Cities assure to accelerate efforts to achieve SDGs in 5th South Asian Cities Summit

The 5th South Asian Cities Summit was inaugurated by Dr Pramod Sawant, Chief Minister, Goa on March 5 at Cidade de Goa, Goa, India. The Summit was divided into 6 technical sessions along with 6 parallel sessions focused on various topics related to the Sustainable Development Goals and city development in the context of South Asian countries.

SAC Inaugural Session

The inaugural session saw participation from dignitaries like Dr Pramod Sawant, Chief Minister, Goa; Uday Madkaikar, Mayor, Panaji; Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA); Dr Bernadia Irawati Tjandradewi, Secretary General, UCLG- ASPAC, Indonesia; Ranjit S Chavan, President, All India Institute of Local Self-Government (AIILSG); Rajiv Agarwal, Director General, AIILSG; Jerome Pons, Head of Cooperation, European Union; and Ravi Ranjan Guru, Deputy Director General, AIILSG. Hansa Patel, Executive Advisor, AIILSG and Debarshi Pandya, CFO, AIILSG welcomed the dignitaries and felicitated the guests with a set of books of Mahatma Gandhi. The Welcome Address for the inaugural session of the 5th South Asian Cities Summit was delivered by Ranjit S Chavan, President, AIILSG. He hoped that the 2-day conference brought forth positive results for the participating cities. “I am sure that the participating cities of South Asia must have come with new ideas and strategies to achieve SDGs as per their local needs and conditions. The discussion on different topics including the exchange of information and technology, updated systems and procedures, follow-up and removal of bottlenecks to achieve the target with the speedy process would definitely help each other to attain the final goals by 2030”, Chavan added. Following the welcome address, the conference began with the dignitaries present on the stage lighting the lamp and hoping for a constructive dialogue to follow.

Delivering the theme address, Rajiv Agarwal highlighted the importance of the SDGs . “SDGs were adopted by members of UN in a bid to work in unison to achieve global peace and prosperity.  Better health and education, eradicate inequality and ensure prosperity. That is what is at the centre of the SDGs. The question today is where do we stand now, given that only 10 years left in achieving these SDGs. We require sustainable, strong commitment by the stakeholders while authorities need to ensure that we achieve the goals before the set deadline,” he said.

Dr Bernadia, in her special address, talked about the importance of city development, especially for South Asia.  “We should discuss not only the challenges but also the solutions when it comes to city development,” she noted. Further, she emphasised that the countries need to work towards the acceleration of the SDGs as only 10 years are left for the set deadline of 2030, dubbing the coming decade as the decade of action. She also highlighted the need for collective action for the betterment of the coming generations.

In his address, Hitesh Vaidya appreciated the efforts that South Asian countries have made towards the achievement of SDGs, especially towards the alleviation of poverty. “The time has come to show the Western world what we have achieved given the complexity of the circumstances that we are dealing with,” Vaidya said. Jerome Pons delivered the keynote address. In his address, he detailed how the European Union was helping countries around the world with their initiatives to achieve the SDGs. “Over 200 local authorities from around the world have received support from the European Union towards their initiatives to achieve the SDGs ever since 2015. He also mentioned that the EU has moulded their policies around the SDGs in order to prioritise them.

Pons also used the platform of the 5th SAC Summit to announce EU’s plans to discuss the green deal and its digitilisation in the first part of next year.

Delivering the special guest address, Uday Madkaikar expressed pleasure in welcoming the international delegates and city representatives to Panaji. “ The path of sustainability is the only way forward and we have no choice but to embrace it,” the Mayor of Panaji said. He believes that poverty is the biggest challenge that India and other South Asian cities face today and thus, poverty alleviation should be the primary focus as many still don’t even have basic amenities. Addressing the session, the Chief Minister welcomed the delegation and hoped that the Summit would contribute in the development of the cities. Talking about the SAC Summit, Sawant said, “Such platforms bring together various stakeholders associated with urban development under one roof to deliberate sustainable practices for city development. Not only the government, but every citizen is responsible for complete implementation of sustainable practices in cities.“

The theme of the conference is ‘10 Years to SDGs’.  The CM briefed everyone present about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. ”The whole idea is to positively enhance all the aspects of the SDGs in the country for the future and, in this direction, various policies have been devised and implemented by PM Modi in India,” he added.

Session 1: Sustainable Cities

The first session saw an eminent panel of speakers discuss the measures that can be implemented in order to make cities more sustainable and, hence, more liveable for the coming generations. The session was chaired by Dr M Ramachandran (IAS Retd) Former UD Secretary, Government of India. He emphasised on the development of rural parts at the periphery of the cities to accommodate the growth of the city. He also highlighted that the biggest challenges that the city governments of South Asia face is developing cities that embrace change. Best practice models implemented across various cities were shared and important issues which affect sustainable development like climate change, capacity building and disaster management were shared during the session. The speakers also concluded that South Asian countries face similar challenges when it comes to city development and hence it was essential to hold dialogues like the SAC Summit between stakeholders for better solutions and knowledge exchange. The panelists also deliberated on ways to ensure citizen partnership, with Albert Graves highlighting, “Citizen centricity is the baseline for the development of any smart city. Smart cities can be reflected as happy cities and hence should be developed keeping the citizens at the centre of the development plans. Feedback system is essential for this.” Gino Van Begin, Secretary General, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, highlighted the urgent attention that is required by city administrations to tackle the growing issue of climate change.

Cities cannot continue their current negligence of the ecological damages they end up causing. Further, Begin gave ICLEI’s five pathways to ensure sustainability. “Sustainable development is the only way out to save not only our growing communities but the general world”, he said.

Session 2: Mobility

Although not addressed directly by any of the Sustainable Development Goal directly, mobility is an issue that is central to the achievement of nearly all of them. The discussion between panelists, who ranged from holding public transportation offices to prominent urban planners, saw them analyse recent developments in the transportation systems of cities. The recurring point in the deliberation was the need to revive and revitalise the public transportation systems of cities. “Public transportation should be at the heart of the transportation infrastructure development of a city. Provisions for the transportation system must be included in the master plan of a city”, A Ravindra, General Committee Member, AIILSG,  said. The panelists advocated the shift back to public transportation as it may be a means to boost the economy and, naturally, cut down the emission levels in major cities. Kulwant Singh, Former Asia Advisor, UN-Habitat, pressed the idea of going back to NMT and to minimise the number of private vehicles plying the road. “There is a need to revisit the approach of transport planning of a city,” he said. Jairaj Pathak, Former Commissioner, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, commented that direct municipal operation in handling of the public transportation is the most satisfactory city transport measure that can be adopted. He further identified several issues that cities face when it comes to transportation. Illegal hawkers, no separate bus lanes and the steep rise in the number of private vehicles that has now led to it being the favoured mode of transportation in densely populated areas, were put forth by the speakers.

 Prarthana Borah, ,India Director, Clean Air Asia, said that
99 per cent of cities in Asia don’t adhere to the safe air quality levels and have poor air quality, riddled with PM 2.5. “Simple changes in behaviour patterns will make big changes when it comes to curbing the key pollutants emitted from the vehicles,” she added. The panelists also discussed the future of e-Vehicles in India and how they alone are not enough to curb the dent on the environment.

Session 3: Water and Cities

Maintaining adequate water supply has forever been one of the chief concerns of the city planners. However, with the rapidly expanding cities, the burden on the already depleting water bodies has grown exponentially.

The session saw the experts discuss the importance to find a balance between urban development and preservation of water resources. TG Sitharaman, Professor, IIT- Guwahati, pointed out that it was essential for cities to develop special plans for water conservation and management in an integrated manner taking into account the current and future demand scenarios. He also felt that farmers, who use a large portion of water resources for agricultural purposes, must be sensitised about the judicial use of fresh water.

Dr Bhakti Devi, PhD (Urban Water Management),  said, “The future of water in the cities lies in small circular systems which are operated and planned by local water users and local municipalities.” She further added that city planners need to regularly speak with water management and supply authorities of the city. Integrated urban water management at small scale system levels can be a possible solution to manage urban expansion and water resources. Ranjan Panda, Convener, Combat Climate Change Network India, suggested that cities must factor in ecological conservation and climate change impacts in their water security designs. The panelists also agreed that a better alternative to the usage of dams must be sought. “Dams end up disrupting the health of water bodies upon which they are constructed. They restrict the flow of rivers, which directly degrades the ecosystem”, Panda said.

Session 4: Digital Innovations: Data driven future solutions

South Asian cities, with their rich heritage, often hesitate in adopting newer technologies. It is imperative that dialogues between stakeholders of various cities about the incorporation of such technologies with city management happen in order to move them towards the SDGs. Such a discussion ensued in the 4th session of the SAC summit, where panelists put forth examples of digital innovations’ incorporation. Vikas Kanango, Senior Consultant Digital Development, The World Bank, briefed about the various data driven city management solutions that the World Bank is executing in India. “Our main focus is on climate change mitigation, smart energy development and reducing gender gap in India. With our 120 ongoing projects worth 27 billion dollars, I believe we will harness technology in such a way that Indian cities make the utmost use of it”, he said. One such project the World Bank has implemented is ‘Urban Tree’, whose founders Tharmarajan and Ganesh Kanan addressed the conference. They described how they developed an e-governance platform for the entire state of Tamil Nadu. They elaborated the need for their project, which was responsible for end to end turnkey implementation of Urban e-Governance for 135 Urban Local Bodies of Tamil Nadu. “People are not confident in the ULBs operation. Delay, wrong investments, no inclusive governance, mishandling of funds,etc, were some of the motivators behind the development of this project,” Tharmarajan said.  There are several challenges for the municipal corporations to make services conveniently available for the citizens. With the help of the online platform, basic municipality functions like tax registration and birth and death certification are more conveniently available to the people. People can register their complaints/ enquiries online with this which would be directly received by the concerned person of the municipality who can cater to the problem.

Elaborating on the miscommunication between ULBs and citizens, Pashim Tewari, Technical Director, AIILSG, said that handling of citizen feedback and grievances, and data management are two issues that city authorities in India must look into. Only then a better accord between the authorities and the citizens can be ensured. Albert Graves said that urban innovation can be brought forward with corporate involvement and in order to gain corporate interest and thus, investment in city management, city authorities must ensure profits for them.

Session 5: Urban Sanitation

With the successful implementation of ODF across India with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, the question of sustaining the achievement now arises. Inappropriate sanitation is one of the most basic issues that South Asian Cities continue to face to this day and is directly addressed by SDG 6.

The disposal of faecal sludge and septage management were the major highlights of the session where prominent speakers from National Institute of Urban Affairs, best practice experts and mayors addressed the gathering. Depinder Singh Kapur, Senior Development and WASH Expert, National Institute of Urban Affairs stressed upon the need to prioritise septic management as the number of toilets have significantly increased since SBM. He further pointed out that septic tanks were not working, Sewage Treatment Plants and improper disposal of waste are two challenges that South Asian cities need to address in the future. Only 32 septage treatment plants are operational in India, a number which is highly unsuitable for such a large population.Kavita Wankhede, Senior Lead-Practice, Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) presented the example of Tamil Nadu, who have established an advisory committee at state level for fecal sludge management and how it has effectively brought down the woes of the state. Pratibha Shinde, President, Via Municipal Council, advocated that women safety in public toilet facilities must be our next focus. “With the increase in public facilities, India still needs to focus on making them safer for women, especially in rural areas, to reinforce the idea of Open Defecation Free India. More participation of women in the health and sanitation profession could be a way of ensuring this”, she said.

Session 6: Inclusive Cities

Cities, with their rapid rate of expansion, are a hotbed for migration from various regions. Given the disparity in communities, economic conditions, or area, the demands of the citizen also vary. Hence, the panelists discussed and presented various ways via which city planners could better develop cities for its inhabitants in the future. Ashish Rao Golpade, Deputy Director, ICLEI suggested that cities must promise their citizens projects that ensure adequate waste management, open spaces and recreational activities in order to make them more citizen centric.

The panelists concurred that a city’s heritage and uniqueness must be addressed in its design. To make the city more inclusive, citizens need to be proactively engaged in the planning of the city. For this, the city planners must proactively engage the citizens at every stage of planning. Smart City as a concepts helps the local governments to strengthen their institutional and technical composition and hence better their operations, Debjani Ghosh, Associate Professor, NIUA said in her address.

Tikender  Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla;  said that the irregularity in the terms of mayors for Indian cities must be rectified in order to allow them to make appropriate use of their time in office. Dr Kaustuv Bandyopadhyay, Director, PRIA; raised the issue of the lack of incorporation of the public facilities for the urban poor. The role of private organisations in bridging the communication gaps between citizens and city authorities was also explored during the session.

Parallel Sessions

South Asian Mayor’s Forum

The South Asian Mayor’s Mayors Forum gave a platform to mayors and deputy mayors of various South Asian cities to put forth their achievements and issues that they have been facing in their respective municipalities. The primary objective behind the Mayors’ Forum was to enable a healthy dialogue between various city representatives.

Parallel Session 1

Paving the Enabling Environment towards Urban Sanitation Solutions: the Journey of MAB in Bangladesh

The session highlighted Municipal Association of Bangladesh’s efforts in curbing the problem of lack of sanitation and the way forward to better the conditions for the future. Bangladesh has been successful in reducing open defecation from 34 per cent in 1990 to less than 1 per cent today.

Parallel Session 2

Circular Cities Dialogues Series: Creating Circular Economy towards Shaping Resource Efficient, Sustainable & Circular Cities

The second parallel session saw a panel of eminent speakers deliberating on how the introduction of the concept of circular cities & economies in South Asia can serve as a key to a more sustainable future. Recycling, cleaner energy resources, cleaner transportation were some of the subjects that were discussed during the session.

Parallel Session 3 WomennoVator

The third parallel session of South Asian Cities Summit centered on the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship amongst women of today. Uplifting women by promoting the concept of gender equality in cities of today in order to develop a better community for the future.

Parallel Session 4

Global Launch of Regional & Urban Business Incubation Centre

India has witnessed tremendous growth in the number of startups operational in recent times. With this recent spurt, challenges also arise in building a suitable ecosystem for their growth across all parts of the nation, not only the metropolises. Startups need a space to grow, and the session focused on what can be the possible ways to enhance the startup culture of the nation.

Parallel Session 5

Electric Mobility: State’s role in accelerating electric mobility in India

Governments around the world are striving towards creating a suitable environment for faster adoption of electric vehicles. During such a time, concerned authorities must take appropriate steps and realise the areas that require their attention the most. The session saw the panel of experts deliberating over what could be the measures that could be implemented to promote e-mobility in India and other South Asian countries.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.