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Urban India, take green lessons from Pune

December 17, 2007 08:33 IST

Urban India could take a leaf from Pune on how a city can help reduce emission of greenhouse gases. The cultural capital of Maharastra has taken a few initiatives that can help the city adopt a more sustainable development model.

The trigger: Like many Indian cities, Pune is bursting at its seams. A boom in IT and services has increased incomes, fuelling a real estate boom that is adding 27 million square foot of space every year. With new automobile units coming up around Pune, the city is exploding and traffic is at its worst.

Decongesting Roads:With an inefficient public transport system, people rely on private vehicles. The city has 1.4 million vehicles (3.3 vehicles per family) and adds 600 vehicles a day which emit 1.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per day. While Pune plans to go for a metro and monorail, it needed some short-term solutions that are sustainable.

That's when it came up with the bus rapid transit system, which aims to move people away from private vehicles to public transport. It's already running a pilot on 13 km with its share of problems -- it still doesn't have dedicated lanes at a stretch, roads are narrow in many places as they run into military lands.

Pune plans to develop parking lots, cycle lanes and feeder routes to support the BRT. When implemented across 117 km in 5 years, it hopes to move 30 per cent of two-wheeler traffic and 20 per cent of auto-rickshaw traffic to public transport. ''It's a good idea. But buses run on the right hand lane, which end up choking the roads,'' said Sanjay Bonagiri, a lawyer who's also a green activist.

He feels Pune should go for a metro system even if it means inconvenience in the interim. People working in the industrial suburb of Pimpri-Chinchwad commute by company buses, and where companies don't provide for buses, people commute by two-wheelers, often spending 40 minutes for a distance of 15-20 km. ''Having more buses is not going to decongest the roads,'' said Bonagiri. 

Restoring the rivers: If roads are turning chaotic today, the city's rivers had turned into sewers years ago as they take the burnt of untreated sewage and pollution from streams. The city is lucky to have two rivers (Mula and Mutha) that originate from dams around Pune.

The rivers are clean when they enter city but get highly polluted when they pass through the city. That's because like many Indian cities, Pune is able to treat only 60 per cent of the 567 million litres of sewage it generates every day. That may change soon for the better.

By June 2008, the city will have three more sewage treatment plants. But that may not be enough to treat all the sewage. There are several streams that flow from squatter colonies, which are not captured by sewage pipelines. ''We have now mapped these streams and the water discharge, and enforced the building norms. No construction can take place on those streams,'' says Praveensinh Pardeshi, commissioner, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC).

Sewage treatment consumes a lot of electricity, a key reason why many Indian cities are not able to treat their sewage besides lack of

infrastructure. Pune pays more than Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) annually in electricity charges for treating sewage. It is already generating methane/bio-gas, which it plans to use to generate power. So, it will generate a third its power requirement at its largest treatment plants.

Bio-Diversity Parks
Pune is surrounded by barren hills, which were no-development zones for years. Earlier this year, when authorities tried to allow four per cent construction in the hills, the citizens opposed by forming a human chain and submitting 90,000 signatures. 'If we need a carbon sink, you to provide the green belts. This is non-negotiable; the city can't think of losing its open spaces,'' said Vandana Chavan, an ex-Mayor, who has been trying to raise awareness against climate change.

This forced the PMC to reserve 780 hectares of hills as bio-diversity parks, but the same is yet to be notified by the state. The PMC plans to develop them, but 40 per cent of this land is privately-owned which has to be acquired by the corporation. The PMC has started developing 220 hectares with native species and water bodies. The PMC is also funding the forest department to erect boundary walls around these parks.

PMC's efforts are best exemplified by the landscaping of land adjoining nallahs (streams) running through the city. Trees and vegetation have been grown along the nullah that takes care of the foul smell that emanates from such streams and helps in beautifying the area As a result, these stretches with nicely-laid walkways, are being used by citizens for their morning or evening walks.

Behavioural Change

The PMC is also trying to influence the behaviour of people by incentivising them to go green. Builders have to adopt new eco-housing norms (eco-friendly, energy efficient buildings that use minimum lighting, recycles waste). Housing societies that take care of their solid waste (by doing vermi composting, bio-methanation), will get a 50 per cent rebate on the premium and development charges.

This can be a big benefit for a builder (PMC collected Rs 216 crore or Rs 2.16 billion in premium charges last year) and progressive builders are taking to it. Magarpatta City, a model township create by farmers-turned-entrepreneurs, has adopted many of the practices the PMC is trying to champion. It segregates solid waste at source into bio-degradable (vegetable waste) and recyclable waste.

The bio-degradable waste is used for vermi-culture and bio-compost while non-biodegradable waste is recycled or disposed off safely. A biogas plant uses the biodegradable waste to produce methane, which is used to generate power that is used for pumping water to its gardens.

''This saves us power requirements to the tune of 118 commercial gas cylinders per month or 270 units of electricity per day,'' says Umesh Nagar, director, Magarpatta City.

Similarly, 7,000 solar water heating panels installed on the terraces of township are designed to save over 1.75 crore units of electricity, which translates to more than 13,000 tonnes of carbon emissions saved every year. Magarpatta's success has caught the fascination of other progressive builders like Vascon Engineers in the city, who are adopting these eco-housing norms.

The PMC is keen to emulate this and segregate solid waste at source. For this, it plans to roped in 6,000 rag pickers, so that whatever is recyclable does not go to the dump yard. ''This would help in saving fuel as thousand tonnes of garbage is transported over 25 km to the garbage dump,'' Ajay Ojha, manager, Air Quality Management Cell, an initiative of the US Asia Environment Partnership and PMC.

While these initiatives are good, Pune's citizens are losing patience with the slow pace of infrastructure projects and the increasing chaos on the city's roads. ''It's tokenism. They are not addressing the real issues,'' said Bonagiri. ''They need to be more sensitised and sensitive about the environment. The commissioner is but unfortunately down the line, awareness and sensitivity is not there among the elected representatives,'' said Chavan. Perhaps its leaders will take a cue.

Ranju Sarkar in Mumbai