Week 1 of the Webinar Series “Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan: Making it Participatory and Inclusive”
Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan: Making it Participatory and Inclusive: An initiative of Environment Support Group, Bangalore
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner N Manjunatha Prasad, IAS recently wrote to Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, the Chair of ‘C-40 Cities’, voluntarily committing the metropolis of Bengaluru to take steps to achieve the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement: i.e., to take local action that would help the world contain global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. On the occasion of World Water Day, the Environment Support Group (ESG) commenced a webinar series to discuss and debate what it takes for Bangalore to become a climate-friendly metropolis. The series is a process of engaging with multiple thematic issues, concerns, and imaginaries of leading officials of various agencies whose functioning impacts the city, with subject matter experts, youth, representatives of various sectors and residents from diverse sections of the city. And it is also a process of collectivizing diverse views and solutions with necessary nuance.
In coming together this way, the steps necessary for effective and just waste management, provisioning adequate water, and safe housing for all, ensuring universal public health and public mobility, providing infrastructure that is inclusive, and building energy systems that are earth-friendly, along with governance that is decentralised and deeply democratic will be interrogated and pragmatic solutions identified for action. In the process, we hope to construct an assemblage of visions of Namma Bengaluru and how the metropolis can survive with its limited resources for the benefit of present and future generations and the good of the world.
Webinar 1: Developing a Participatory and Inclusive Climate Action Plan for Bengaluru
Ms. Bhargavi Rao, Trustee of ESG moderated the inaugural session by recalling the significance of World Water day, the theme of which this year is “Valuing water”. She highlighted the importance of water for Bengaluru, observing that climate change has challenged us to further understand the importance of water security. Expressing happiness and pride that the Commissioner of the BBMP, Mr. N. Manjunath Prasad has voluntarily committed to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, to take climate action at the local level, she raised the fundamental questions that this webinar hopes to address: what measures will BBMP take to implement climate action, and raise awareness amongst the public about it? Will ward-level action be initiated to make Bengaluru climate-friendly? What can be done at the individual level? How do we imagine a liveable metropolis that responds to the challenge of climate change, in the new reality that we have found ourselves since the beginning of the pandemic?
Mr. Leo Saldanha Coordinator and Trustee of ESG recalled the Rio Declaration, which marked the beginning of international climate change commitments. In particular, he highlighted Article 10 of the Declaration that stresses no environmental governance shift for the better is possible unless the public is involved in decision making and the government is open and transparent with environmental information. He hoped that the collaboration between government and civil society that this webinar series has brought together would work to develop an effective strategy to make Bangalore carbon neutral soon and that the process would be emulated across other Indian cities.
Dr. B.R. Ravikanthe Gowda took the discussion forward by highlighting the need for mobility governance. He said it is not sufficient to say we must need public transport. In fact, public transport must become public culture if Paris Agreement targets are to be met. He shared that half the vehicles in Bangalore are highly polluting still, and the increasing reliance on private vehicles is not going to help us achieve carbon neutrality targets any time soon. He called on public transport officials to pitch forward ideas to make most prefer public transport. He also highlighted that the quality of roads is a serious impediment to controlling pollution. Despite heavy investments, poor geometric design and a tiny bottleneck can cause major havoc in traffic flows and increase noise and air pollution.
Micro planning is crucial to achieve Paris targets, he stressed. He also called on environmental groups to build synergies and come off their islands in finding solutions to complex problems.
He illustrated this through the example of the demand to ban vehicles in Cubbon Park, stating that such a move may even lead to a net increase in carbon emissions according to some studies. Similarly, he highlighted that the move towards electric vehicles needed to be complemented by amendments in the Motor Vehicle Act to account for their higher vulnerability, and thus ensure there is more safety for EV users. Dr. Gowda also observed that operational complexities persist in implementing solutions like improving street design and promotion of cycles, and this requires close coordination between the public, policy makers and key agencies.
Mr. Gaurav Gupta highlighted how ‘C40’ cities (of which Bangalore is a member) helped bring the metropolis to join the Paris Agreement. He spoke about several measures being taken in Bangalore in the areas of urban transport planning, waste, air quality, and energy management in buildings, referring to the leading role played by Bengaluru and BBMP in the international city-level Air Quality Network started in 2018, which undertakes monitoring, research and planning on air quality. He gave several examples of initiatives for environmental sustainability being taken in Bangalore, mentioning in particular the Chief Minister’s Mission 2022 program.
He cited instances such as the rejuvenation of 25 lakes over the next 12 months, greening of urban spaces and tree plantation drives (10 lakh trees will be planted in Bangalore this year!), the establishment of mega tree parks by the Forest Department, and improvement of existing parks like JP Park and Cubbon Park (the latter under the Smart City program), and also development of Koramangala Valley as part of the Citizen Waterway project. He recalled that as far as water harvesting and recycling is concerned, Bengaluru has led the way by taking the initiative to build such requirements into its building bye-laws.
Other measures cited included ambient air quality monitoring, establishment of measuring stations, encouraging use of non-motorised and electrified public transport through measures like footpath improvement, completion of metro and suburban rail projects, and bus priority lanes. Mr. Gupta also pointed to BESCOM’s effort to promote electric vehicles by scaling up public charging infrastructure from 140 to 1000 charging stations. He welcomed the public discussion initiated by ESG, and expressed his eagerness to receive feedback from this process, which he promised the Government would utilise to take proactive steps to make Bangalore climate friendly.
Mr. Srinivasalu shed light on the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board’s interventions with the perspective of climate action in three broad points.
Firstly, he highlighted efforts to apply technology in waste management to improve data management and hence better governance. For instance, he spoke of GPS tracking of waste transport vehicles, the soon to be launched ‘e-manifest’ system that will track generation, movement and disposal of waste, and KSPCB’s mobile app that gives easy access to all regulations and rules of KSPCB, as well as to air and lake water quality data. He went on to note that Bangalore in fact has the distinction of having the highest density of air quality monitoring stations in india.
Secondly, Mr. Srinivasalu spoke of KSPCB’s awareness-building measures, stressing that public debate and engagement is needed to translate ideas into policies and programmes. He gave the example of the Ganesha festival (when the promotion of turmeric Ganesha brought down lake pollution) and the low use of crackers in Diwali (in comparison with other metros where air pollution climbed despite COVID restrictions on cracker burning).
Thirdly, he warned that several planning initiatives are based on misplaced priorities: here, he took the example of lake management, where steps like desilting and bunding have taken priority over basic problems such as water pollution due to sewage. Driven by civil engineering to address ecological issues is not a process that would succeed, he argued. While stressing the need to increase sewage treatment capacity, he highlighted BWSSB’s efforts to provide treated water to 50 lakes in Kolar and Chikkaballapur.
Mr. Srinivasalu concluded by highlighting that much of the solutions that we seek for environmental problems lie in nature itself, and that we need to go beyond measuring the value of ecosystems in mere monetary terms.
Ms. Sowmya Reddy, an environmental engineer by training, expressed her delight over Bangalore’s Paris Agreement commitment, even as she reminded us of the need to conceive a realistic plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which must not only be limited to the city level but also revamp the action plan on climate change for the whole state of Karnataka. She observed that while the sources of greenhouse gas emissions need to be comprehensively inventoried, we also need to focus on increasing vulnerability to natural disasters due to climate change, such as the increasing flooding and drought seen in different parts of Karnataka.
Further, she observed that steps such as the approval of the environmentally destructive Hubballi-Ankola railway line by the State Wildlife Board (to which she had objected as a member of the board) and the controversial effort of the Forest Department to convert Turahalli Forest in Bangalore to a tree park, could be avoided. She stressed the need to protect other crucial ecosystems like the Western Ghats, and closer home, the Hesaraghatta wetland and grasslands.
Ms. Reddy also flagged the issue of indiscriminate chopping of trees in Bangalore, and the need for sustainable mobility and public transport. She opined that Mission Bangalore 2022 lacks a deeper crux. Elaborating, she offered a bottom-up model of governance that uses machinery like ward committees for solving governance challenges, while at the same time stressing the importance of making such efforts inclusive and progressive. For instance, she stated that policy efforts for solid waste management need to include stakeholders like waste pickers. She suggested that measures like composting be promoted instead of waste to energy projects that send waste 70-100 km away from their source, and incentivise mixed waste. She concluded by laying stress on the need to make such processes progressive and inclusive.
Ms. Anjali Dalmia suggested several ways to engage youth in local governance. She began by referring to curricular changes to include a holistic reference to ecology, and incorporate hands-on activities, such as teaching children to grow their own food. She stressed the need to promote greater dialogue between youth and policymakers, which will not only help young people better understand local governance issues but also enable them to participate in governance by giving feedback. Another way to foster an active young citizenry, she put forth, was to widely publicise ward committee meetings, especially through avenues like social media, to foster attendance and participation by youth.
Through measures to encourage youth to walk and use public transport, she believes, they can be made to understand their city better. Here she called for infusing technological interventions to promote the use of app based cycling. Replacing traditional and carbon-intensive modes of entertainment like malls with non-commercialised community spaces for art, culture and community service was her final suggestion towards building an active youth citizenry and mobilising them for building sustainable cities.
The speakers faced several interesting questions, such as the impact of cycling infrastructure on carbon footprint mitigation, the utility of subsidies for EVs, and the feasibility of introducing embargoes on registering multiple vehicles. Dr. Gowda opined that any measure in the mobility sector has to be practical, keeping in mind revenue implications, while also complemented by a host of measures such as ensuring dedicated bus lanes and promoting road safety. Responding to a query on waste to energy plants, Ms. Reddy reiterated that this technology disincentivizes segregation, at a time when we need to focus on end-to-end segregation.
Mr. Gupta in his concluding remarks recalled some key points highlighted by the other speakers, particularly Ms. Dalmia’s suggestions on youth engagement and Mr. Srinivasulu’s discussion on water recycling. He noted that in Bengaluru, situated on a plateau, water security and its implications on energy were particularly drastic, since the water needs to be pumped to an elevation. He also shared that BBMP is working to further decentralise governance, especially through leveraging ward committees and similar mechanisms, and urged the audience to actively examine the functioning of existing ward committees.
Responding to a request by Ms. Reddy for the BBMP to call a meeting of civil society organisations, citizens, elected representatives and others for deliberating on climate action, Mr. Gupta observed that such action indeed required a federated network of people, and organisations operating at the city-level. Mr. Leo Saldanha from ESG observed that the purpose of the present webinar series is indeed to support such exercises by the government, and to that end, ESG will be sharing detailed reports on the deliberations in these webinars after each session. ESG will continue the webinar series “Bangalore’s Climate Action Plan: Making it Participatory and Inclusive” next Monday, 29th March 2021 (6:00 – 7:30 pm on Zoom) addressing the theme: “Public Health, Sanitation and Waste Management: Is a Decentralised Approach the Way Out?”. More details on this webinar series can be accessed at www.esgindia.org. A recording of the webinar is accessible here
Mr. Gaurav Gupta, IAS, Administrator, BBMPMr. Gupta is an officer of Indian Administrative Service of the 1990 batch. He is Additional Chief Secretary of Government of Karnataka, Commerce & Industries Dept, with concurrent charge of Administrator of the BBMP.
Ms. Sowmya Reddy, Member of the Legislative AssemblyMs. Reddy is an elected member of the Legislative Assembly of Karnataka. She is also the current General Secretary of All India Mahila Congress of Karnataka and a member of the Indian National Congress. She was conferred with the She runs Government Award 2020, for Best Outstanding MLA.
Dr. B.R. Ravikanthe Gowda, IPS, Joint Commissioner of Police, Traffic, BengaluruDr. Gowda is currently Joint Commissioner of Bengaluru Traffic Police. He has previously served as DSP, DCP, DIGP at numerous levels. His concept of people friendly policing was highly acclaimed and has been adopted throughout the state.
Mr. Srinivasalu, IFS, Member Secretary, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board Mr. Srinivasalu is an IFS officer of the 1997 batch. He is the current Member Secretary of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board. He has previously served as Chief Conservator of Forests of Shivamogga district.
Ms. Anjali Dalmia, YUGMA Network Ms. Dalmia is an environmental and social activist, and co-founder of Yugma Network (a youth movement to work towards environmental justice) and the Project Amārā, which works on sustainable menstruation. She is also a member of South Asia Peoples’ Action on Climate Crisis.