Wednesday, 23 December 2009

But who will bell the Cat-the Bureaucrats?

In continuation of the previous part: "Built Environment and Biodiversity:

(This paper, "Architecture and Biodiversity in India: A Context to Aesthetics in Our Times", was presented to PAITHRUKAM 2004: Seminar/Workshop on Aesthetics in Indian Architecture: Past, Present and Future, at MES College of Architecture, Trissure, Kerala. This is Part 3 of the paper.)

But who will bell the Cat - the Bureaucrats?

THE LAWS AND ACTS that affect built environment must first understand the aesthetics of biodiversity.

They were made to venerate industrial civilization. In the wake of biodiversity, it is not only the prevailing standard building bylaws but also the development plans and the development control rules of towns and cities will need to be overhauled and changed. They were devised for the delight of the regimental officials of the departments. Every town and city – old or new – and the region will have to device their own codes based on its people and the region, i.e. its bio-region. The same should apply also to the “ghettos of development” that mushroom in the rural areas as public or private development projects.

The development plans

Look at any development plan. It typically shows land-use zones, floor space indices (FSI), and road network for automobiles and centres for services/ shopping. Of course the grey zones of the existing slums are not visible. People rarely figure in except as population densities or numbers, which mostly go Topsy-turvy.

The boundaries show as if there exists nothing beyond the city – an island in ocean. There is hardly any thought given to the ergonomics in social, economic, political and physical context of a person and the society, land and waters, flora and fauna, and biotic and abiotic nature. Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) at Borivali in Mumbai is a classic example. The panthers at SGNP recently started attacking humans. So the easiest ‘curative’ measure devised by the ‘authority’ was to deport the panthers to other place. Ironically the Warli tribe living in this forest for ages venerate their ‘Vaghdeo’ – tiger god – as a keeper of the forest (Warli House and Habitat).

The regional plans

Typically the regional plans look like replicated, enlarged city plan. The major features indicate more industries, services and infrastructure, of course, to serve the main cities. These do not offer any solace to the locals, particularly the weaker sections – children, women, the poor and the marginalized. The rich elite, industrialists and the real estate developers purchase large tracts of land in these regions. One could hardly imagine the plight of the small farmers, the landless labourers, and the tribal. There is no succour for the land and water from pollution or deforestation. The consequence is that the diversity of the region turns into despair.

Five Steps to Planning

In the preparation and execution of any plan or law, the following important and most essential issues emerge.
  • To ascertain the likely fall out due to a plan or a law in the affected areas – people, land and waters, flora and fauna – directly or indirectly, in the near or distant future, and within and outside the planned area.
  • To prepare appropriate policy, infrastructure and measures for implementation to preserve, conserve, rehabilitate and restore the affected areas mentioned above, as an essential part of the compe4nsation package.
  • To create and use appropriate means of communications to inform the citizens – the starving, the illiterate, the half-naked, and the elite – of the planning action at every stage of its process, from the inception to after-implementation of the plan or a law.
  • These measures should be taken before the plan or law is sanctioned and enacted.
  • To file regular returns to the public of the planning and implementation actions, the success and failures, and functioning of the project every year till the end of the project period.
Public Participation and Transparency

We are in the age of information and communications. We have made large investments in satellite and other technologies. These should offer the means of direct communication to inform and educate people about the planning process. It is the first step towards the “public participation” and “transparency”. It is as worthy as, even more than, any election at a national or state level.

The issue of biodiversity needs to be taken up on emergency basis before it is totally destroyed.

Here biodiversity is not limited to plants and animals only, but also include people and their cultural sub-groups (See previous post "Built Environment and Biodiversity"). The world has seen the worst effects of industrialization। Now under the auspices of biotechnology the GM foods are already taking the world by storm. No one knows its full implications. Experiments on the dumb animals for cloning are already on the way, which may facilitate the powerful to start with human cloning, though, of course, not without a strong opposition.

Continuing Education
for the Legislators, Bureaucrats, Judiciary and Planners

It is high time the legislators, policymakers, lawmakers, executives, architects and planners educate themselves in biodiversity and ecosystems at the ground level, and then evolve the plans and designs. Even the Supreme Court (SC) has admitted at one stage (‘Clean Ganga Project’) that it had to educate itself on ‘environment’. But SC should note that it is only a beginning.

Learning from People

Learning is possible with the help of the locals. Planning and designing without user participation amounts only to self-glorification. The so-called masses are the people with body mind intelligence and creative ability. Anonymous people in millions have understood biodiversity over millennia in its multiple dimensions for their sustenance.

People are Energy

We are thousand millions now, and that’s our strength. For example, there are about hundred colleges of architecture in the country; of course this is a negligible number. Unfortunately even they are ill equipped in the domain of biodiversity. India will require over one thousand colleges of architecture to work with biodiversity on their agenda.

The essential action first, theories follow

We are not talking here of any established theories of aesthetics. The essential action first, theories will follow as has been happening throughout the history of mankind. There is no hope of help from the foreign consultants. It is also not possible with bureaucratic, regimental mindset. The volumes of information must be tested at the ground realities, because every place is unique. The planning ‘authority’ then cannot be a dictator or demigod but is only a facilitator.

We are looking down to earth, as is, where is, for help and succor, here and now. Biodiversity-oriented architecture and planning is a collective action; it anticipates people’s autonomy and participation, decentralization of power, human scale and collective creativity.

Epilogue: Architecture of Diatoms
Diatoms (Source: Internet)
DIATOMS – microscopic algae – are known for their beautiful and elaborate glass shells, each with uniquely shaped shell. Nano-technologists are interested for their several commercial applications rather than their aesthetic merits. Our challenge is what wonders we – the hundred crore people, particularly the silent majority – could work in harmony with nature in true freedom when we look up to humble algae!

We end, or rather begin, with optimistic note by quoting Ben Okari, Nigerian writer: “The full potential of human creativity has not yet been tapped. Along with the ever-increasing miracle of love, this fact is one of the brightest hopes for human race.” (Ben Okari, A way of Being Free, 1999, P 28).
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PRESENTATION to this paper:

1 Biodiversity: ‘Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from al sources, including interallia, terrestrial, marine and aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species; between species and the ecosystems.’ (Article 2 of the Convention of Biological Diversity, UNEP 1992)
2 Biotechnology:
(a). Biotechnology is the application of biological organisms, systems or processes to manufacturing and service industries (Spinks, A. ‘Biotechnology’ report of a Joint Working Party, HMSO, London 1980).
(b) ‘Biotechnology is the art of manufacturing living forms as though they were machines’ (Stephan R. L., and Clark K. “Modern Errors and Ancient Virtues” in Ethics and Biotechnology, Eds. Anthony Dyson and John Harris, Routledge, London, 1994)
3 This paper, "Architecture and Biodiversity in India: A Context to Aesthetics in Our Times", was presented to PAITHRUKAM 2004: Seminar/Workshop on Aesthetics in Indian Architecture: Past, Present and Future, at MES College of Architecture, Trissure, Kerala, December 16 – 18, 2004.

Previous Posts:
1. Garden under a Glass Cage...
2. Built Environment and Biodiversity
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Remigius de Souza | 16-11-2002 (23-8-2004)
© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

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