Painting the cities ‘green’

Indian cities urgently need to devise an urban development strategy that is in harmony with ‘natural infrastructure’ and takes into account the urban burden caveat. Since the nation is building new urban spaces and rejuvenating the existing ones, it is an opportunity for cities to embed green component in various sectors for showing a new trajectory towards an eco-friendly and sustainable urban future


The rapid urbanisation in India throws up a major challenge for local bodies to expand the reach of basic civic services to cover the growing population of urban dwellers and improve the service delivery mechanism by mitigating their negative impacts on environment through sustainable and energy-efficient means. There is a wide range of readymade solutions available to local bodies to make development in their respective domains environment-friendly and maintain the balance between fast-paced development and urban ecology.

Municipal bodies need to play a pro-active role in making their operation energy-efficient, encourage citizen engagement for sustainable practices in cities, and harness the potential of renewable energy generation.

Municipal services

Urban Local Bodies are in need of adequate supply of energy to provide basic civic services such as water supply, drainage, traffic management and street lighting to the growing population in existing and upcoming cities. In these times, when most

Indian cities do not enjoy the privilege of 24×7 electricity and face significant electricity outage for upto 12 hours, there is a need for ULBs to opt for an infallible strategy to optimize their energy consumption and be self-reliant in energy generation through available renewable sources.

The global trend towards increased urbanisation requires municipal bodies to provide services to a growing urban population that is expected to add 1.4 billion people by 2030. Urban service delivery systems require significant amount of electricity and in turn burns a deep hole in the pockets of the local bodies. The cost of energy is often the biggest component of the municipality’s budget.

According to a report by Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IDFC), as much as 30-40 percent of total revenue expenditure of ULBs is on energy consumption. Of the energy costs, close to 50 per cent is for water pumping and another 10-20 per cent for street lighting, and the rest on public buildings. Recent projects demonstrate that energy efficiency to the extent of 25-40 per cent can be achieved in such functions. The report further suggests that if on average, 25 per cent energy savings can be obtained on 40 per cent of ULB expenditure, it would result in overall financial savings of 10 percent. Such savings can make a huge difference to a cash-strapped ULB. Moreover, with higher electricity prices in the offing, the financial savings are likely to be even greater. Across India, there is a potential to save around 10 billion rupees annually by adopting energy efficiency measures.

Government of India, through the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, has initiated a programme Municipal Demand Side Management (DSM) to cover 175 municipalities in the country by conducting investment grade energy audits and preparation of detailed project reports. Energy Service Companies (ESCO), the companies that provide energy-efficiency related and other value-added services, are being encouraged to take up the implementation of the programme.

There are majorly two types of contractual arrangements in ESCO projects in Indian municipalities–‘shared savings’ and ‘guaranteed savings’. Under a shared savings model, the ESCO assumes both the performance and financial risk of the project, with the ESCO financing the project as well as guaranteeing savings in the energy bill, a share of which is paid to the ESCO by the client. Thus, the revenue savings are shared between the ESCO and the client in an agreed proportion.

Under the guaranteed savings model, the client finances the project in return for assured energy savings and a guarantee from the ESCO that the project’s energy savings will cover project costs including debt service. ESCOs charge a fee to be paid against performance based milestones. Since the client finances the project, the savings are usually fully retained by the client. Both models are in practice in India Public lighting or street lighting is one of the sectors in which local bodies can cut down their energy cost significantly. According to data provided by the Ministry of Power, India has approximately 35 million street lights which generate a total demand of 3,400 MW. It is estimated that replacing these lights with more energy efficient lighting alternatives such as LED can bring down the demand to 1,400 MW. In the process, it would also save around 9000 million kWh of electricity annually, worth over $850 million.

Further savings may be possible when dimmable LED street light systems are paired with motion sensors, wireless communication, and light level sensors. Dimming and/ or tele-management functions could be utilized at dawn, dusk, during full moons, and when no cars, cyclists, or pedestrians are in the vicinity. Similar innovations can be implemented across different sectors such as traffic management, water supply, and sewage treatment to optimize the consumption of energy in providing civic services to citizens.

Green Cities

Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, says that there are numerous ways to make our cities greener. School students and other citi-zens can be engaged in planting trees in their neighbourhoods. The Environ-ment Ministry has also proposed an urban forestry scheme namely ‘Nagar Van Udyan Yojna’ on pilot basis in 200 cities. The aim is to develop at least one city forest initially on forest land rang-ing from 20 ha to 100 ha in cities having municipal corporations. The scheme will also have a concept of ‘Smriti Van’ where people, after making a donation of Rs 2,000 can also plant a sapling in memory of their loved ones.

The making of Eco Cities or Green Cities would not only require a push to increase forest and tree cover in cities but also demand for environmental sustainability in the long term. It would require conservation of bio-diversity and conventional energy resources, increased usage of renewable energy, and reduction in the energy-use and waste-production through innovative methods. As urban settlements are growing, they are demanding for more and more natural resources to meet the rising demand for food, water, energy, and goods and services. According to the Alternative Urban Futures Report by WWF-India, India’s average per capita ecological footprint is 0.8 global hectares. This figure is very low when compared to the global average, which is 2.2 global hectares, or to that of most developed countries which average an ecological footprint of 6.43 global hectares. India’s relatively small ecological footprint is mainly due to low standards of living in both urban and rural areas. However, there is no separate ecological footprint data available for individual cities of India.

Any increase in prosperity will lead to an increase in this footprint.If we compare India’s ecological footprint with that of Spain, United Kingdom and the United States of America which have an ecological footprint of 5.40 global hectares, 5.60 global hectares and 9.60 hectares respectively, we can draw two interesting conclusions.

First, cities with roughly comparable standards of living can have very different ecological footprints – with Barcelona and Vancouver on one hand and Atlanta and Dubai on the other. For instance, the per capita footprint for Barcelona is 3.26 global hectares, Vancouver 4.2 global hectares, Dubai 11.8 global hectares, and Atlanta 13 global hectares. Indeed, one could argue that Barcelona provides a higher standard of living than Atlanta but at a fourth of the environmental cost. It is to be noted that the link between standard of living and ecological footprint is not linear. It completely depends on how the city is being planned, designed and operated.

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