Urban policymaking in 2019 addressed some key areas which could help improve the quality of life by a good measure
Among several initiatives announced in India in 2019 was firstly the one related to water conservation. This is of particular significance given that some cities have gone through unprecedented water crises. In Chennai, for example, emergency measures had to be undertaken to provide some minimum water to residents. NITI Aayog in a report in June 2018 said that 600 million people of India face high to severe water stress. Alongside were recurring press reports which said that many large cities were running out of groundwater. In this context, Jal Shakti Abhiyaan was launched. During the monsoon (and retreating monsoon)months, several interventions in five areas namely water conservation and RWH, Renovation of water bodies, Reuse and recharge structures, Watershed development, and Intensive afforestation were to be undertaken in select water-stressed districts.
The year saw droughts, excess rains, extended rains, downpours – all in one season. It is therefore imperative to put in place appropriate water management measures to secure supply for human needs as also for agriculture which is largely are rain-fed, and industry. The Prime Minister has personally focused on the subject through platforms such as Mann Ki Baat to build awareness. On the urban front, there is need to focus on reuse and recycling through a host of measures. On the agriculture side, there is big scope for sustainable water use and crop choice. The programme on water conservation needs to be carried through and accelerated in the coming year and beyond. It needs to evolve into a mass movement on the lines of Swachh
Another important policy initiative which was spoken about but not fully rolled out was the ban on single-use plastic. The hazards of plastic waste to human life and the environment are now well known. In India, several states and local governments have announced bans on some kinds of plastic and thermocol; implementation though has been less than optimal and results unclear. While the national ban on single-use plastic was expected to be implemented from October 2 with the aim of ridding the country of such plastic by October of 2022, the announcement has been delayed possibly due to concerns about its effect on the economy. However, it is quite likely to come about soon, once we have greater momentum in discovering alternate materials, especially for packaging. Innovation and leadership are very important in this process.
Safety on our streets is a big priority and action was taken by amending the Motor Vehicle Rules. The amended rules came into effect from September 2019. These hiked the fines and penalties for road rules violation by a big measure. For example driving without a license would now entail a fine of Rs 5000 as against Rs 500 earlier. Other violations invite similar steep fines. However, many states are yet to implement these new rules, while some have watered down the fines to lower levels. Road fatalities are often due to careless driving, and higher penalties are a way of reducing such tragic loss of lives.
We trust some of these policy measures can be implemented fully in the year to come and lead to more livable cities. In this issue of Urban Update, we look at some aspects of urban policy making in the year gone by and what we could possibly expect in the year to come. Urban Update wishes all readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year.