Wednesday, April 20, 2016

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: Are we getting confused again?

There was a time when I used to stress one point in any public talk on 'renewable energy'- how it is important not to confuse between 'renewable' and 'non-conventional'. I think a similar confusion is now arising about 'sustainable' and 'traditional'! 

Typically, energy sources that have become feasible after the second world war are called 'non-conventional'. Whether an energy source is conventional or not, is a matter only of historic importance. It does not automatically follow that an energy source is 'renewable' just because it is relatively new. An example of this is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is non-conventional, but it is not renewable - the Uranium atom that you break in order to harvest the energy from its nucleus, is not going to come back ever. A reverse example can also be given. Biomass energy is the most conventional energy source known to mankind, but it is renewable - a tree will continue to grow and produce more biomass even if you are cutting off its branches to use as fuel. 

Why is making this distinction and using the right word important? 

Not many supporters of renewable energy are in favour of nuclear energy for a variety of reasons. Also, every 'new' (and therefore non-conventional) source that we are coming up with (e.g. tar sands as a source of oil) is not necessarily good for the environment as renewable energy sources are supposed to be. 

So what has this got to do with 'sustainability'?

Whether a lifestyle has traditional roots or not is a complete non-issue as far as definition of sustainability is concerned. Sustainability is all about finding the right balance between social equity, economic prosperity and environmental conservation. Some traditional lifestyle practices do come close to achieving sustainability goals (e.g., growing your own food using your organic waste and waste water in your backyard), but there are also bad traditions which violate one or more principles of sustainability. For example, discrimination on the basis of class, caste or gender, is a total violation of social equity, or the tradition of throwing temple waste into a river, pollutes the river.  

Whether one wants to adopt a traditional lifestyle or not is a matter of personal choice. Whether one wants to live sustainably is also a matter of choice so far, but it is soon going to become a matter of survival. Neither route needs justification on the basis of the other. For example, everyone agrees that organic pesticides are more sustainable, and the scientific reasons for that are also well established. Why then do we need to add an aura of traditionalism around it? Is it because we don't have enough confidence in the sustainability argument?? But this too is not so bad. It is downright scary to see traditionalism getting glorified using sustainability arguments! It pains me when I read pseudo scientific arguments about the so-called benefits of cow dung cake smoke even in discussions that claim to be about 'sustainability'! The sustainability focused people should not be wasting time and energy on such nonsense! 

Equating sustainability with traditionalism is just a step away from a rabid anti-technology attitude. Technologies have helped solve some of our sustainability challenges in the past, and the same will happen in the future. Burning cow dung cakes in three stone fire for cooking is traditional, but it is highly polluting and harmful to the cook's health. The technology of converting that same dung into a better fuel and using the right stove designed to burn that fuel addresses these problems and therefore helps us achieve sustainability. This involves abandoning the traditional practice, rather than glorifying it. 

Not many people realise this but the early work on developing plastics was focused on substituting useful natural materials like ivory, whale bone, etc. which were getting extremely expensive and rare. The motivation though mostly economical was also focused on saving elephants and whales from extinction. Thus, shifting to the plastic counterparts was the sensible and sustainable thing to do. Now petroleum is getting scarce, and plastic waste has become a nuisance. Therefore we think of use of plastics as unsustainable. 

This is an example of the other reason why the "traditional = sustainable" argument worries me. Sustainability of a lifestyle practice is a matter of context. When the entire population of humanity was just 5 million people, hunting-gathering was a sustainable lifestyle practice. But it became unsustainable as the population went up, and we had to shift to agriculture. Adapting to the demands of time, space, and numbers is important to ensure sustainability. The excessive focus on traditionalism goes totally against this fundamental principle. 

We allowed ourselves to be blinded by the dreams of prosperity as projected by the so-called 'American way of life'. This blindness spread across the world and has brought us to the brinks of extinction today! We must shed the tendency to put 'blind faith' and embrace 'rationality' to get us out of this mess. 

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech

    Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

Monday, April 11, 2016


Size of a city, its growth and limits is a debatable topic with one side contending the need to limit the size and the other for increasing its limits.

In general, there is opinion among planners and experts that cities cannot grow unlimited. But restricting the growth becomes a problem for many cities as it continues its sprawl engulfing surrounding villages. Problems arise when the growing city is not able to provide basic services and good quality of life to its citizens.

34 Villages in question:

In May 2014 – State government issued official merger notification.

Politics of merger: The previous state government (Congress – NCP) wanted the merger of 34 villages (allegedly strongholds of Congress and NCP) ahead of 2017 PMC polls and thus they initiated the process in 2014. In 2015-2016 budget allocation, the PMC had set aside Rs 25 crore for these 34 villages. But in the Draft 2016-2017 budget, no provision has been made for these villages. Also it is alleged that the BJP-Shiv Sena ruled State government is not in favor of merging the villages as it would reduce its chances of winning the next PMC elections.

Is Pune Corporation capable to handle these 34 villages?

Current city status:

Sl No
Pune City
Current  Size
244 sqkm

After expansion size
500 sqkm
*Double the present size
*Greater than Mumbai Corporation
*Will become largest MC in state.
Current Population
31 lakhs

Current service levels
Water Supply
  *Major problem - Municipality supplying water only on alternate days – for few hours.
   *Unequal water distribution - 350 litre per day per person in old city area & 60 litre per day per person in fringe areas (Viman Nagar, Baner etc )

*23 villages acquired in 1997 –gets very less water
Solid waste Management
Huge problem in many wards.

Public transport – 15%, 2 wheelers – 55%
*Worst Public transport
*Newly added areas poorly connected by public transport.
*Rising Pvt vehicles
30% population
*Encroached on hills and river beds
High to moderate

Reducing green spaces
Hills encroached, green spaces reducing
*Changes in climate and loss in bio diversity

Pune is grappling to cope with its current area and population; it is struggling to meet the requirements and services of its citizens. One can argue that all cities face these problems – but then all cities are not planning to expand to double their sizes. Additional villages will be a huge burden for PMC - Not a good idea..

Status of 23 Villages added in 1997 - In 1997, 38 villages were added to Pune Corporation and in 2001, 15 fully and 5 partially were removed. Thus net 23 villages were added in 1997 to Pune Corporation increasing its size from previous 146 sqkm to present 244 sqkm.  After the merging was announced, thousands of buildings were constructed in these villages. As the merger process dragged on, many constructions without plans came up. Today, PMC is struggling to provide basic amenities in these areas.

The same phenomenon is happening in the 34 villages in the current merger list. Since the announcement, the Collectorate and  state town planning department are flooded with building permission applications. This is because now the approvals will be easier as it is per Regional plan, once merged into PMC, Development Control rules will have to be followed. From May 2014 to March 2015, district administration has issued permissions for 10 crore sq feet of construction (Source: TOI, March 25, 2015). Many illegal constructions are already in full swing here.

  • It’s a fact that the surrounding villages of PMC are growing haphazardly and need regulation. The development pressures of the city are eating up the farms and open spaces in these surrounding villages. So the best solution for these 34 villages is to have a separate Municipal corporation, as it will allow for decentralized governance. Yes, it will take time to establish a system and machinery , but with the help from PMC and funding from state government, the new corporation will be able to manage within a few years.
  • Also there is a need to shift focus from Pune to its region.  Growth of Pune and surroundings in the recent years is attributed to the development of IT and manufacturing industry. The city and the neighbouring Pimpri Chinchwad attract huge number of IT employees without housing and other basic infrastructure, thus burdening PMC for housing, transport and infrastructure requirements. Pune needs to dilute its growth to surroundings by developing satellite townships with employment and housing opportunities. Regional plan for Pune suggest new town to be established at a distance of 80 to 100 km from Pune – between Baramati and Kurkumbh industrial area. It also suggests residential townships at 25-30  Km ( Inner residential ring towns) & 50-80 Km (Outer ring towns) distance as ring towns to take care of housing needs.  The existing development in these areas shows that the Industrial  areas are developing but the residential area is not having the same pace of development.
Thus Pune should grow in synchronisation with the region and the regional plan should not be just another document but a guide for the city’s development plan.

Kindly share your opinion and suggestions.

Anu Kuncheria