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India's Urban Green Dilemna Requires Tough Measures

by - March 21st, 2017

India is perhaps at the center of the rapid urbanization currently sweeping the world, a theatre of human flight where populations are increasingly concentrating in cities. By one prediction, over 400 million Indians will inhabit cities by 2050.

India is perhaps at the center of the rapid urbanization currently sweeping the world, a theatre of human flight where populations are increasingly concentrating in cities. By one prediction, over 400 million Indians will inhabit cities by 2050.

A closer look at the trends indicates that our urban green hubs are increasingly under pressure as the symbiotic relationship between man-made and natural habitats comes under pressure. There is a need for urban green planning in consonance with upcoming habitations.

One look at the way peri-urban hotspots of affordable housing and infrastructure are being developed will give us an idea about the gargantuan challenge facing us. The wrangling discourse on the no-go eco-sensitive zone demarcation around the Okhla Bird Sanctuary and the battle over the construction of a steel flyover in Bengaluru call for an immediate need to look at site-specific solutions, which are also sustainable.

An assessment of India’s overall standing shows that cities like Delhi score relatively well on presence and growth of green cover than many cities abroad. What needs attention is maintenance and retention of existing forest cover through strategic planning and management. For instance, it is important to understand that greening a city and retaining peri-urban ecosystems require more than just setting up urban commons.

Urban Forestry not exclusive to development

Even as 63 Indian cities draw up their Smart City proposals, many do not account for urban forest retention strategies. Increased costs of providing development essentials like water & sanitation impact financial commitment for urban greens and put them on the backburner of political priorities. This further moves them away from utilizing benefits of services provided by urban forests- combating heat waves, groundwater recharge and building climate resilience, among others.

There is also the challenge of conflicts of interest over land use, mostly because of a lack of collaboration between various departments and ministries. Governments and institutions must really work towards mainstreaming urban forestry as a crucial part of city planning.

While the MoEFCC's thrust to create urban forests in 200 cities and similar initiatives mirror the Centre’s efforts in creating a city-led economy, governments must tie these with innovative implementation solutions. Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) is a great example of how an exchange mechanism incentivizing people to provide ecosystem services could become sustainable for Indian cities.

If India is to write the success script of its growth, it must base it on the premise that it is the environment that hosts development and not vice-versa.


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