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The Green Card


In this open letter to Shri Prem C Jain, chairman of the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), architect Jaigopal G. Rao of Kochi-based firm Inspiration explains why he thinks IGBC’s ratings are not inspiring enough and need some urgent modifications.

CII’s initiative IGBC has been able to capture the imagination of the building industry. It is rapidly attracting a number of building professionals and stalwarts of the construction industry to its fold. Perhaps after Al Gore’s educational film and other similar campaigns, Going Green has acquired an almost glamorous image.

So much so that those in the building industry who were strident opponents of the ecologically-sensitive building movement before the beginning of this century, are now the biggest proponents of ‘green’ today, and IGBC has to a great extent been able to ‘cash in’ on this growing trend.

But then, a larger membership base alone is not sufficient. We have to bear in mind that we are not initiating just another social service ‘club’. The impact of the construction industry on ecology is perhaps among the most significant of factors which is going to determine the very survival of our children and grandchildren, even within the immediate foreseeable future.

This is an organization evolving spontaneously and assuming significance out of the survival instinct of human beings. So perhaps an attempt needs to be made to structure it differently?

For example, the undersigned, an architect by training (a member of IGBC – Cochin Chapter), has been an active proponent of ‘ecology-sensitive architecture’ from the late 1980s, was inspired originally by Laurie Baker, who spoke of and built ecologically-sensitive buildings relevant to India even as early as the 1960s and ’70s.

I have completed a body of over 400 projects, and almost all of them have some significance towards environmental sensitivity, especially in Indian conditions.

I have received international awards for my bamboo buildings, my concept of Sustainable Development Zone (SDZ) has, from among others, attracted the attention of UID minister Nanadan Nilekani, who has said that ‘the core of the idea is very powerful’.

But in IGBC, all these get swamped in front of the achievements of stalwarts of the building industry, who have done millions of square feet of constructions and have turnovers of hundreds or thousand of crores of rupees.

I know a number of very eminent collegues, too, who feel that IGBCs sudden entry into the green buildings movement lacks depth in ecology terms.

Perhaps IGBC should understand that it is people like us, who have thought on the lines of ecology and constructions especially in Indian conditions longer and deeper, who have a mechanism to internalize what we have to contribute – and that is quite important, especially during the early times of inception? Everything we may have to say may not be pleasant and may not make market sense – but in ecology terms, they may be very vital.

Why is thinking ‘Indian green’ important?

The LEED rating, on which IGBC’s green rating is based, was conceived in the USA – a country where almost 90% of the population live in urban areas. Whereas in India, less than 30% of the population are urban.

Currently, 10% of the Indian population is now migrating from the rural areas into Indian cities, causing unprecedented pressures and almost irreparable damage to all our infrastructure systems.

Cities expanding without any control and planning, now termed ‘urban sprawl’, is the worst ecological damage that is happening in the country.

It destroys forests, grasslands, wetlands and agriculture fields, causes pollution everywhere, makes the whole population automobile dependent and impoverishes the countryside.

So, even in the vested interest of the Indian urban population, it is very important and vital that this massive migration is arrested and our rural population be made comfortable so that they need not migrate to cities.

Proper green rating of economic magnets like SEZs, IT parks, factories, etc, can play a significant role in this respect.

High green rating should be given to SEZs, IT parks and factories which have high employment potential – only if they develop as ‘green’ (preferably) automobile-free, walk-to-work rural or peri-urban communities with well-planned waste management systems, self-sufficiency in water (perhaps even in energy and food), and with proper linkage to mass transit systems such as buses, rails, boats, etc.

Contrary to this, today IGBC gives even a platinum rating to IT parks, SEZs and factories based on buildings and immediate premises alone.

If there is a concentration of places where there is economic activity alone, this will surely encourage more daily commuting over long distances, higher automobile dependence, speculation in land prices and unplanned growth with slums, traffic snarls, pollution, etc, all around it.

Just this building remaining as a ‘green island’ surrounded by urban chaos, would be a sad irony.

While they undoubtedly have enormous significance, these green ratings on the flip side give a false ‘feel good’ factor that they are the last words in ‘green’ once they are complied with.

Perhaps the first among the regulations that need attention from the state’s planning point of view is the proper land use planning, zoning, FAR/FSI, etc.

For instance, in a low FSI/FAR land, we can insist that buildings can get high green certification only if the development ensures self-sufficiency in water.

Whereas the present IGBC green rating just insists on two or three days of rainwater storage. Ideally, there should be green ratings for a variety of regions, different zones, different FAR/FSI conditions, etc. Or else, the rating system tends to be too superficial.

There are 20 million Indian families without houses. Indian cities have one of the largest slum and pavement dweller population in the world, where the conditions of living are sub-human and a large rural poor and tribal population live in deplorable kutcha houses and habitats.

The green rating system totally ignores such a reality. Perhaps there has to be a green rating which each of these categories can practically aspire for, and which those who are working on the upgradation of habitats for these segments can refer to.

Conspicuous consumption in a country which has a very low per capita income is another factor that has escaped the attention of IGBC’s green rating system.

Perhaps there should be minus points for using air-conditioners and other mechanical systems where it can be avoided? Or for using building materials with a very high carbon footprint, where simpler materials which can perform the same/similar functions are locally available?

Purely from the aesthetic point of view, some of these may have relevance – but IGBC should have the integrity to say that, from a ‘green’ point of view, they may not get high ratings.

India has a vast community in our rural areas which is an enormous knowledge bank of a variety of building practices handed down through centuries.

These include knowledge on constructions using mud, lime, jaggery, shells, slates, various stones, terracotta in its myriad forms, different types of leaves, grass, thatch, bamboo, reeds, woods, palms, metals (including iron, brass, bronze, copper, silver, gold), etc. IGBC’s green rating system seems to be oblivious of their existence.

In short, what appear to be missing are the fundamentals. There is no effort of trying to have a holistic green vision for the country which can at least attempt to weave all these factors together to evolve into a beautiful sustainable and affordable green fabric which has firm roots in the cultural, social, economic and political reality of today’s India.

Let us not be afraid that all these are complex factors – which, if we try to bring in, will spoil the momentum so far achieved in the IGBC movement.

All these can be enriching factors which we have to take into consideration, if we are genuinely trying to define a green reality for our vast country of such enormous beauty and diversity. Let us all together try to put in the efforts necessary to aspire for this grand new green vision.

Note: Jaigopal G Rao is Principal Designer and Managing Partner of Inspiration, based in Kochi (www.inspire-india.com).

An architect by training, his works are originally inspired by Laurie Baker. Furthering this basic approach to the built environment, he later explored deeper into sustainable urban planning, constructions with bamboo and total water management.

His works have attracted national and international awards and recognition. He can be contacted at jaigopal@inspire-india.com

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