Can infrastructure development be environment-friendly?

The ideal scenario for a home buyer, is one where urban development and environment protection go hand in hand. We look at whether this is possible in Indian cities 

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Environmental concerns have often stalled large infrastructure projects in India. While the government maintains that it is committed to encouraging sustainable developments, policy decisions often reveal the gap between the stated intent and ground realities.

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Recent examples that have raised environmental concerns:

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  • An Environmental Interest Litigation (EIL) against the proposed Pune Metro Rail project, has been filed in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), strongly objecting to the alignment of some portion of its route through river beds.
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  • For the Delhi-Mumbai Freight Corridor, 58 acres of Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) were de-reserved. The project will strip Thane of over 16 hectares of green cover at its northern end.
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  • The Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) has made another proposal that will strip SGNP of over 26 hectares in the south, to make room for a road.
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  • In the National Capital Region (NCR), lakhs of apartments were allowed near the Okhla Bird Sanctuary through a MoEF notification.
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There are several other such conflicting development reports across the country, which indicate that the policy makers have failed to evolve a development model, where the compulsions of urban habitation do not compromise environmental concerns.

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Vineet Relia, managing director of SARE Homes, feels that India cannot afford to slow down its pace of growth, given that basic needs like housing and electricity for all, still remain a distant dream. “At the same time, we have to ensure that the growth is environment-friendly. We need to have processes and regulations in place, to do away with any harmful impact of the project on the ecosystem. Are we really so short of habitable land in urban India that we need to compromise on stated policies?” Relia wonders.

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Finding the right balance

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Manju Yagnik, vice-chairperson of the Nahar Group, points out that as India is in a stage of rapid infrastructure development, there may be times when projects are initiated for overall development of the country, which may be contradictory in nature, at the policy level. The important aspect to note is that the government has framed policies, keeping in mind the protection of our natural habitat and safeguarding our green cover, she adds.

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“Presently, infrastructure development and housing are one of the main thrust areas of the government and therefore, such projects are in line with these policies. Most projects are undertaken, only after detailed research is done on various parameters like financial viability, location, connectivity, convenience, etc. We believe that such projects are not undertaken with the intention to destroy nature but keeping in mind the overall development of the country,” Yagnik explains.

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What should be done?

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Availability of habitable land in urban areas, is also a major concern. Nevertheless, projects in eco-sensitive areas need to be thoroughly evaluated, before they are approved. With the government rolling out its Smart Cities Mission, experts are calling for better planning, where the existing and new cities should be developed on the principles of sustainable living.

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However, the biggest barrier, has been the lack of green and clean technologies that minimise the adverse effects of development on the environment. Energy efficiency and clean power, should be the goal for all industries and not just real estate. Along with the development of infrastructure and housing, the government should also consider alternate methods to restructure and rebuild the green cover, environmental analysts insist.

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Posted Date: 07-06-2016