Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cleaner Air in cities like Delhi

We should consider the fact that clean air isn't a factory produce and so we ought to treat it a bit more holistically than.. say, roads or mobile phones. One cannot get more clean air by commissioning more man-made machines.. in fact the opposite happens.
So it's necessary for us to step out of our regular industrialized, monetized, macho, merit-based paradigm and get a little more feminine, holistic when it comes to environmental factors like air. Just putting that on the table, in case underlying assumptions were ignoring it.

Here are some measures I've come across, and these would not just improve the air quality but also help stabilize Delhi's temperature (there is a reason why it's so extreme hot and extreme cold right now) and reduce the incidence of widespread flooding of roads that happen immediately after rains: Of course, these measures apply equally to Pune also, esp for people who have to pass through junctions like Swargate daily.

1. Smart Greenery:

Rooftop solar panels laane se pehle green roofs laane chahiye! Cheaper. easier to implement, abundant cheap labour availability to get it done at mass scale, and giving so much more benefits. And no need to bother watering them... simply plant and let monsoons supply the water, let it dry off in dry season.. that will in turn contribute biomass for heating / gas / feedstock.

2. Going the whole nine yards and actually putting serious taxpayer money into promoting and enabling bicycles, cycle-rickshaws, electric rickshaw. Bike-share program had been started in DU areas.. pushing that further. Govt buying cycles and distributing to all mohalla sabhas / RWAs. If they lie idle then let them.. some poor chaps will buy them second-hand, or steal them in some months time and start using them! Bringing in unions, benefits like pensions, healthcare, group insurance for cycle rickshaw drivers. Parisar, CSE and other groups' analysis of how large sections of transport budget have been dedicated to the minority car-users in the city, can contribute a good deal to these efforts by making a case that if we don't mind spending Rs.1000 cr to help car users get to work 20 mins faster, then we should honestly have no issues whatsoever with spending Rs.50 crore on 1 lakh good quality bicycles. Take a look at the budget book : you'll find Rs.50 crore spent on seriously useless things. Can simply redirect. And remember : scams and pilfering can only happen in centralized, high-value high-margin expenditures like cement roads and flyovers and computers. With bicycles, it's physically impossible for govt babus / netas to do any sizeable scam. Aur reselling agar hoti bhi hai, at least someone will use the cycles and not emit pollutants in the process! Objective achieved.

3. Innovative ways of curtailing car use. In Paris, for example, cars with odd or even numbered plates aren't being allowed to use certain areas on certain days of the week. Here in Pune we have P1-P2 system for parking.. imagine extending that to number-plates! Other than that, the ongoing Happy Streets initiative in Pune is a great way to build collective support for car-free zones.

4. Import replacement : If you don't know what this term means, better read up! It's going to be key to transitioning to sustainable urban models, and work on it can start from now itself. I would apply this first and foremost to food.

5. Urban agriculture:
Delhi having an inherently spread-out nature with mostly low-height buildings, there's huge potential for urban agriculture : both on vacant plots as well as rooftops. Food grown closer to the kitchen translates to lower diesel consumption, lower pollutant emissions. Plus, the plants absorb particulate matter. Result : a double improvement in air quality while taking care of part of food needs for many families, hence having a net effect on food prices through dampening of demand. For a place that has a persistent presence of monkeys, any urban agriculture initiative will have to be decentralized and widespread, so that loss to monkeys per plot is reduced. On the lawmaking side, lessons can be learnt from Cuba and Venezuela on how some ingenious legislation can make vacant plots of land available for farming by local residents even if they are owned by someone else, as long as citizens can prove that the plot isn't being used by the owner. The only crunch for Delhi is water supply (not for Pune, note!).. rainwater harvesting, man-made ponds/lakes and low-water-consumption edible plants will be the way to go.

6. Man-made lakes / ponds:
The most no-brainer thing that the people of the lake cities of Rajashthan know from centuries ago : Bad ecology? Too hot in summer and roads flooding in monsoons? Then dig a big hole in the ground! Analyse your city's topography, figure out the lowest lying areas. Dig them even further. Create man-made lakes, ponds, with boundaries made of the natural mud that you excavated, not of cement, mind, so that nature can get to work at the edges. Note: There has to be dignified, just relocation of the occupants of the low-lying areas (typically these are slum settlements as they're flood-prone areas) Do a Venice if nothing else possible. There is a reason why you feel the air is so nice whenever you go to a lake or river (that isn't cement-lined, mind!)

7. Absolute ban on burning of dry leaves or any trash
Stop burning eco-gold! Just dig a hole, dump them in and cover them with a plank yaar. Or any other ways to return leaves to the soil. #CommonSense

The good part about holistic solutions is that when you go to solve one problem, you end up solving 10 other problems too. Contrast that with the typical fragmented, industrial-mindset problem-solving that creates 10 other problems when solving one.

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