers as they are rich in nitrogen. No plastic bags floating. How did it happen? Tourists were losing interest in Dal. The houseboat owners in Nageen decided to come together and clean the lake and attract tourists. Houseboats in case of Kashmir are also a part of Lake Ecosystem. The effort was out of utter commercial interest but they took a wider approach. They cleaned the lake, managed the solid waste in surrounding, and rejuvenated the park in the catchment area (open to everyone). The quality has improved testified by LWDA. They are contributing money for regular removal of weed and waste. Can it be named as PPP? Why not! The story of Nageen Lake is just one aspect, not yet completing the envisioned belief mentioned above, still there is a hope.
What we need is different way of thinking. We have city development plan, Master Plan and now City Resilience Plan (for Climate Change). Can we think of integrating all of them and adding the aspect of Biodiversity? If integration cannot happen, formation of City Biodiversity Plan is not a bad idea. According to 74 amendment of Indian Constitution coming up with City Biodiversity Plan should be mandatory as management of ecosystem and environment of urban areas is in the hands of urban local bodies. Lake Development Authority which is a Parastatal institution in most states should be rather decentralized, have the stake of city and city dwellers. There is no harm in engaging corporate identities. Corporate Social Responsibility through which the private entities are engaging in social welfare can be an effective way of generating funds and resources. Non Governmental Organizations & citizen groups especially residents, fishermen, farmers have certain level of expertise which is not worth ignoring, bringing them in the fold and making them more active and inclusive is worth working for. Integration of Waste Water Treatment, Storm Water Treatment & Rain water Harvesting need to be done, there are technological spaces where our current governmental understanding might be lower than the private entities. Engagement with them becomes extremely important. Once everything suggested is in place, probably then we can issue a verdict on Public Private Partnership in lake conservation and development.
Summary of the paper through the words of Infrastructure Development Corporation (Karnataka) Limited
Conservation of lakes under a Public Private Partnership is not envisaged directly under any of the enactments and policies, however few lakes were undertaken under private participation and it was alleged by the public that it is commercialization of the lakes which would serve the interest of the private parties and not the public at large. Thus conservation of lakes under a PPP framework has not received the desired response and public acceptance in Karnataka mainly because of its commercial nature. The process was adopted by Lake Development Authority which received a lot of opposition for the public. A number of civic organizations, environmental organizations, naturalists and birdwatchers, were alarmed and perturbed at the manner in which the numerous tanks and wetlands, essentially a common property, were being handed over for commercial and developments activities to private parties by the Government. A copy of letter submitted by an environmental organization (ESG) to the Chief Minister regarding their concern on the privatization of lakes is provided in Annexure. Conservation of lakes under private participation could be undertaken by framing a suitable guidelines and policies for private participation which is not purely commercial in nature and the guidelines should provide for environmental protection, ecological sensitivity issues, abatement of pollution and more so ever conservation of lakes for the public purpose by the private parties.
 Restoration of Lakes in Bangalore by Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Pallike, Environment Cell Lakes (2012)
 Information Obtained by Indian Youth Climate Network Bangalore through Right to Information
 National Lake Conservation Plan Guidelines 2008
 “Commercial Interest cannot drive lake conservation in Bengaluru”- Down To Earth 19 Nov, 2011
 Using ecosystem and catchment area as a system or a stakeholder will change the whole approach of how we look at lakes. It is more holistic and wider.
 Development of Lake Conservation Projects, Karnataka Final Pre-Feasibility Report submitted to Infrastructure Development Department by Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited.
Urban diaries from India
One hour of rain in Bangalore brings the city on its knees. Traffic halted, no space to walk, all the roads flooded and one is cursing the government and municipal bodies etc. On the other hand many parts of the city are water deficit even after the rain. Water starvation with good enough rainfall, doesn’t it sound like an oxymoron. While sitting at the back of desk I did some calculation to see how much water Bangalore receives from rain and connected it with the water demand. I was enlightened and amazed by some interesting insights, thought to share with the audience outside.
With some facts dug from Google and readings, one can see that Bangalore if manages the rainfall properly the city has enough water. It is also possible with this assumption that the city need not to import water from a river which is 100KMS away and is at lower elevation than the mean height of the city.
On an average a city like Bangalore (Urban) receives 978mm (wiki.) of rainfall annually. The total area of Bangalore is 740Sq.Kms. (Excreta Matters). If one visits http://www.calctool.org/CALC/other/default/rainfall and do some calculation to find out the volume of water falling all over Bangalore it will be around 7.23720e+8 meter cubed i.e. 723720 Million liters annually. The daily demand of water as per city agency is 1125 MLD (In 2001- Excreta Matters) which comes out to be 410625 Million Liters per year. The supply is more than the demand.
There are scientific claims that the rainfall water is highly distilled, it is drinkable (keeping acid rains aside). Let’s make another connection. On an average we spent Rs. 15/- for one liter of bottled drinking water. Take the price of water Rs. 15 in this case too; the cost of water lost will be around Rs. 10855800 million per year and this is just Bangalore. Quiet a huge amount!
It is an exaggerated claim as we are yet to do real costing of water. Currently whatever is included in pricing of water is just the operational cost. There is a possibility if we do real costing the amount may come around the one I have suggested.
In a utopian scenario if we harvest each and every drop of rainwater water, the city is water rich. Say the efficiency is half we still have enough water to manage the affairs assuming that there is no water wastage through leakage and stealing. In doing the above calculation, there is another assumption of saying no other source of water. This is not true in the case of cities like Bangalore where we have natural lakes, streams etc.
Now the question is how we are going to harvest water. Do we have infrastructure to harvest water? Do we have money? Yes! We do, if we can spent large chunk of revenue to fetch water from Cauvery, can we have money in our coffers to invest in improving and encouraging harvesting structures.
For harvesting structures, we are intelligent enough we can either store it in a tank the way our ancestors used to do. Rainwater percolating systems from the paved surface, efficient storm water drainage with ways to remove impurities. Many new innovations are coming in the market.
The only effort we need to make is to move our butt and take some action.
Urban diaries from India
Some might think I am throwing tantrums in my reflections. The infrastructural development especially the construction of flyovers for both roads and tracks, metro-railway stations, malls, shopping complexes etc. is making the air in urban India un-breathe-able. I have nothing against such developments as there is an assumption that it will lead to improvement of lifestyle of urban centers which are said to be exploding with chaos. It is believed that the hyperactivity of dust particles will settle down once it is done. I do have counter experiences to it but will not get into that now.
While all this mass construction is going on there are health concerns which I am not sure whether are being taken into consideration. The urbanites especially the ones who either cannot afford to take sealed air-conditioned modes of mobility or by choice avoid them are forced to inhale a good quantity of dust. And this becomes deadly when combined with suspended particulate matter and hazardous gases like carbon monoxide from the vehicles on road. There are other concerns including the debris scattered everywhere. Nobody knows when it will be taken away or what will be done with it. Are they going to dump it at a landfill site and make a waste hill resurgent mountain of India? Probably yes, in past visits to few landfill sites I did see deposition of construction material.
Apart from health and debris deposition concerns, there is also very funny fusion of mismanagement which becomes very visible in the peculiar situations like infrastructural development. When the construction is undertaken there seems to be disconnection between various agencies. While moving around the city at many places I have seen this disconnection with the stark naked eye. There used to be a bus stop on the road opposite to Indian Institute of Sciences (Tata Institute Bus stop), since the construction has been undertaken there is no sign of it. . The old one was adjacent to a turn and now there is construction going on, which made the road narrow. No one knows where to board the bus from. People stop the bus by waiving the hand on the same spot which results in banging of horns and traffic congestion. No one knows what is happening? Is Bus stop functioning or is it dead? Have they moved it away, then why is there no information of it? The passage is narrow and no proper pavement for someone to stand; it is definitely a recipe of a disastrous accident where the one on foot will be probably forced to die an unnatural death. There is another example where people are forced to stand beneath the structure under construction to board the buses. The road space is already narrowed by the construction which brings these masses in the middle of a road- known for heavy traffic.
What will one do that in case? Someone may say it is temporary, soon there will be metro train “for the people”, so endure it. But I am sure many standing in the crowd waiting for the bus will not be able to afford the metro train as it has happened in case of Delhi, many “activist” and “academic” papers have pointed it out.
Probably by now you must be guessing that I am going to get to the larger than life existential questions like “What is development? For whom?” etc. No, I am not getting into it. There are complexities however every damn thing around is not complex. There are some simple solutions to such aggregating crisis like changing the bus stop location and informing the bus commuters by placing a board it’s place, re-using the debris in new construction and making it accessible than pushing it out of the city altogether at landfill sites and that doesn’t mean that it should be kept on site for elongated time period waiting for the customers to come, this particular process has to be very dynamic. Removal of debris can also solve to an extent the issue of dust in the air. We also have to find other innovative ways where the dust is not overflowing in the air and flooding the lungs. Furthermore there is dire a need to re-visit whether we need such large scale construction or is it possible to manage in the minimum. Many of the Delhi Metro-Railway Stations are mammoth size still under-used will remain so for many generations altogether. Can Bus Rapid Transit Systems be preferred for particular locations than investing heavily in Metro-rails?
I have no clear answers, threw few ideas of the potential tech-fixes to highlight that I am also “constructivist” whatever little it means, and not “tantrum shelling bourgeoisie” Rest the answers are to be collectively evolved. Leaving on an optimistic note infrastructural development can be humane.
Urban Diaries from India
A better off pavement which is a little more walkable
Who owns Indian roads? Who decides who can use the roads? I never got the answer through any written theory or a law. It seems that there is some unwritten law book locked in the minds of the designers of cities. One must be wondering why am I in the whirlpool of these questions, I want to lose weight and have a little longer and more “healthier” life.
My pocket doesn’t allow me to pay for sweating in an air conditioned gym. So I prefer using the conventional way i.e. walking. But can I walk on roads. Yes! Surely but have to create my own way in mass of vehicles, slumps of waste and open drains. Walking on Indian roads is not very different from trekking in Himalayas but remember that there is no fresh air for the pedestrians which one can afford in mountains. Only fumes and dust is offered to those who walk.
Every day pre-lunch and post lunch I walk down to the destined eatery. There is a nice spacious road. I cannot access it; any car which considers lane to be a freeway can pass through any moment. And I don’t want to be martyred by a car; there are better causes to die for and better ways to kill oneself. Are there any walkways? Yes! There are. Why don’t I use them? I do use them but they are a dumping sight of many houses, construction material is scattered all around. At many places the pavements are either broken or encroached by the house owners, it is not available for “public” use. So I have to father a new pathway daily.
Some political masala to make it a little more intelligent post, according to different estimates it is concluded that more than 60% of citizens in Delhi use buses. And they walk down to the bus stop to board it. A glance of the data is enough to infer that broken payments have a tendency of encouraging people to use auto-rickshaws or shared vehicle to reach the bus stop. There is also a probability that the state of pavements can discourage the public transport users to take bus, especially those who come from affluent section.
The walk-ability of the pavement is going to be another potential Bus Rapid Transit (Delhi) like battle-ground which need to be fought by the pedestrians to reclaim spaces and cities. Walkability is not dependent on the topography of payment it also includes trees, pollution. If the surroundings are exploding with traffic – it is pedestrian who is “saving the environment” will suffer the most by inhaling carbon monoxide and suspended particulate matter, noise of horn banging as everyone want to win some invisible race. Poor guy instead of being rewarded is actually condemned in real life situation for taking such a worthy decision.
There is another dimension to the story of walk-ability. Many of our bourgeoisie citizens blame the street vendors for occupying the pavements. Do vendors reduce the walk-ability; I have no data to support. But because of the presence of street vendors, many places seem to be a little more walk-able. As Indians we have a habit of shopping while going back home, grabbing snacks on the way to office which makes the presence of street vendors essential in our lives. In recent times to make the life of 11 number bus commuter (pedestrian) sky-walks have been constructed. The number of pedestrians on “sky-walk” is far more less than those who are walking on the road, meandering in between the vendors and their stalls. Through a minute observation of “Skywalks” in Bandra, Ghatkopar, Lower Parel, one can arrive at a conclusion that vendors make roads walk-able. I am sure there can be multiple reason of less usage of “skywalks” but there is no harm in making connection between the evident activities. Argument of vendors taking over the pathway is flattened or maybe I am a biased fool who is trying to be a little more humane towards vendors and not the heaps of classy men who want to demolish everything to make roads walk-able instead of reducing the mobile vehicular congestion.
So what do we do now? I have no clear answer but I will keep walking to lose weight and reclaim the space I am entitled to. Hope more people will join. Last but not the least clean, well maintained pavements have a potential to make our figures perfect.