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Follow Sustainable Development Model written by Anand Neelakantan, published in The New Indian Express. April 22, 2019

One of the most ubiquitous sights in any Indian city is the row of leaky water tankers carrying water from the suburbs to some posh apartment complex or residential colony.

 

One of the most ubiquitous sights in any Indian city is the row of leaky water tankers carrying water from the suburbs to some posh apartment complex or residential colony. This is in stark contrast to the queues of ordinary citizens waiting with their colourful plastic buckets for the tanker to arrive. Mumbai&rsquos reservoirs have only 26 percent of water this year. Unofficially, the authorities have imposed water cuts. Only thing stopping the authorities from imposing water cuts officially is the election season.

 

If the situation in the cities are bad, the water crisis in the neglected hinterlands are beyond imagination. In peninsular India, almost 40 percent of the districts are under severe water crisis. Kerala, which faced the flood of the century a few months ago, is reeling under water crisis. The situation is grim in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. It is an irony that India, which has over three months of wet season and countless perennial rivers, goes dry by December every year. We have become callous with the usage of water. We live as if there is no tomorrow in the usage of our natural resources.

 

I need to just look around to see how unsustainable our living has become. The apartment I live in has more glass than walls. Glass walls are a great thing to have in a cold country. It lets in enough heat and light, and keeps out the cold wind. In tropical and muggy Mumbai, glass walls and huge French windows create an oven-like effect. It keeps the breeze out and ensures enough heat in. So, we have no choice other than to use air conditioners. The more air conditioners the residents use, the more heat the urban areas generate, leading to a vicious cycle.

 

For generations, we had considered having grass in our courtyard as something undesirable. In a country where poisonous snakes abound, grass was a great risk too. In the tropical sun, maintaining a grass bed requires a huge quantity of water. Instead, we had huge trees that shaded our courtyards. Now, when I look around, I see lawns in both public and private places.

 

For the sake of maintaining lawns, we often cut fruit-bearing trees. Fruit-bearing trees attract birds and who has the time to clean the bird shit? Instead, it is easy to hire an agency who would use gallons of water to water the lawns and keep the grass intact. This goes well with the foreign-sounding names that the builders give for the apartments and villas of the aspiring middle class.

 

The usage of concrete, aluminium and steel for construction is unsustainable in the long run. The amount of water required for every construction is huge. Same is the case for industrial production of steel, bricks, cement etc, not to say about the sand mining. There isn&rsquot much of reusable material from a demolished concrete building.

 

In the rural area, thanks to power subsidy and minimum support price for crops, we have given birth to unnatural farming practices. In arid regions, we are cultivating crops like paddy or sugarcane, spending huge resources while in traditional paddy growing regions, the farming has shifted to more lucrative cash crops. We give free power for pumping out groundwater, leading to a never-ending race for digging deeper and deeper borewells. Apart from this, huge quantities of water, sand, granite, marble etc are transported from rural areas to the burgeoning cities, resulting in collapse of traditional farming. It is lucrative to mine the hill instead of cultivating it.

 

In our craze for mindless development, we have devoured many hills and mountains for rocks. India is going through a phase of huge transformation. We are catching up with the developed countries through large-scale investment in infrastructure. But if we follow the same model of development that the West followed, we wouldn&rsquot be able to sustain and survive for long. The great American and European dreams were built on slavery, colonisation, ruthless exploitation of natural resources and perpetual wars.

 

We neither desire, nor can we afford to have this development model. The vehicle density in the US is 833 per thousand people. India, despite its rapid development in the past two decades, has a density of 22 per thousand. With this density itself, we have absolute chaos and nightmarish traffic jams on our roads. If we follow the US dream and reach the same vehicle density in the next 20 years, that would be over 125 crore vehicles on our streets instead of the present three crore. Imagine the resources needed to build the infrastructure for these many vehicles, and the unimaginable fuel to run these vehicles.

 

Ironically, even a city like Mumbai has shown scant interest in using the sea for intra-city transport instead of the crowded local trains and congested roads. We are blessed with a huge coastline peppered with many major cities. In the heartland, we have many rivers and cities dotting the river banks. Instead of trying to build huge roads connecting these cities, we need to invest more in the water transportation which has a minimum impact on infrastructure.

 

With so much rainfall, there is nothing but greed and carelessness that stops each city to have its own water bodies and solar farms. No residential colonies or apartments should be allowed to bring water in tankers. If the residents can afford houses worth many times the average per capita income of an Indian, they can afford to pay a little extra for sustainable water source inside their colony or town too. Unless we stop imitating the development model that worked for the West in the previous century and follow sustainable development model, we are staring at a crisis of Himalayan proportions.