Green power, officially
The cumulative effects of changing the way government builds can have a lasting impact on the country’s carbon footprint.
Who is the biggest builder in India? The government, obviously. From huge infrastructure to humble homes – there is nothing left out by the government in its spree of construction activities. All these building activities are with public interest, even when a building use is restricted for few users or houses allotted to people who buy it outright. Can we imagine nationwide government buildings being eco-friendly and green?
Much has happened during the last decade to bring the green design agenda into public architecture, including the efforts of BEE (Bureau of Energy Efficiency) and TERI, which insist on green building ratings for public buildings. If every construction starting from village panchayats to urban facilities can be designed as eco-friendly architecture, in a single stroke we can reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of our nation. This may also have a positive impact on the way private sector builds in the given village or town, ushering a design revolution in the country.
Indira Awas Yojana could be a good example to illustrate this point. It has been among the longest running public housing programme with over 25,00,000 units built till date. Besides, there are housing boards, slum redevelopment schemes, State schemes such as Ashraya in Karnataka and many others. Finances have come from budgetary allocations, and from institutions such as HUDCO. Everyone thinks they are one- or two-room tenements, hence need not be considered for special thoughts of the eco-kind.
Majority are built within the knowledge limits of the local contractor following the schedule of rates fixed by the government. These specifications are rooted in standardisation, rejecting local best practices; as such not only end up costing more but often become an eyesore in the village.
The beneficiaries do not question since they get it free, the contractors do not bother if they get their profits, the officials are more keen to ensure funds are spent within the financial year and so on.
Finally the opportunity to elevate such mediocre looking sheet-roofed shed-like shelters into houses with better aesthetics, local fit and appropriate to climate is lost forever.
For a lasting impact
As single structures, houses appear vey small, but running into many lakhs every year, this is a major construction activity. They can ensure houses are culturally and contextually appropriate, ensure continuity of crafts, retain local economy and provide training for skill-sets of doing good houses. Just like housing, there are many other sectors where the government constructs thousands of buildings. The cumulative effects of changing the way government builds can have a lasting impact on Indian carbon footprint.