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Sustainable infrastructure

India, like any other developing economy, is currently going through a high urbanization and economic growth phase. Infrastructure, among other things, will play a major role in this growth. With high concentration of population and infrastructure, cities are rightly going to be the ‘engines’ of our economic growth and any approach for sustainable development has to inevitably take these infrastructure hubs into account. However, if we look at the current status in India, we find that most of our cities are grappling with issues related to housing, infrastructure, and basic services. The recent past has also seen an increased emergence of environment- and climate-related concerns, which are only adding up to the situation. This pattern is likely to continue in the future as it is expected that by the year 2051, out of an estimated population of about 1.6 billion, about 40% would reside in urban areas (Government of India, 2006).  


Another emerging phenomenon in the development scenario of the country is that of new towns being proposed or developed as part of industrial projects: Special Economic Zones, Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing townships, hi-tech cities, industrial corridors, etc. As a result of these developments, India will have over 25 new towns/cities in the next 10 years (Ministry of Urban Development, 2010), which would emerge along the fast-growing urban/industrial corridors of the country. These urban centres will become growth magnets as a consequence of employment and higher income opportunities offered by them.


Urban infrastructure and services
To ensure that these ‘engines’ of our growth are developed in a sustainable manner, it is important to have a holistic approach to infrastructure development, taking into account environmental, economic, and social considerations. The Government of India has initiated some schemes for the provision and upgradation of infrastructure and basic services in urban areas. Some of these are the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns, and the Rajiv Awas Yojana. However, their focus is driven more towards bridging housing and infrastructure gaps and they fail to address the element of sustainability. The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (NMSH), under the ambit of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, identifies some key strategies for dealing with environment and climate change related issues and development of sustainable habitats in the country. These include promoting energy efficiency in the residential and commercial buildings, water supply and waste management systems, promoting efficient and environmental friendly transportation options, and better urban planning. To translate these strategies into regulations, the Sustainable Habitat Parameters have been developed under the aegis of the NMSH. However, the mission is yet to be implemented.


In case of inter-city transportation, there has been a trend towards increasing investments and policies in favour of the road and airways sectors in the last decade. But, we need to retrospect here if this kind of an approach will be appropriate for sustainable development in the long term. In case of intra-city transport, the National Urban Transport Policy (2006) of the Government of India aims at ensuring “safe, affordable, quick, comfortable, reliable, and sustainable access” to jobs, education, recreation and other mobility needs in urban areas. However, the policy is yet to be largely implemented.


Similarly, the building sector is largely guided by buildings byelaws which are very city specific and in mostly dated. Apart from this, there are a few guiding documents adopted at the national level, but they are voluntary in nature. For example, Energy Conservation Building Code which covers all energy efficiency measures to be adopted in a building; National Building Code which includes guidelines for artificial lighting design, natural ventilation and air conditioning; and GRIHA, a rating system for green buildings. These guidelines/codes are left to the jurisdiction of the local government if they want to adopt/mandate them, despite the high impacts of the building industry on environment and energy use.