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Achieving sustainable urban growth

Balancing environment with urban growth is what we may call sustainable urban development. Urban growth and environmental conservation have always been seen as antipodal approaches towards our life. While urban growth has been the undertone for development the world over for the last many centuries, the last almost 50 years have seen a rise in the number of ‘Environmental Activists’ who, while laying great stress on the conservation of the depleting environment, view development as the adversary to environment.

In the Indian context, however, ecological security in a framework that promotes economic growth is what the country is looking for. In some cases, the toss of the coin will favour economic growth and in many, many cases, it will favour environmental control. With the use of modern technology and modern management techniques, it is possible to bring about this balance, to make explicit the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth. However, it is to be noted that economic growth that is environmentally not benign, growth that is ecologically not secure, is not sustainable. So, there is really no trade-off between the two.

While environmental impact of urban growth can be defined in many ways, mostly negative, real estate sector perhaps is the one which can really bring positive changes vis-à-vis environmental impact emanated by this sector. While I feel environment & development can certainly co-exist. Yet I must also point out that there is no need to treat the environmental clearance of the real estate projects on par with the industrial projects. Real estate developers are complying with numerous environmental laws, norms and standards.

As presently administered, however, many environmental protections create uncertainties and delays that make it difficult for developers and builders to predict cost impacts and factor them into development and construction plans Ideally such projects should be cleared in one go, provided developer meets all criteria; nonetheless, there are numerous examples where developers are made to appear for several presentations for one reason or the other.

These days, various ecology and land use related laws too have caused difficulty in acquiring land smoothly and at reasonable price. Litigations against fair land acquisitions and less than satisfactory intention of government in handling such litigations owing to political reasons, causes great amount of delay and price escalation of projects. With the fast sprouting satellite township and small cities, India recognises the need for more houses for the population.Rural Urban Migration would continue because of many reasons. Rather this is accepted phenomenon now and this shift has resulted into tremendous change in Urbanisation. In 21st century more people will be living in urban centres as compared to rural areas. The population has increased from 1020 million to 1210 million during 2001 to 2011, whereas the number of urban dwellers has increased from 289 million to 317 million. The numbers of metropolitan cities stand at 53 in 2011.

The urban growth is associated not only with addition of large number of human beings but also with physical dimensions of Urban Centres. Distance between activities such as living, working and leisure have increased and is increasing day by day which have brought in large number of vehicles on road. Urban Centres are fast emerging as largest consumers of non-renewable resources and energy which are adversely impacting sustainability of those centres. Besides being large consumers of energy and resource, Urban Centres are also generating enormous amount of waste which pollutes water –air- and basic land necessities of human survival. Rapid Urbanisation basically means that cities become large in terms of area, population and activities. If we are to summarise what Urbanisation have resulted into is - Water Pollution, Air Pollution, Noise Pollution, Reduction in Green Cover, Depletion in natural resources, Huge amount of urban waste and so on.

Balance between Environment and Urban Growth can only be achieved by planned urban development in the future. Punjab has already taken a major step in this direction by notifying Master Plans for major cities. This has been done with the twin objectives of ensuring planned future expansion and to prevent mushrooming of unplanned construction around the cities.

Areas have been earmarked as Residential, Industrial, Mix use while also marking Ecologically Sensitive areas and Forests; same is the case with Haryana. The main goal of urban planning is to make all amenities and comforts available to the public without imposing many negative effects on environment, aptly referred to as ‘Sustainable growth’.

The author is Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Ansal API
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