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Renewing my resolve to use public transport to explore my city better- May 18, 2012

So many of us criticize the cities we live in. We dislike the noise, the traffic, the delays, the stress of it all. And yet, we choose to stay on. Because of the opportunities large cities offer us.

Many a times, these opportunities are real and realized by most of us. Well paying and challenging jobs, good schools, and access to good facilities for entertainment, shopping, etc. But often times, we are attracted to benefits that are at best theoretical, rarely used in practice.  How many of us fully utilize the fantastic opportunity for exposure to the arts, for instance? Scores of friends I know have never been to a museum or art gallery while living in big cities for most of their lives, missing out on one of the most enriching experiences ever. And while I understand many have no interest in art, people like me who really want to go are so bogged down by the daily routine that it’s hard to make the break and do what you want to do!

Transportation and accessibility play a key role in this. Cities that have been automobile-centric for decades are in the trap of having created a culture of driving to places. So even when public transport does come into the picture, it takes years for people who do not need to drive to use public transport.  There is no culture of walking for instance, among the car riding population. Every type of public transit needs some amount of walking and without that walking habit, transit is not considered an option.

Lack of parking is a serious deterrent for those wanting to use the car to get somewhere. I have often cried shy of visiting exciting places in my city because of my anxiety about finding safe parking for my car.

When the Delhi Metro came to Gurgaon, I envisioned these countless family trips into Delhi. I do take the Metro to work often and my kids do love it, but it’s not too often that we all ride it into town to eat out, visit someone, shop or attend an event. We usually end up taking the car, for silly reasons. Finding parking at the Metro station is a problem. Last mile connectivity in Delhi is usually not such a serious issue, but can be if it gets late or during peak traffic. Frankly, we’re just not used to lugging the kids through public transit. Happy visions of being responsible citizens and traveling by Metro melt instantly when I think of carrying my kids back from the Metro to the car park. And if you were trying to take an auto within Gurgaon, most likely your driver would be all of 16 and driving so recklessly, all you can do is pray!

Last summer, we spent a week in Barcelona and used the Metro there extensively. It was exhausting, but we got used to it by Day 2 and factored in the time it would take to use public transit into our packed touristic schedule! The Delhi Metro is certainly a lot easier to use, I can vouch for that!

Even as I write this, I am strengthening my resolve to overcome these seemingly minor obstacles and expose my family to public transport. I think it is an essential if I would like my kids to become aware, responsible and resilient enough to face the urban environment of the future, which will be a lot more challenging!

Solar panels are cheaper, but without public awareness and participation, that means zilch for India’s renewable energy mission- Feb 07, 2012

As I read New Scientist’s recent article about the drop in the cost of production of solar panels, I wonder why we, in India, don’t have aggressive incentives in place for adopting solar technology (or any other suitable renewable energy mode as per context). According to the piece, the price of solar panels has fallen by some 50% in 2011 and cost a quarter of what they did in 2008. That has, according to the article, huge implications for India and other developing countries, especially in the light of the fact that India is committed to a “Solar Mission” to install 20,000 megawatts of solar power by 2022!

I looked up where we’ve got by now. In 2011-2012, an Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) document reports, 833MW of wind power capacity was created as opposed to a target of 2400MW;111MW of small hydro power capacity was creates against a target of 350MW and so on and so forth in the following areas: biomass power, bagasse cogeneration, waste to power (1.2MW against a target of 25MW), and most embarrassingly, solar power (8.5MW against a target of 200MW for the year!). I fail to see how the mission would achieve its target at the rate of under 10MW capacity addition per year.

Typical of government programs, there is a lot of self-praise on the Internet for starting such a mission, but very little to show what’s being done. To me, something like renewable energy needs a Pulse Polio sort of approach- targeted, aggressive and result-oriented. The public needs to be made aware that the energy crisis is a life threatening situation. They then should be offered technology and assistance to install solar panels, wind turbines, bio-gas plants or whatever is applicable to individuals or communities. Experts say installation costs are what hold people back; so low interest loans should be provided. Empaneled companies should be able to install and maintain these devices and report to the government monthly. Tax breaks should be offered to those who adopt these solutions and finally, recognition must be offered to organizations and community mobilizers who promote the cause. The involvement if corporate houses is crucial, both to demonstrate the effectiveness of these technologies by adopting them as well as to fund renewable energy campaigns as part of their CSR.

There is a strong role for community and citizens here, but the government seems to still be focused on public institutions. A lot is happening, but the public is excluded from the chance to influence their future. And that, in my opinion, is a serious issue.


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