Tag Archives: Development

TEDxHitechCity – Karuna Gopal – The Truth about Indian Cities

Karuna Gopal from the Foundation of Futuristic Cities was the main speaker at a recent Tedx conference (TEDx: TEDx is a new program that enables local communities such as schools, businesses, libraries, neighborhoods or just groups of friends to organize, design and host their own independent, TED-like events.).

As always Karuna’s fiery talk was about Indian cities and their state. She highlighted the poor state our cities are in and the need for their development on our future.

The topic of Karuna’s talk was: The Truth about Indian Cities.

Watch her talk about the issues and how important they are:

Karuna’s organization the Foundation for Futuristic Cities has done pioneering work in the area of City Development and is determined to carry it forward.

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How Livable is Hyderabad?

How Livable is Hyderabad? The city which packs a rich tradition and is an icon of the developing India, faces some of the same problems that any other cities face. As the city develops, the pressure on resources grow and need more support. The importance of the perspective of the citizens towards the state of affairs grows.

An article discussing the state of the city of pearls, titled “Can Hyderabad be made livable” written by Karuna Gopal, which was invited by The Times of India – published in the edition dated: Nov. 23′ 2009. Karuna Gopal is the President of the Hyderabad based Urban Planning and Advisory organization, Foundation for Futuristic Cities. She is a distinguished authority in this field and has worked with national and international organizations in the areas of City Development, Visioning, Planning and E-governance among others. The article presents the view from a citizen’s perspective coupled the expertise of a urban planning expert.

If livable cities give all citizens equal opportunity to lead healthy, comfortable and safe lives, how livable is our metropolis? Here’s a citizen activist’s perspective.

Doctors prescribe half-an-hour walk everyday, among other things to stay healthy. For those who cannot afford the luxury of a gym, walking to offices is an option. How pedestrian-friendly are our Hyderabad streets? Fast food is fast becoming a pass time for children. How many outdoor choices can we show them in parks, municipal swimming pools and skating rinks? For teenagers who started relying on the Facebook for facing life’s challenges, what are the city avenues for adventure learning and sport facilities?

The footpath to road ratio is poor in Hyderabad and the walkability index is a mere 0.68, making it one of the worst cities in India for pedestrian friendliness. With 30 lakh vehicles plying, Hyderabad has the highest density of traffic in India. Vehicle to road length ratio is bad, respirable particulate matter (RPM) several notches above the acceptable levels, 50% of the road accident victims are pedestrians and billions of working hours are lost with people stuck in traffic. Captive walkers may not be walking by choice; they have no access to public transport!

My 65-year-old neighbour became healthy after a neighbourhood park appeared. He walks daily, made friends, does yoga and laughs his way to health. Studies on SROI (Social Return on Investment) show that parks also serve as instruments to forge communal, community bonding, resolve family conflicts, encourage informal official meetings reducing pollution.

KBR Park that has been put in the league of Central Park of New York and Hyde Park of London is accessible only to Jubilee Hills residents. The rest of the city has not been so lucky. With just 600 parks developed in an inequitable fashion for eight million, citizens are desperately waiting to see parks in the 2,200 open spaces meant for that purpose. Currently, most colonies house fenced open spaces with faded boards declaring GHMC’s ownership!

My maid who lives in a slum, fed up with contaminated water, disease burden and mounting medical bills asked me how much we pay for water. After quick calculations announced that she is willing to pay at the same rate! She just educated me about opportunity cost and her coping costs, technical term for lack of services and coping mechanisms used by the poor! In fact, all WTP (willingness to pay) studies prove that slums want basic services like water and sanitation and they are willing to pay for those. It is the government that is unwilling to charge!

With 1,485 slums and more being created, our city has to act fast or Hyderabad while legitimising the illegitimate may well morph into a mammoth slum! Is it just insipid institutions, defunct departments and procedural pains that are responsible for this state of affairs?

With a build-now, regularize-later culture, jurisdictional schizophrenia making a municipal ward nobody’s baby, multiplicity of agencies, conflicting executive and political interests, lake encroachments, lopsided development, rusted water pipes, gushing sewers, our greater city has to deal with systemic problems to get anywhere near livable status. Those, who expressed concern when Hyderabad became “greater” that it will have greater challenges of integration, providing equitable services and staying accountable to a larger population stand vindicated today! Why, the much hyped up Hi-Tech City has a maze of optic fibre lines, but sadly no sewerage lines!

Governance framework is partly responsible for this state of affairs. Hyderabad, though a metropolis now is still a state’s baby. Despite the 74th constitutional amendment Act, it is not the city but the state that decides the urban infrastructure projects, levies and collects taxes. The state also interferes with the local governments property tax by deciding the tax base, rates and modes of assessment leaving the city government disempowered and financially weak. Though JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission) aims to rectify that, shuttle negotiations with the state have been leading to delays and sub-optimal development of Hyderabad.

The City Development Plan of Hyderabad (CDP) that accessed the JNNURM funds for the city was sent without the mandatory stakeholder consultations. There is also a community participation law for urban projects just as there is a JNNURM framework for citizen participation. Citizens do not question enough. The government does not share enough. Town hall meetings that are the purest form of democratic governing are missing in our city. Citizens have to participate actively in city development. We must realize that managing cities is not just government business alone. It is ours too.

We can make Hyderabad a livable city if citizens wear a reformer hat to cleanse institutions, an activist hat to question investment decisions and a partner hat to accelerate equitable development!

SYDC2NUNQAN2

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Transparency International releases Corruption Perceptions Index 2009

CPI-2009

Corruption Perceptions Index-2009

Transparency International (TI), a Berlin based organization, which is a civil society organization and claims to be leading the fight against corruption, has released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for the year 2009.

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.

The organization releases this list every year which ranks nations on an index which is created as a function of various parameters to scale the level of corruption in a country. It measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in 180 nations and territories around the world. As TI defines it: The CPI is a “survey of surveys“, based on 13 different expert and business surveys. Each nation undergoes a different number of surveys to get a final score. The scores are on a scale of 0-10 where 0 is perceived very corrupt and 10 as very clean. The score is based on perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts.

This year, Somalia (1.1) tops the list of most corrupt nations with Afghanistan (1.3) being a close second. Iraq is at 5th spot with a score of 1.5.

As TI’s Head, Huguette Labelle put it, the 2009 corruption list is “of great concern,” since most of the nations have a score of under 5. Out of 180 nations featuring in the survey only 48 have a score of above 5. Most of the nations that ranked high on corruption include some of the most poor and war torn nations.

The international community must find efficient ways to help war-torn countries to develop and sustain their own institutions,” said TI’s head Huguette Labelle.

Afghanistan slid from a score of 1.5 in 2008 to 1.3 this year, which is bound to fuel the attack on President Hamid Karzai whose election and re-election was clouded with allegation of rampant fraud. Earlier on this Monday the Afghan government announced steps that included forming a major crime unit to tackle corruption. This moved has been seen as a move designed to assuage Western concerns about Karzai.

Among the group of 7 most rich nations Italy’s ranking took a beating with it sliding to 63rd position from last year’s 55th spot. Some of the nations which made marked improvement are Liberia (97th from 138 last year) and Gambia (106th from earlier 158th). The United States of America while improving its score from 7.3 to 7.5, slid one spot on the rank to 19th. China has a stable score of 3.6 but slid seven places on the ranks to 79th. Brazil (3.7) shared the 75th spot with Columbia, Peru and Surinam while another BRIC nation, Russia (2.2) was ranked very low at 146th. India (3.4) ranked at a joint 84th spot with four other nations including Thailand.

The top-5 nations on the list are: New Zealand (9.4), Denmark (9.3), Singapore (9.2), Sweden (9.2) and Switzerland (9.0). Canada (8.7)is ranked at a joint 8th with Australia and Iceland.

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Bright Side of Gloom

Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Flooded Village in Bihar
Flooded Village in Bihar

This has recently been proved in the India’s North-Eastern state of Bihar. With floods wrecking havoc, ripping apart local economies and life’s the state has faced nature’s fury to the max. The recent flash floods have left more than 3,00,000 people homeless and in immediate need to humanitarian support of basic amenities. Rivers in the region are usually filled with water from the monsoon rains and the uncontrolled release of water from check dams in the upper courses of Kosi river from adjoining Nepal worsened the situation. This region has a pre-dominant Hindu population who cremate their dead using firewood from mango trees. The recent floods have either washed away completely or submerged the mango orchards rendering the wood unusable for cremation purposes.

Finding it difficult to cremate the bodies of their dead the local people have now slowly moved to an alternative which was accepted as a funeral pyre fuel source mixed with wood in South India. This news was recently captured in a BBC news item. Though the idea is not new to the Hindu religion it was surely novel to this part of the country. What is heartening is that the acceptance of the practice has been well received in the region. Cow dung is considered sacred and pure in Hindu religion and has always been used to light up sacred fire during puja and yagnas. Moving from a pure wood fueled pyre to pure cow dung pyre is a good move due to many reasons.

Perhaps the most important fallout is the low ecological impact due to use of renewable energy source. Cow dung being sourced from the waste of an herbivorous animal has a relatively very low impact when compared to using wood from trees. The region already has a scarce forest cover and this move can surely slow the deforestation rate. The amount of fuel used to cremate a body is also relatively low as compared to traditional wood fuel.

If this practice continues to flourish and accepted in other regions too it will not only save millions of mango trees but also result in saving of substantial money for the families of decreased. This region houses some of the poorest communities and this will surely be a boon for them. The cost of fuel used for cremating a body is around INR 400-500 using cow dung as compared to INR 3500-4000 spent on wood fuel.

This region especially the districts comprising of districts like Darbhanga, Sitamarhi among others surely needs such low-cost, low impact and socially accepted practices given the fact that it remains almost waterlogged for three-four months every year due to floods during monsoons.

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