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A clean, green future for Indian cities

Hardeep Singh Puri writes: A progressive track of urban development while keeping sustainability, disaster risk resilience and community building at its core has been the guiding principle for urban development during the last seven years of the Modi government

Every year since 1974, nations, communities and individuals across the globe have come together on June 5 to celebrate and remember our duty towards the planet and our future generations by observing World Environment Day. This year, the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is being launched, building towards the goals of this decade.

While the pressures of development have grown, so has our ability to adapt our societies, economies and politics for a green and healthy future. The delicate balance between sustainable development and environmental protection is one of the core targets of the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development. A networked approach to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals has been included in India’s policy and political discourse over the seven years of the Modi government.

The motto of the 2030 agenda — “Leave no one behind” — very much embodies the essence of Gandhiji’s philosophy of sarvodaya through antyodaya, reaching the most marginalised first. This guiding principle has long been a part of Indian thought and policy and is a fundamental virtue for the execution of the national programmes and missions of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

On August 15, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachhata movement. It was, in effect, the harbinger of a total transformation of our urban landscape. In June 2015, the most extensive urbanisation programme undertaken anywhere in the world was unleashed through the flagship missions of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs — Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Smart Cities Mission.

The launch of flagship missions predates the adoption of the SDGs in 2016 by almost a year. Yet, what is striking is that most of the SDGs are reflected in the core objectives of these missions. They have achieved their set targets while ensuring that sustainable development is a non-negotiable part of them.

The Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) focuses on achieving an open-defecation-free India, building solid waste management capacity and bringing about behavioural change. Through the annual Swachh Survekshan, cooperative and competitive federalism have become the driving force behind this citizen-led jan andolan. It is estimated that the various initiatives under SBM-U can mitigate 17.42 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2022.

The Smart Cities Mission has been the one taking charge of the technological advancements of our cities to improve governance, sustainability and disaster risk resilience. Smart solutions are being implemented to improve energy efficiency and non-motorised transport capacity in urban centres. The Climate Smart Cities Assessment Framework has been adopted which aims to help cities adapt, collaborate and exchange best practices to achieve international standards for green, sustainable and resilient urban habitats. So far, the infrastructure for 417.5 km of smart roads, solar panels generating 30 MW of energy and 253.5 MLD of wastewater treatment capacity has been completed. The overall reduction in GHG emissions from projects implemented under SCM is expected to reach 4.93 million tonnes of CO2 by 2022.

Under AMRUT, water supply and management, energy efficiency and increased green spaces have been part of the goal in 500 target cities. As of today, 1,831 parks over 3,700 acres have been developed, 85 lakh street lights have been replaced, resulting in energy saving of 185.33 crore units (kWh), and 106 water bodies have been rejuvenated. The mission is likely to result in the mitigation of 48.52 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG emissions by 2022.

With 1.12 crore houses sanctioned, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) has focused on new construction technologies that are innovative, environmentally friendly and disaster-resilient. The Global Housing Technology Challenge was launched, and 54 new technologies identified. The Prime Minister launched six Light House Projects on January 1, 2021. These are already under construction. Additionally, about 43.3 lakh houses are being constructed where fly ash bricks/blocks and concrete blocks are being used. Overall, the mission has the potential to mitigate around 12 million tonnes CO2 equivalent of GHG emissions by 2022.

Lastly, the metro rail, an energy-efficient mass rapid transit system, is operational in 18 cities with over 720 km of line constructed. Another 1,055 km of new lines is under construction in 27 cities. This network is expected to mitigate around 21.58 million tonnes of CO2 eq GHG from 2015-2022. Cumulatively, the national missions under the MoHUA are projected to mitigate GHG emissions equivalent to more than 93 million tonnes of CO2 by 2022. This number is bound to increase.

Today, a transformative wave of environmental consciousness, technological advancement and holistic development is driving the sustainability agenda. The balance between society, nature and development is an intricate one pushed into the limelight by the Covid-19 crisis. Transitions brought forth by technological democratisation, sustainable infrastructure building, and behavioural change have helped us tackle the Covid-19 crisis while reaching out to those in need. Such a progressive track of urban development while keeping sustainability, disaster risk resilience and community building at its core has been the guiding principle during the last seven years of the Modi government. It will help us preserve our environment, restore ecosystems and mitigate the risks posed by climate change in the coming decade.

This column first appeared in the print edition on June 9, 2021 under the title ‘A greener urbanscape’. The writer is Union minister for Housing and Urban Affairs.

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