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Green alert on plan for 100 smart cities

New Delhi, July 11: The budget proposals for 100 smart cities, a 1,620km inland waterway along the Ganga and affordable housing, if implemented without adequate focus on energy and efficiency, could hurt the environment, experts said today.

The experts in energy, habitat and environment said the proposal with an outlay of Rs 7,060 crore to turn 100 satellite towns into “smart cities” should not merely copy western models of modern cities but should draw on traditional architecture and designs.

“We’ll need a broad interpretation of smart cities,” said Mili Mazumdar, the director of the sustainable habitats division at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi, a non-government organisation working on energy and environment. “Not just the automation of lighting and building control systems.”

The basic architecture, the design, and the materials used in buildings can also improve energy efficiency, Mazumdar said. Many modern buildings, for instance, use glass to cover most of their outer surface areas.

“This is not energy-efficient — there are norms, ideally a ratio of glass to the surface area should be below 40 per cent,” she said at a news conference called by TERI to comment on the budget.

The experts from TERI and another environmental group have also expressed disappointment at the absence of any new initiatives to stimulate public transport or tax proposals to encourage high-efficiency cars.

“I was surprised that the finance minister didn’t emphasise enough on energy security,” Rajendra Pachauri, the chief executive of TERI, said. “We would have liked to see tax linked to the efficiency of automobiles.”

But TERI has hailed the government’s proposal to support the development of a 1,620km inland waterway along the Ganga from Allahabad to Haldia, describing it as a good alternative to road and rail transport.

At the same time, it suggested that an eye be kept on pollution. “Adequate measures would need to be taken to avoid any extra pollution in the river caused by the waterway.”

“The road stretch from Allahabad to Haldia is a high density route — this waterway would be an attractive alternative to road and rail to carry freight and passengers,” Pachauri said.

While the budget has allocated Rs 100 crore for metro rail projects in Ahmedabad and Lucknow, experts say the funds aren’t enough and will need to be scaled up dramatically for an effective public transport system.

“A typical metro system costs between Rs 150 crore and Rs 300 crore per kilometre to build,” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-government organisation that has been tracking environmental issues for over three decades.

The CSE, in a statement on the budget proposals, said the 2014 budget wasn’t too different from previous ones on polluting vehicles.

In the 2013 budget, then finance minister P. Chidambaram had increased the tax on sports utility vehicles, saying they were polluting.

“But in February, he took away the tax,” Narain said. “The 2014 budget also believes that it must help cars that are large, inefficient and dirty.”