Friday, August 2, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Quest for Sustainability in Bhuj

Dear All, 

Through our project work on Sustainably Smart Pune 2030 and Citizens Charter & Action Agenda for Sustainable 2030 me and Dr Karve were invited to attend a consultation in Bhuj on Sustainability. This consultation was organized jointly by The Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Kachchh University and Homes in the City  (HIC) a network of CSO, NGOs and Citizens' Collective that work towards decentralized and participatory governance, equity and conservation of ecology, slum redevelopment, participatory ground water management and waste management. In this blog I would like to share my experience and learnings from the people of Bhuj.

4.30 am on a highway near Bhuj
In order to reduce our work related carbon emissions we thought of travelling by a train to Bhuj this time. However we had to opt for a flight from Pune to Ahmedabad as the connections available were weird. So we booked a train from Ahmedabad to Bhuj and also for our return journey to Pune. We were all excited to go by train after a long time. However, our excitement was shattered as our flight from Pune to Ahmedabad got delayed and we had to cancel our ongoing train as well. HIC had to book a cab at the last moment for us from Ahmedabad to Bhuj and thus we landed in an adventurous night ride. Adventurous as the driver was super sleepy and needed to sleep for an hour or so but he happened to sleep from 2.30 am to 4 am. He simply parked the cab aside near a random Dhaba on the highway mid of the night. This was scary as well as exciting, we were sleepy but couldn't sleep. I still tried to get a nap but Dr Karve was wide awake. I had to wake the driver sternly but then he rushed us to the hotel soon. 

We had a meeting with the coordinator of this consultation Aseem Mishra later that day post lunch. Our pick up was arranged in a Chaggada (big broad rickshaw just like our six seater) and I was amazed to see a woman driving this rickshaw. We got to know that Bhuj has got two women rickshaw drivers named Asha Waghela and Chandni Parmar. Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KVMS) has been doing some great work in empowering women in the city through various such initiatives.

Aseem accompanied us to a solid waste management facility, where we could see wastes was being segregated in to different categories by the migrant rag pickers in an area. However, we saw a lot of biomedical wastes lying around due to a hospital nearby. Mostly it was discarded injection syringes and plastic tubes, since it was plastic it was also collected by the rag pickers without realizing its harmful effects, we even saw their children playing bare footed near the facility. Knowledge about biomedical wastes and overall hygiene is still lacking among the people. however its the hospitals that need to ensure that no waste from their premises mixes with the local solid waste system. In general if we see Bhuj seems to have a major waste management issue. The entire city looked full of rubble and construction wastes lying around. This is sad as well as alarming!!!

The same day we visited Khamir a place where I tried my hand at weaving upcycled plastic mats. It was a fun experience learning to weave on a traditional hand loom under the guidance of a local woman weaver. Khamir is place where you can get a variety of goods made from leather, upcycled plastic, cotton, wool, recycled metal etc. that reflects the culture and heritage of Kutch. A great place for outsiders to buy souvenirs from Kachchh!!!

Later we visited the Ramkrishna Trust near Kukma a place where we could see sustainable practices from an organic farm, a big biogas plant, rainwater harvesting system, solar cooker, gravity grade separater, cottages (huts) made out of eco friendly materials to metal drums recycled to make seating, traditional roofing made out of woven rice straw etc. However, the amply available cow dung that is used in various preparations for health emphasizing the importance of cow dung and urine, reflected pseudo scientific analysis to an extent commented Dr. Karve. I agree with her as well, using cow dung in the form of a small chip and pasting it onto our mobiles to help us being unaffected by harmful radiations was something serious marketing gimmick! But people do fall for such stuff.

From L to R: Waste management facility, us in Khamir and Biogas plant in Ramkrishna Trust
Now I would like to give just a few glimpses of the two day consultation.

The first day of our consultation was held in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science of Kachchh University's SMART Classroom. Yes the SMART Classroom was indeed a hi-tech classroom equipped with white board enabled projector screen that was touch sensitive, a 360 degree camera and decent audio system. Not yet seen any such thing in Pune's academic institutions in spite of being a SMART city.

We were a small group of people for the consultation around 20 of us. I was glad to see a woman as a VC of the Kachchh University in Bhuj. She welcomed us to the vibrant city of Bhuj having diverse cultures and was appreciative of how all like-minded people come together and work towards making Bhuj a Sustainable city.

Aseem Mishra the coordinator of HIC gave a broad background of the city also known as a WALLED city. The city was defended by four gates and the Bhujio Hill however post-earthquake all the walls collapsed and now one can see only the remnants in the old core part of the city. Since then the entire city has expanded three times in terms of area with an increase in population as well. There is no river in the city, however there are several lakes in the city-Hamirsar lake is the largest catchment area. It is an intricate network of lakes, streams, wells that feed the groundwater reserves. There have been no rains in the city since last three years and the Hamirsar lake has gone dry creating severe water crunch in the city. People even said ‘that only when we see water in the Hamirsar lake, the water in our eyes will dry People of Bhuj are completely dependent on ground water reserves for their water needs, however part of the water comes from Narmada dam but less than what is supposed to. The value of WATER and the water systems for a common man in an arid region is something that we can never understand having a continued water supply. Learning about Climate change and Sustainability are far off when you are struggling with day to day water needs. However understanding it will definitely help in adapting to such situations. 

HIC has been working since last ten years in collaboration with other local organisations and running pilots that can be easily implemented in the city on a large scale. The only thing we felt is kind of missing is the lack of reaching out to the citizens that are living in the city. Though the locals in the city are few and the city consists of migrated inhabitants, its time they start contributing for the betterment of the city. The outskirts of the city have haphazard development while the old part of the city shows the remnants of the earthquake even after nineteen years. It seems that the city takes pride in the earthquake in a way and wants to keep the remnants as a mark of the historical event that affected so many lives. But the point is old part of city looks really sad and dry and shattered we couldn't see it closely but didn't even feel like going.

Dr Mrugesh Trivedi, Kachchh Univerity, spoke about the potential for carbon sequestration at industry level, community level and research level. The fact that such studies and discussions are happening from academic purpose is a good news. However they have a long way to go since understanding climate change and its impacts was in itself a challenge.

Dr Himanshu Burte, TISS gave a background on sustainable landscapes, relevance of mapping at different scales. Role of interlinkages and interplays is very crucial and needs to be understood when we need to acheive sustainability was something that he stressed on and we were glad that our study on Sustainably smart Pune is based on some of these concepts.

Dr Priyadarshini Karve, Samuchit Enviro Tech, spoke about our project study, the INECC sustainability index that we have derived and how it is SDG compliant unlike the smart city mission goals for Pune.

Jyoti Awasti and Nakul Sharma, CANSA (Climate Action Network, South Asia) showed the impacts of climate change during 1990 to 2010 in the form of rainfall and cyclones that severely affected the city. Recognition of vulnerable communities and the importance of developing adaptation and resilent strategies for them is the need of the hour specifically in urban areas.

Glimpses of the consultation

After the session several site visits were arranged. The first one was a DEWATS (Decentralised Wastewater System). This is a demonstration plant that picks up some of the water from the city's sewage water flow and treats it before releasing it in a stream. It was set up by a local NGO and has been handed over to the Municipality, in a hope that similar systems would be set up all over the city to clean up the city's sewage water and prevent it contaminating precious fresh water resources. However, nothing has happened so far.

Site visits 
Next we visited the rainwater harvesting system implemented by a bungalow society named Jubilee colony. Since a part of the parking area would get flooded every monsoons, water would infiltrate their bungalows and spoil all furniture, bugged of spending money on costly furniture every year, the residents approached a local NGO and they installed an innovative rainwater harvesting system using the parking space. Installing the system enabled increase in the ground water levels as well which the society realized later. But such innovations are required and will be sustainable if they are managed by communities with the help of minor or little facilitation through local organisations.

Then most interesting part of the site visit was the seeing the owner driven community housing project led by Hunnarshala and HIC through a participatory approach. The people in a particular community were fully satisfied with the interventions made by Hunnarshala a local organisation working for skill development in indigenous technologies. Happiness of owning one's house the way you want is something that is really precious. We could see the happiness, confidence and sense of ownership among all the people in the community. This is a perfect example showcasing successful implementation of government scheme on ground through participatory and integrated approach.

The next day was a kind of a closed group discussion as HIC wanted to build on a framework for further actions. My role was to conduct interactive activities for the group. So we conducted our usual mentimeter based polls and our SDG 11 related brainstorming activity. Based on the results and discussions, it was decided that core strategies for Bhuj should focus on showcasing their incredible work to a larger mass in the city in order to get things moving in the required direction. Also a focus on equity, climate change and environmental issues from a scientific perspective needs to be work on.  
Happy us in the train

Definitely we had great enriching time in Bhuj. Thanks to the team of HIC, especially Aseem Mishra for giving us this opportunity. I hope our inputs will help them freeze a framework for Sustainable and climate friendly Bhuj. 

Finally we could travel by train on our journey back to Pune and of course me and Dr Karve had a great time.

See you all next week....till then stay tuned to this space.

Pournima Agarkar.

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