PUNE: Unplanned expansion of the city, changing land use, depleting forest cover, loss of productive agricultural land, increasing rainfall runoff, and depletion of the water table in the last few years have highlighted the need for an urban ecology policy in the Development Plan (DP) for 2007-2027.
According to experts, an urban ecology policy will help understand urban systems in the city and mitigate environmental degradation. Correlation between changing land-use patterns, pressure on infrastructure and its impact on availability of water, green spaces and the role in local climate change and weather patterns form the core of urban ecology.
Those working in sustainable urbanization insist that people must understand how urban systems function and how and to what extent they impact and are affected by global or regional processes. Urban ecology investigates the interrelations between environmental compartments and human activities such as construction, production, housing, and transport. It also gives hints about where and how the urban environment may be protected from further harm, and how environmental quality and physical human living conditions may be improved.
However, city environmentalists are unhappy with the Pune Municipal Corporation's (PMC) process of drawing up the DP. "The civic body is engaged in routine exercises to revise the 1987 DP. Officials involved in the process have not consulted experts. There has been massive construction in the last few years and there has been a huge turnover of raw materials, energy and other resources which have generated a huge environmental impact. Renewability of resources and recycling and reuse of products and raw materials must be a part of the DP. However, one cannot hope much from the PMC, which is interested in carrying out a regular process," said an environmentalist, requesting anonymity. He added that the civic administration has kept civic activists and experts at bay and all consultation process has stopped in the last few years.
City engineer Prashant Waghmare said that the civic body has considered all factors while preparing the DP and the civic administration has touched upon all the facets of urbanization. "The DP is being discussed by the City Improvement Committee after which it will be tabled before the general body for final approval. There is scope to incorporate citizens' and experts' suggestions during the hearings," he said.
BJP city unit president and corporator Vikas Mathkari said, "The city has grown haphazardly and no attention is being paid to the environmental degradation. The rivers are almost dead, greenery is under threat and hilltops and slopes are encroached upon. The ruling party has no will to make a comprehensive DP and include issues like urban ecology."
The world over, cities have focused on urban ecology. Gunnar Soderholm, director with Stockholm's environment and health administration, says that cities should have a complete vision for development and sustainable growth. Soderholm insisted that there is need to build a broad consensus on sustainable development of cities and urban ecology - that is the interaction between people and the environment in urban and residential contexts, including the inter-relationship between natural and artificial flows of energy and natural resources.
"In 2006, a process started in Stockholm in which all the city's departments, administrations and companies, along with several external partners, took part in formulating a long-term, complete vision for Stockholm's development and for sustainable growth. The project was named Vision Stockholm 2030," he added. It is necessary to assess the flow and circulation of raw materials at all levels of use, individual, in local communities and overall in cities, and adapt their use accordingly. This involves a wide-scale process of transition which is unlikely to take place overnight.
Experts have insisted that ecology should be considered when the local body approves constructions which give birth to untamed urbanization. Urban ecology is directly related to infrastructure development. Urbanization in Pune district is among the highest in the state with over 57.39 lakh city-dwellers, the newly released provisional Census 2011 data shows.
When matched with the total population of 94.26 lakh in the state, census data showed that 60.88% people are concentrated in urban areas of Pune district, up from 58.08% in 2001. On the other hand, population in rural areas was 36.87 lakh, falling from 41.92% in 2001 to 39.11% in 2011.
Urban growth is inevitable, according to social experts. Many perceive it as a stepping stone to prosperity boosting economic growth, but it has also led to poverty, unemployment, lack of proper housing and sanitation.
Pune has notched up a 30.34 % growth in population in the last ten years when the urban population in the last decade grew by 36.63%. On the other hand, population in rural areas of the district increased by 21.62%.
"Last year, the ministry of new and renewable energy released the draft guidelines and benchmarks for large area developments such as townships, neighbourhoods, educational and institutional campuses, special economic zones and medical college hospitals. The guidelines include details of various incentives which are available under different schemes of the ministry for deployment of solar hot water systems, waste recycling for energy generation, solar power plants while constructing green buildings and green campuses," said a state urban development official, who added that the PMC can incorporate these guidelines in the DP.
Large developments such as townships, educational and institutional campuses, medical colleges and hospitals and special economic zones have several macro issues to be addressed if they have to be planned in a green way. Some issues are socioeconomics, hydrogeology and watershed development, urban ecology, comprehensive energy resource planning with effective utilisation of renewable energy resources, sustainable mobility systems, and project and construction management, states the central governments notice published on this issue.