Friday, August 30, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Sustainable initiatives in and around Pune Part II

Dear All,

Poster  of the event at Kopargaon

Under the Yuvadrishti initiative of our partner NGO Laya, we published the Handbook on Carbon Neutral Campus in Pune in June 2019, as our collaborative initiative under Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC). Post this event, I was expecting that Pune being the education hub with all the education institutes will be taking up this challenge in order to go low carbon. But before any Pune based colleges, I received a call from Sanjivani Group of Institutes, Kopargaon for understanding the concept on Carbon neutral campuses since they intended to go low carbon as a campus. I was amazed that an institute situated in a rural setup has asked us to come all the way from Pune, Dr Karve too agreed and we were all set to go to Kopargaon.

Dr Priyadarshini Karve
With the flood situatuion happening in and around Maharashtra, we had to postpone our plans, nevertheless the management was keen on undertaking the session. Kapil Pawar the coordinator of the event was very helpful and efficient in all the planning. Finally we could undertake a session on Carbon Neutral Campus in the institute on the 6th August 2019 and it was a great learning experience for them as well as for us.

The day was structured to start with an introductory session on Climate Change for all the students, faculty members and the guests, followed by a more technical session to dive into the methodology of making campuses carbon neutral specifically for the faculty members. There were around 50 plus students and 20 faculty members. The introductory session was undertaken by Dr Priyadarshini Karve, where she spoke about climate change basics and its impacts and how India as a country is a victim as well as a contributor to the crisis! The best part was a lot of students were curious and interested to know more about climate change. After the session, a few students requested to stay for the next session as well.

The response was indeed good, the next session was supposed to be limited to faculty only but we had around 30 students as well. This session dealt with understanding the basics of carbon accounting and how to use the Carbon Neutral Campus Handbook. Then I conducted a Mentimeter poll to get an idea as to how many people would like to get into the accounting process and make their campus carbon neutral and I am glad we received an honest response. See the image below for the responses.

Mentimeter responses
We concluded the session well in time and could take a quick tour of the campus as well. We met the managing trustee Shri. Amit Kolhe,  a visionary who realized that its the educational institutions that should act as a role model for the students and the community in order to create a better society. In spite of his busy schedule, he found time to interact with us, and also sit in on the session for a while.  Under his able leadership, the Institutes have undertaken several initiatives that lead them to sustainability and low carbon.

The campus has an installation of a roof top solar system of 500 kwp that not only supplies solar energy to the entire campus but the surplus is supplied to the grid as well. I wondered how many academic institutions in the SMART city Pune have shown this level of commitment to renewable energy! 

Kopargaon being an arid zone, the institute is ensuring that all the available water and wastewater is used efficiently. For the same they are reusing and recycling the water through innovative ways on the campus itself. We were informed that while constructing the buildings and making the internal roads, extra care was taken to cause the least harm to the existing trees. All the internal roads are nicely shaded by large trees, mostly indigenous species. There has been sustained plantations being carried out by successive batches of students to create this oasis of green in an otherwise dry location. However we saw monoculture plantation of neem trees, so we suggested to plant a variety of species instead of single species which was well accepted by them. Every single appropriate step taken towards sustainability has a long term effective impact. 

Glimpses of the event

Special thanks to Kapil Pawar and Principal Dr Mirikar for making all the arrangements for us. Also glad to meet Ganesh Jorvekar for giving us the quick tour and explaining the various initiatives happening in the campus, like the Sustainability cell under which all such activities are undertaken. 

As I mentioned earlier I have been experiencing a sustainability immersive phase and I am amazed to learn about such initiatives happening around me.

Pournima Agarkar. 

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Friday, August 23, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Sustainable initiatives in and around Pune Part I

Dear All, 

Sustainable Initiatives in Borvha

As I mentioned in my last blog on Sustainable Bhuj, it was a delight to see all the sustainable initiatives happening around us, however after returning, it was overwhelming to see more of such initiatives happening around Pune as well. I feel like I am immersed in Sustainability and would like to share my experience on the same.

Under our initiative on Showcasing Sustainable Practices, Vaayu Mitra collaborated with us once again for sharing the story of Borvha village. This village won third prize at the State level under the Paani foundation's Water Cup initiative this year, while last year they bagged the first prize at the Block level. They were in Pune for the award ceremony and Vaayu Mitra proposed to tap them to give us the insights on their initiatives and the motivation that led them here. 

Located in the Washim district, Mangrulpir block, Borvha is tiny hamlet having 350 people that reduced to half due to migration for work. Inspite of having a river surrounding the village on three sides, the village depended on water tankers during summers. This led to the anxiousness among the villagers and led to a movement "we have to solve our own problem". They enrolled in the Paani Foundation movement and then there was no looking back. It was indeed inspiring to listen to Santosh Walke, the innovator and the visionary in the village who understood that cities like Pune are facing the problem of inmigration from villages while villages are short of people thus creating an unsustainability trap. So why not make villages self sufficient and create better economic opportunities so that migration from villages to cities would reduce. I was astonished to hear this from a villager, who impressed me with his down to earth attitude and sense of responsibility to make his village Sustainable by 2022. 

Several initiatives undertaken in the village include efficient management of water, manpower, food and land through watershed management and energy and waste management through the use of biogas plant installed by Vaayu-Mitra. These initiatives are enabling them to go LPG free, mosquito free, encroachment free and defecation free village.  

Apart from these, innovative ideas to eradicate social taboos like female infanticide or dowry, all villagers decided to celebrate every girl's birth and contribute for her wedding expenses complying the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme. Concept of community farming is being practiced here that enabled community participation. Initiatives for women empowerment, bachat bank and water cup training center enabled income generation opportunities for youth. They are also exploring the drone technology etc and has plans for sustainable tourism as well.

So if you are looking for investing in a property in a rural location, you should definitely check out this place!!!

I feel the village is a good example that complies with most of the SDG goals that need to be accomplished by 2030.

Glimpses of the session in Indradhanushya hall

Overall a great experience and lots of learnings from a tiny village showcasing applied sustainability. I am grateful to Vaayu Mitra and all the Borvha villagers for taking time out for us and giving us the insights into their amazing work. 

In the next blog I will be writing about Sustainable initiatives in an educational institute in a small rural town, where we got the opportunity to talk about Carbon Neutrality. However when we saw the campus, we felt that with all the initiatives they have undertaken already on their campus, they may already be Carbon Neutral or even Carbon Negative. So stay tuned!!!!

Pournima Agarkar. 

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Can Pune Smartly Tackle the Floods!!!

Dear All, 

There's too much of news flooding about areas around us drowning into water, bridges closed due to water discharge from the dams, shifting of informal settlements near low lying areas to safe areas, parking areas of many housing societies flooded since they are built in the flood zones etc.. Yet I thought of penning down about the same issues, since last year around the same time, Kerala faced terrible floods. I remember writing that Pune is not far from such a situation. So here WE are... if the rains continue with the same pace or heavier we are likely to face terrible floods, I hope not too. However, I would like to ask the same question again as I did last year... Are we really prepared for any such disaster???

No, I don't think so.. to start with I feel we don't even have a common portal where we can get all the required information about areas flooded, total rains that will occur in this week, precautions to be taken in such situations, emergency contact nos, relief centers etc etc...Everyone just forwards messages from #Whatsapp or #Twitter randomly flooding the phones with loads of information but not really sure about the authenticity of the information. This creates more panic rather than precaution. Whatever measures are being taken are simply reactive instead of being proactive. We cannot be proactive because there is no appropriate infrastructure set that will inform us about the rains well in advance so that we can equip ourselves accordingly.

PC: Pune mirror news on VMD screen
However, we do have some systems installed in the SMART city under the SMART city mission by the Pune Smart City Development Corporation as SMART elements which I think is great!!! But these systems are not equipped or programmed or not functioning in order to help us in such situations. For instance, we have the smart screens known as Variable Message Display (VMD) screens that mostly show us the time taken to travel from one place to another just like google maps. Yes we need real time traffic information, but what about other information that these screens should display like key notices about roads closed, etc., in such situations... There are other elements as well such as the emergency call box, flood sensors, public address systems etc... You can find information about these systems here

So, why can't these screens display messages of areas ahead that are flooded or safe for travel. They can also display information regarding safety measures to be taken, area specific rain forecasts, display emergency numbers or locations of relief centers based on the situation in that particular area. I think these initiatives will be SMART only when they enable us to sustain in difficult situations. 

A recent news on VMD was published in Pune mirror, it seems no action has been undertaken after this news as well.

I think we as citizens should raise our voice for our safety now. I would like to invite suggestions from all of you as to what can be done in order to save Pune from this grave situation. What all measures we as citizens should take now in order to keep Pune from drowning!!! 

Please write back to us on OR give your comments in this blog OR write to us on our Facebook page.

Pournima Agarkar.

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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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