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Editor's Page

How smart is a smart city?

Smart is as smart does. The NDA government’s proposal to build 100 “smart” cities will work only if it can reinvent the very idea of urban growth in a country like India. Smart thinking will require the government to not only copy the model cities of the already developed Western world, but also find a new measure of liveability that will work for Indian situation, where the cost of growth is unaffordable for most.

Make India drought-proof

METEOROLOGISTS ARE still not sure of the timing and intensity of El Niño. But it is clear that this monsoon will not be normal and there is a serious possibility that some parts of the country will be hit by drought and crop failure. The question is why we remain so unprepared to deal with crippling water shortages year after year. Why have all our efforts to drought-proof India failed? What should we do now?

Western Ghats: lessons in protection

Madhav Gadgil and K Kasturirangan are both scientists of great repute. But both are caught up in a controversy on how the Western Ghats—the vast biological treasure trove spread over the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu—should be protected. First the Ministry of Environment and Forests asked Gadgil to submit a plan for protection of the Ghats. When this was done in mid-2011, the ministry sat on the document for months, refusing to release it even for public discussion.

When planting trees is a curse

 Forests have been blacked out in the economic assessment of the country. The Economic Survey does not even list forestry as a sector, for which accounts are prepared. Instead it is lumped together with agriculture and fisheries. In other words, there are no estimates of the productivity of this sector, which encompasses over 20 per cent of the country’s land area.

Climate science in real world

What we desperately shut our minds to is once again being pronounced ever more clearly: climate change is here; it is already bringing devastating extreme weather events; it will become worse in the years to come. In late September, part 1 of the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released in Stockholm.

Big mini revolution

We were standing in the only street of this small village called Mohda. Located in the forested region of Chhattisgarh, the village had no access to the road and markets. The women of the village surrounded me. They wanted me to know that malaria was a serious problem for them. They wanted something to be done about it. I was taken aback because we were talking about solar energy—the state government had set up a small power station in the village, and we were there to learn more about it. “What’s the connection?” I asked.

Ganga saga part II: redesign dams, not rivers

Engineers require re-training, not the Ganga. This is where I had left our conversation last fortnight. Why did I say this? The inter-ministerial committee I participated in as a member was discussing how much the ecological flow—the water that should be left in the river for ecosystem and livelihood purposes—should be at all times. How much water is needed for the river to be a river; and not a drain?

Training engineers, not Ganga

Hydropower is important. But how important? Is it important enough to dry up stretches of our rivers? Or is there a way to balance the need of energy with the imperative of a flowing, healthy river? I have been grappling with these issues for the past few months. But now that the committee (of which I was a member) on the hydropower projects on the Ganga has submitted its report, let me explain how I see the way ahead.

A green facade

Building green is definitely important. But equally important is to know how green is a green building. Take the glitzy, glass-enveloped buildings popping up across the country. It does not matter if you are in the mild but wet and windy climate of Bengaluru or in the extreme hot and dry climate of Gurgaon, glass is the in-thing. I have always wondered how buildings extensively using glass could work in such varied climatic zones, where one needs ventilation. Then, I started reading that glass was green. Buildings liberally using glass were being certified green. How come?

Smog has to be cleared

Losing after winning is the worst feeling possible. This is how I feel looking out of my window at a thick pall of black smog engulfing my city. It was this time of the year, exactly 15 years ago, when Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) began its right-to-clean-air campaign. The air in Delhi was so foul one could hardly breathe. That was a time when air pollution was an unknown curse. Not much was known about its nature and the toxicity of the air contaminants.

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