Policing the Eco-Policies

Posted on March 16, 2011

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One of the most interesting paradoxes of city planning in Himalayan region is that, in spite of being ecologically rich and heritage rich countries, major cities in the region are most neglected. It is evident that the cities in the mountainous part of Himalayan region have grown rapidly in terms of their population sizes, but not proportionately in terms of quality of urban services and facilities.

For example, in term of services, no Indian city provides water 24/7, only half the population has access to safe drinking water, and less than a third has access to sanitation.  As I could understand that the situation is no better in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan and China in Himalayan region. Similarly, the National Action Plan for Climate Change document of India says that, the municipal solid waste and sewage generation in India has significantly increased over the years from 6 million tons in 1947 to over 69 million tons in 2006 and is becoming a major environmental threat to water and land resources. It is estimated that, over the next 40 years, India will experience one of the most dramatic settlement transitions in history, as its urban population grows from about 300 million to more than 700 million.

During my recent visit to the Kathmandu in Nepal, and Thimpu in Bhutan, I could observe that the city planning in both these countries for solid and liquid waste management was not good. There are neither decentralization of waste water, nor centralized sewerage systems in place, and one can observe heaps of solid waste all around these cities, which is just dumped in the outskirt of city without sytematic segregation.

The public services in these mountainous countries fall short largely because they have little or no accountability to the ultimate clients, and outdated management systems are unable to provide the information needed for decision-making.

In general, the urban policies in these countries focus on efficiency in urban infrastructure and service delivery mechanisms, community participation, and accountability of Urban Local Bodies and local (district / state) governments towards citizens.

In India City Development Planning (CDP) formulation process is supposed to be guided by a comprehensive process of planning that is entrusted to the Urban Local Bodies and Parastatal Agencies in cohesive manner, with the active participation of people at large. But, in real sense there is neither comprehensive process of planning followed nor active participation of people ensured during the process. Such a scenario leads to poor planning and wrong assumption based development of infrastructure around cities. And in such works the private agencies hired by Municipalities or Urban Local Bodies do the major job on their behalf.

There are a number of examples where one can observe that the authorities in the urban local bodies are mostly interested in developing new infrastructure without considering various environmental considerations and their disaster resilience in long run.

These further pose serious climatic vulnerability among poor population living in the slums of urban areas in terms of increasing intensity of droughts, shortage of drinking water and increased in food and other commodity prices and related health hazards.

Therefore, in this region, while it is important that we have an inclusive policy in place, it is also very important that there is a robust monitoring mechanism in place during the implementation processes of policies and plans.