India Can Set Example of Clean Development: Expert

Athar Parvaiz

India has a unique opportunity for being very innovative to ensure sustainable urbanization in its cities given that the country has seen reluctant urbanization so far, scientists and policy-makers concluded last week during the 15th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS), an annual event organized by The Energy and Research Institute (TERI).

They agreed that if India successfully implements its agenda of establishing 100 smart cities through sustainable infrastructure-development, it will set a unique trend for the developing world through its innovative models of sustainability.

“This is an opportunity for India to use technology to leapfrog across the world. Indians cannot replicate the western models of urbanization,” said Amitabh Kanth, Secretary for Department of Industrial Policy and Production, government of India.

“When America and Europe urbanized, they had the luxury of creating cities like Atlanta where 98 percent people travel by cars guzzling fuel. It is advisable and [also] easy for us to avoid such urbanization,” he said adding India has to plan a scientific neo-urbanization. “This new planning will require our urban centers to drive through new manufacturing.”

According to a Mckinsey Global Institute (MGI) report India is going to witness rapid urbanization in the coming years. “It took nearly 40 years (between 1971 to 2008) for India’s urban population to rise by 230 million. It could take only half that time to add [another] 250 million,” the report says.

About the mismatch between the current spending on infrastructure comparing to the population in cities, the MGI report cautions that the challenge of raising the infrastructure will be enormous considering this impending massive addition to India’s urban population.  If the current rate of investment continues, it says, water supply for an average citizen could drop from an average 105 liters to average 65 liters a day and India’s cities could leave between 70 to 80 percent of sewage untreated.

Kanth said that smart solutions need to be searched out for challenging goals like ensuring carbon-free and congestion-free transportation, clean energy supply, waste and water management. “For this, we have to embed technology, finances, smart governance and smart public behavior,” he said.

Mili Majumdar, Director Sustainable Habitat Division (TERI), said that infrastructure efficiency has to be met through the use of innovative technology. For reducing the infrastructure gaps, she said that public participation in terms of revenue generation is a must.

She highlighted the fact that people in Indian cities are not paying for services which results in poor or no infrastructure availability in Indian cities. It, she stressed, has to change if the concept of smart cities has to be implemented in letter and spirit. The MGI report says that cities generate the lion’s share of India’s tax revenue (between 80 to 85 percent). But, Mujamdar pointed out that only 37 percent in cities pay this tax.

Underscoring the need of sustainable development, M Ramachandaran, Senior Advisor, US Green Building Council, observed that ignoring the path of sustainable development will prove quite expensive as it will put off investors in future which will result in heavy unemployment.  He added that urban local bodies in cities need to be empowered and capacity-building programmes for them need to be initiated for proper city-management.

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