Covid-19 pandemic has taught us the importance of good ventilation and sunlight for our health – Vice President

New Delhi, Jan 20, 2021: The Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today said that Covid-19 pandemic has taught us the importance of good ventilation and sunlight for our health. He expressed his disapproval of the growing tendency of living in closed spaces and emphasized that proper air circulation must be ensured in homes, offices, restaurants and conference halls.

The Vice President made these remarks in Hyderabad today while virtually releasing the book titled- ‘A textbook of Urban Planning and Geography’ written by Dr. Sameer Sharma, Director General and CEO of the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs. Shri Naidu rued that in their aspiration for a modern lifestyle, city dwellers have lost connection with nature and many a time, we find that even sun rays don’t penetrate our homes. He advised city planners and architects to give precedence to comfort over the fashion and design structures and buildings which exist in harmony with nature. He wanted cities to have more breathing space such as parks, gardens and playgrounds. A tightly paved urban area is one of the reasons for runoffs during floods, he said.

Highlighting the principles of accessibility, inclusivity and sustainability for good urban planning, the Vice President said that the ad-hoc approach of city planning must be replaced by a long term and forward-looking approach to create liveable cities.

Stressing that ‘a city cannot be for the few’, he expressed his disappointment that many urban poor often get excluded in the cityscape and called for making inclusivity an integral component of city planning.

Shri Naidu also emphasised the need for sustainability in every component of city planning – be it the financing of civic amenities, be it encouraging green buildings, recycling waste, harvesting rainwater or promoting public transport. Expressing concern over the perennial phenomenon of urban flooding in many cities due to concretized structures, the Vice President underlined the need to live in harmony with nature. “Lakes that serve as natural buffers must be reclaimed in order to avoid annual flooding”, he said.

To reduce vehicular pollution, Shri Naidu wanted incentivisation of public transport along with other green initiatives like car-pooling, use of CNG or electric vehicles. On the part of citizens too, he called for conscientious behavioral change in the way they use road space. “There should be a people’s movement to promote cycling, which is not only a healthy option but also reduces pollution”, he said.

Emphasizing the need to accommodate and protect the interests of the homeless and poor in the city, the Vice President said that we must make sure that the migrant coming from a rural area must not live in substandard conditions and the domestic help living on the city’s periphery must not struggle for transit to work.

Observing that improving the ‘Ease of Living Index’ should be the goal of all the cities in India, Shri Naidu commended the cities that have been appearing consistently in the top 10 in these rankings.

The Vice President said that planners should not only focus on making cities liveable urban centres, they should also work for raising the happiness quotient of the people. He suggested that urban planning must be done with local aesthetics and local traditions. “In our blind imitation of the West, we have made all our cities look alike- uniform, anonymous and without any reference to its history”, he said. Cautioning that a city that doesn’t recognise its past cannot have a future, Shri Naidu called for the preservation of heritage and traditions in historic cities.

Calling cities as the engines of economic growth in any modern economy, the Vice President said that cities are the crucible of our multicultural and diverse nation. Noting that, with time, each city develops a certain character that becomes unique to it, Shri Naidu called for preserving the unique qualities about them.

Recalling India’s great legacy in urban planning, the Vice President cited the examples of cities like Harappa and Mohenjodaro, Indraprastha, Madurai and Kanchipuram which were known for their advanced city planning.

Drawing attention to the increasing trend of urbanization, the Vice President said that the share of urban population is expected to reach 60 per cent by 2050 in India. This rapid urbanization, he said, brings in its share of opportunities and challenges. Listing some of the challenges such as limited resources of land, water, migration from rural areas and pressure on city’s infrastructure, the Vice President said that how we go about managing these factors will determine the fate of a city.

Stressing the need to ensure access to facilities like transport, housing, and civic amenities like water, gas and waste management, the Vice President opined that civic bodies must adopt self-financing models that make operation of public utilities viable. “Only when citizens pay for the resources they use, even if it is a nominal fee, brings a sense of responsibility and ownership in the users. This is a proven best practice, in India and elsewhere”, he said.

The Vice President also emphasized that cities must have vibrant public spaces and not secluded apartments alone. Noting that, nowadays, there is very little shared activity and very little feeling of a community togetherness, he said that a community’s bonding grows only if the families interact regularly, share and learn from each other’s experience. “We should spend money on building libraries, public parks and museums. We should plan for cultural exhibitions, auditoriums and public recreation centres for people to mingle and exchange ideas”, he added.

On rural-urban migration, the Vice President was of opinion that we should go to the root of the issue and see why people are migrating out of rural areas. Observing that people leave villages mainly due to unemployment or lack basic amenities, Shri called for addressing these issues in rural areas along with improving the urban liveability.

Complimenting the author, Dr Sameer Sharma and the publisher for coming out with the book, Shri Naidu expressed happiness that the author has advocated home-grown solutions for cities based on our experiences and indigenous knowledge on city planning, rather than blindly aping the West. He said that this book is very timely as we go through a shift in how we view the ‘urban’ in the post-COVID era.

Dr. Sameer Sharma, Author of the book, Sh. Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, Shri Ashoke K Ghosh, Chairman and Managing Director, PHI Learning Private Limited were among the dignitaries who attended the virtual program.

Following is the full text of the speech –

“Dear sisters and brothers,

I am delighted to be with you virtually for the release of the book – ‘A textbook of Urban Planning and Geography’. I extend my heartiest congratulations to Dr Sameer Sharma, Director General and CEO of the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs for the efforts that have gone into this work. This book is very timely as we go through a shift in how we view the ‘urban’ in the post-COVID era.

The Concept of Urbanism

Friends,
Cities are the engines of economic growth in any modern economy. They are the centres of trade, administration, culture, entrepreneurship, academia, among many other things. Cities are also the crucible of our multicultural and diverse nation. People from all backgrounds, languages, regions come to the city for opportunities and make their own mark on the city’s culture, shaping it and getting shaped by it. If one wants to experience the mosaic of Indian culture, one has to simply visit an Indian city. But cities are more than just the constituent ingredients. Each city develops a certain character that becomes unique to it. Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata – all have their own peculiar essence about them that cannot be found anywhere else. We must preserve these unique qualities about them!

Ancient History

We have an urban history that is much older than the colonial era, something that goes back to the Indus civilisation. The cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro stood above the rest of the world in their advanced city planning, construction techniques with the use of fired bricks and their public spaces like the Great Bath. This trend continued in the later millennia too. The principles of urban planning are found in texts such as Manasara’s Shilpashastra and Kautilya’s Arthashastra and reflected in the planned towns of this period such as Ayodhya, Indraprastha, Madurai, Vanji, Kaveripoompattinam, Kanchipuram. We had thriving urban settlements centred around trade, pilgrimage or the seat of government.

The Trend of Urbanisation

My dear friends,

Urbanization has been a global trend since the advent of industrialization. In our country too, there has been a steady growth since independence, but in the last two decades, India has been witnessing rapid urbanization. Nearly 40 percent of our population is living in cities now, and this share is expected to become more than 60 per cent by 2050. The UN projects that by 2050, India would add another 416 million urban dwellers to its cities. This correlates with the experience around the world as a consequence of economic growth.

Urban Planning and its Importance

Friends,

Urbanization brings in its share of opportunities and challenges. The challenges include limited resources of land, water and infrastructure, competing interests of a diverse mix of people, and an ever increasing and mobile population. But if they are utilized well, they can create a growth engine that benefits all and creates a home for everyone. How we go about managing these factors determines the fate of a city.

It is here that planning becomes a key factor in urban governance. In order to make a thriving and dynamic city, a reactive and ad-hoc approach must be replaced by a planned and forward-looking approach. This calls for vision and long-term planning.

Friends, I believe there are three components to good urban planning, namely accessibility, inclusivity and sustainability. If these three requirements are balanced and fulfilled, it makes for a great liveable city.

1.Accessibility

First is accessibility. Accessibility refers to the ease, choice and uninterrupted nature of access to amenities and infrastructural facilities like transport, housing, and civic amenities like water, gas and waste management.

To begin with, many urban centres in India struggled for sufficient supply of potable water, public transport infrastructure, affordable housing and a functioning solid waste management. There has been a gradual improvement over the years with successive governments and the situation is much better now.  With schemes like the Smart Cities Project, AMRUT, Swachh Bharat Mission among many other schemes, cities across the country now compete for the top spots in various categories and are managed much more professionally than before.

Civic bodies, going forward, must adopt self-financing models that make operation of public utilities viable. Only when citizens pay for the resources they use, even if it is a nominal fee, brings a sense of responsibility and ownership in the users. This is a proven best practice, in India and elsewhere. Without a fee, drinking water supply ran the risk of complete depletion in many urban areas. We should avoid that situation.

2. Sustainability

This brings up the component of sustainability. City planning must also pass the test of sustainability – be in the financing of civic amenities, be it in encouraging green buildings, recycling waste, harvesting rainwater, promoting public transport, among other good practices.

Urban flooding has become a perennial phenomenon now in many cities, due to concretized structures. Similarly, ‘urban heat island effect’ causes heat waves in cities due to densely packed structures and vehicular pollution.

In order to make our cities sustainable, we must be one with nature. Lakes that serve as natural buffers must be reclaimed in order to avoid annual flooding. Other climate responsive measures such as planting trees, green building code for housing are to be adopted enthusiastically.

In order to curb vehicular pollution, public transport must be incentivized over private transport. Green initiatives like car-pooling, use of CNG or electric vehicles must be encouraged. On the part of citizens too, there should be conscientious behavioral change in the way they use road space. There should be a people’s movement to promote cycling, which is not only a healthy option but also reduces pollution.

 3. Inclusivity

Finally, an integral component of planning a liveable city is that of ‘inclusivity’. A city cannot be for the few. It is ‘of the’ and ‘for the’ many, who inhabit it and call it their home. But unfortunately, the urban poor often get excluded in the cityscape.

We must make sure that the migrant coming from a rural area must not live in substandard conditions. The domestic help living on the city’s periphery must not struggle for transit to work. The slum dweller must not struggle for access to water, education and healthcare. The street vendor must not be harassed by civic authorities.

City planners must build the city to accommodate and protect the interests of the homeless and poor people too and not just those living in the gated communities. Urban planning must have an inclusive component. Various government programmes like the National Urban Livelihoods Mission and Housing for All have been a huge boost for the urban poor and have been providing economic opportunities. I appreciate the government for these initiatives and other concerted efforts be taken at the local level to alleviate poverty.

Friends,

In the final analysis, cities must ensure that their residents’ live in a comfortable manner. The government’s ‘Ease of Living Index’  ranks cities on this basis of liveability. Improving this index should be the goal of all the cities in India. I commend all those cities that have been appearing consistently in the top 10 in these rankings.

Cities as Living, Breathing Spaces

Brothers and sisters,

In order to make cities liveable urban centres, we must ensure that they not only provide comfort to people but also raise the happiness quotient of the people. For that these are my suggestion.

Firstly, urban planning must be done with local aesthetics and local traditions. In our blind imitation of the West, we have made all our cities look alike- uniform, anonymous and without any reference to its history. The idea of a ‘city’ has become equated with only buildings, paved roads and flyovers. Remember, a city that doesn’t recognise its past cannot have a future. The preservation of heritage in historic cities is the principle behind the HRIDAY scheme. More cities should be added to the program and we must ensure that every city reflects its unique traditions.

Two, cities must have vibrant public spaces and not secluded apartments alone. Shared civic activity is what makes a city. This used to be a feature in older cities, when people would meet and greet each other. Nowadays, there is very little shared activity and very little feeling of a community togetherness. A community’s bonding grows only if the families interact regularly, share and learn from each other’s experience. We should spend money on building libraries, public parks and museums. We should plan for cultural exhibitions, auditoriums and public recreation centres for people to mingle and exchange ideas.

Three, cities are often described as concrete jungles, but they are very far away from an actual ‘jungle’. In our aspiration for a modern lifestyle, we lost all connection with the nature. This is acutely felt in urban areas. Many a time, we find that even sunrays don’t penetrate our homes.  If COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of good ventilation and free flow of air for our health.

Similarly, we should not cover the entire city with built-up structures. We must allow the cities to breathe with more open spaces, parks and gardens. Playgrounds have disappeared and very often we find children playing in crammed, crowded streets. This situation has to change. In our anxiety for a ‘clean’ city, we have paved all possible areas with cement and concrete. A tightly paved urban area is one of the reasons for runoffs during floods. Pavement should permeable, so that water can seep in and fill our water tables. We should allow the trees to grow deep into our soil. This is good for us, the soil and the city.

Migration and Problems

Dear sisters and brothers,

It should be remembered that merely expanding urban agglomerations without addressing the problems faced by rural people will only to increase urbanization and congestion. We have to go to the root of the issue and see why people are migrating out of rural areas. They do so largely because of two compelling reasons– One, unemployment and two, lack of access to basic amenities they would get in urban areas.

We have to address these issues in rural areas along with improving the urban liveability in order to achieve a balanced and sustained growth.

A Few Words about the Book and the Author

I would like to commend the author, Dr Sameer Sharma and the publisher for coming out with this book. I am happy to note that the author has advocated home-grown solutions for cities based on our experiences and indigenous knowledge on city planning, rather than blindly aping the West. This is a good suggestion that city planners must take note of.

May this book trigger many conversations, inspire more research in this field and spark new innovations in urban planning.

Jai Hind!”

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