How green is my city?

URBAN OPEN SPACES

The gardens around Victoria Memorial in Kolkata constitute one of the largest open green spaces in the megapolis. Pic: Vivek Rai via Wikimedia

In October 2016, Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala rejected the Karnataka Urban Development Authorities (Amendment) Bill, 2016, sending it back to the state government for reconsideration. The Bill allowed for reducing the area of parks and open spaces within residential layouts, in towns other than Bengaluru.

Currently, 15% of the area of residential layouts have to be retained for parks and playgrounds for the use of general public, and another 10% for civic amenities. The amendment would reduce these to 10% and 5% respectively, which will be applicable for all upcoming layouts.

The KUDA Bill had been passed by the legislature in July without any discussion. It has been severely criticised by civil society groups as well as the opposition BJP, on the grounds that it will shrink open spaces and will benefit only land sharks. A Change.org petition by Save Bangalore pointed out that Bangalore’s green cover had reduced drastically due to irresponsible development, and that upcoming small towns should not have to face a similar fate. There were also concerns that the Bill could set a precedent and would be applied to Bangalore eventually.

In the case of Bangalore city corporation (BBMP), only 8.4% of land is vegetation (parks, grasslands etc), according to a study done by IISc in 2014 using remote sensing data. Around 65% of the area under BBMP is built-up.

According to Bangalore’s Master Plan, as of 2003, the city had  only 2.01 sq m of green space per person. This is way lesser than the standard of 9 sq m green space per capita prescribed for cities, by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO also suggests that green space networks should be designed in such a way that all residents live within a 15 minute walk to an open space.

How do other cities fare?

As per the 1996 UDPFI (Urban Development Plans Formulation and Implementation) guidelines of the Urban Development Ministry, recreational areas should comprise 20-25% of the total developed area in metropolitan (million plus population) cities, 18-20% in medium towns/large cities, and 12-14% in small towns. Areas under parks, playgrounds, botanical gardens, open spaces etc are classified under land for recreational use/open spaces in the Master Plans of Indian cities.

According to the Urban Greening Guidelines 2014 published by the Ministry of Urban Development, most Indian cities, while they vary considerably in terms of the open green spaces available, lag far behind their counterparts in developed countries. Globally, developed countries now adopt a general standard of 20 sq m park space per capita, say the above Guidelines.  However, data from the Master Plans of a number of Indian cities included in this report points to the awning gap between these and global peer cities.

Some of the worst in this respect would be:

City Total Area (Sq km) Recreational/Open Space (Sq km) Per capita open space

(Sq m/percapita)

Chennai

175.5 3.66 0.81
Kanpur 891.31 9.59 3.76
Trivandrum 215.86 0.54 0.55
Bangalore 421.4 13.1 2.01
Amritsar 1394 1.86

0.95

Source: Urban Greening Guidelines 2014

However, cities like Varanasi (24.78 sq m per capita), Bhopal (18.62), Allahabad (24.06), Noida (16.49) and Chandigarh (17.43) fare comparatively better in this respect according to the Guidelines..

Let us now look a little bit deeper into the existing scenario in some of the metropolitan cities:

Kolkata

In Kolkata city (Kolkata Metropolitan Corporation), only 9.5% of land is open space and parks, according to a World Bank study of 2011. A survey of Kolkata parks by the Centre for Contemporary Communication (CCC) in 2011-12 found that the city had 711 parks, however many of these were in poor condition.

Professor Mahalaya Chatterjee, Director at The Centre of Urban Economic Studies at Kolkata University, says that land use planning was never a priority for the city’s development authority KMDA: “There was no comprehensive land use plan ever. In the late 80s, KMDA prepared land use plans for different areas in a segmented way. They were more concerned with physical planning and socio-economic planning such as Bustee (slum) development. Till the 1980s, the only source of land use data was aerial photographs, and later satellite images. These were costly, and not quite accessible to the general public.” She also points out that lack of proper land use records impacts conservation, as it makes land easier to convert. “All over the country, developers are taking advantage of this,” she says.

Mumbai

Mumbai, among the most densely populated metros in the country, is also among the cities with the lowest recreational spaces. According to the Mumbai Draft Master Plan 2034 that was released this year, public open space in the city currently is only 1.24 sq m per person. The draft proposes to increase this to 6.13 sq m per capita.

In his objections to the draft plan, urban planner and activist P K Das points out that this goal is based on unrealistic expectations of reclaiming encroached land. However, he says that open spaces will increase hugely if such spaces within private layouts, which many builders have not handed over, can be made public.

A 2013 survey by the non-profit NAGAR showed that there were irregularities in over 650 out of the 900 open spaces that were reserved in Greater Mumbai’s 1991 Development Plan.

Chennai

Among major metros, Chennai has the least open space/recreational areas, only 2.09% according to the city’s 2006 Master Plan. This translates to 0.81 sq m open space per capita. As per the Plan, in the jurisdiction of the Corporation of Chennai, there are 195 parks covering an area of 0.6 sq km in all. There are also over 200 playgrounds whose total area comes to 0.5 sq km.

However, Jayashree Venkatecan of the NGO Care Earth Trust, says that green spaces in Chennai are grossly underestimated in the Plan since some major open spaces here such as Guindy National Park, Pallikaranai marshland are designated as protected areas under different state and central government departments. These spaces do not come under the Chennai corporation’s jurisdiction, and hence are not included in its calculation of open spaces. The coastline is also not included as open space in the master plan, she adds.

Delhi

Delhi’s green cover is comparatively high. As per the India State of Forest Report 2015, the total tree and forest cover of NCT Delhi is around 20%. Greater Noida, an upcoming city with a small population, is one of the greenest cities in India. According to the city’s Master Plan of 2011, it has a per capita green space of about 278 sq m for its population of one lakh.

Having said all that, a comparative study of green cover in major Indian cities would be extremely difficult to conclude, given that there is hardly any norm of tracking and monitoring. With the exception of one-time, isolated studies conducted by different organisations following disparate methodologies, there is not much to go by. The Urban Greening guidelines also acknowledges this when it says that “there is a serious lack of information about the quantity and quality of urban green spaces”.

According to the above guidelines, 31% of India’s population live in urban areas as per 2011 census, and this is expected to rise to 40% by 2026. As more people shift from rural to urban areas, measuring and conserving urban green spaces will become increasingly important.

About Navya P K 7 Articles
Navya P K is a former senior staff journalist at Citizen Matters, and a freelance journalist based in Kerala.

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