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Category: Cities

“The way government thinks about land is completely capitalistic”

Pankaj Kapoor, the managing director of Liases Foras, a real estate analytics firm in Mumbai, met with me at his office in a new building at Andheri East. Columns of large box files about Mumbai’s land prices teetered in the conference room. Although it was evening on a Saturday, the place was occupied with a row of staff who stared at their screens. Kapoor sipped on a cup of light tea and talked about real estate in Mumbai, NAINA, and what exactly set off land prices in the city (hint: it wasn’t demand).

When did you first start seeing the wealth effects of land?

You know, all this started in 2005. The seeds of the exuberance were put in when realty was open for foreign direct investment. That was the first time the government came forward and started land bidding. Mill land that belonged to the National Textile Corporation was sold, and the price of that land was being discovered. The NTC mill land deals, the MMRDA deals, and similar deals across India set the prices. I remember a time when a couple of land deals in Lower Parel happened. My own estimations for Lower Parel at that time was Rs 6000 a square foot. Land was sold, if you look, for over Rs 10,000.

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How much water do we have?

According to a report in Down To Earth, not enough. India’s reservoirs are 40% deficit and monsoon is retreating.

Availability of water in country’s 91 major reservoirs fell to 95.313 billion cubic metres or 60 per cent of the total storage capacity, as on September 23, according to an official release.

“This storage is 75 per cent of the storage of corresponding period of last year and 77 per cent of storage of average of last ten years,” says the release by the Ministry of Water Resources.

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What smart cities should do

Update below.

In the plans and communications of government, smart cities are outposts of miraculous technology that preempt unnecessary pauses in everyday life. “Smart cities are about clustering smart people, smart institutions, and creating an economic model that can evolve with time,” a global strategist at Deutsche Bank told Bloomberg Philanthropies in a promotional video for India’s smart cities campaign.

On, where citizens were asked to send in suggestions for the ideal smart city, people saw these new urban habitats as a chance to fix what regular cities could not. Far from demanding technological solutions, their concerns were rooted in ordinary problems: better walkways, better garbage disposal, more transparency around local governance. Have a look at the comments for Jabalpur.

One wrote, “In a smart city all roads should be broad enough so that at least two cars can cross simultaneously. Unluckily in Jabalpur many road are not even broad enough for a small car to pass through it. Please for the ease and beauty required in a smart city broaden these roads.”

Another wanted the ideal smart city to have a university free of political influence.

A third wanted traffic to be managed “properly without political influence. No Juloos, Baraat, political gathering on roads, whether it’s local [politician], [chief minister] or [prime minister], and no bazaar on road please.”

Read the whole thing.


Update: The Jabalpur page is missing, so the screenshot below should help.


Millionaire water thieves

At Karanjade, a cluster of new apartment buildings bordering Panvel, well-off residents steal drinking water from a large mains nearby. A popular method involves puncturing the main pipe with a heavy stone and running away. The pressured water shoots out in a fountain several metres high for days, providing a virtually unlimited supply for the apartment-dwellers as well as the labourers who construct the buildings. “Bisleri hai,” a man from Karanjade village described the taste. The residents are expected to become more law-abiding when the construction of a nearby tank for the buildings is complete. For the others, this is the only dependable source of water.

H2 whoa

Why the idea of ocean cities is back:

“Today all the technologies that we need — local wastewater treatment, floating platforms, rainwater harvesting — they all exist.”

Digging up fossil-water

Digging up fossil-water is dangerous water-strategy. NASA & reports from IWMI have sounded out loud on India’s disproportionate dependence on groundwater, using satellite data to mark water-stressed parts of India. We are the world’s largest user of fossil-water (China which comes second uses only half the amount of groundwater we use), using about a quarter of the of the global total, says a World bank report cited in this Times of India article, Can Groundwater Use Be Charged?

There are nearly 5 lakh illegal borewells in just the national capital for extracting groundwater. A National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) study says almost 16% of Delhi’s urban households and 30% of its rural ones don’t have sufficient drinking water throughout the year.

The court passed the order on a PIL filed by Ramesh Ailwadi seeking a direction to governments to price the groundwater resource as is done in the case of water being supplied by local authorities.

“Undergroundwater forms part of natural resources and of which government is the guardian and has the responsibility to ensure that the same is distributed to subserve the common good. It is further the case of the petitioner that wastage of this precious resource by those who have been able to obtain groundwater installations violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India,” the petition said.


Almost everyday, newspapers are replete with urban centers overdrawing their borewells — and most of this water goes towards construction and industry, leaving residents and the countryside thirsty.

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The urn and the tomato

A boy wearing a plastic bag for protection stands on a pile of garbage several floors high. He holds up an urn that is pink, white, and covered in something brown. What is it, someone asks. A cup, he says, holding it high above with one hand. What kind of cup is it, the questioner asks. It’s a tea cup, he says. He catches a glimpse of a plant rising from the trash and runs to it, letting go the very fancy tea cup/urn. “Tamatar!” He plucks two green tomatoes, and gives one to a friend. He chomps on the other one.

This is from a fascinating documentary about life at the Deonar dumping ground, a landfill with hills of trash so tall that any increase in their height requires permission from the Airport Authority of India. It’s a little exploration of a place that’s been described extensively, but what really works here, I think, are the silences. Nothing is said. Just pictures of people at work. Good, powerful stuff by the School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Part one:

Part two:

When public spaces go private

In Mumbai, more and more, we do in grey areas the walking, running, and playing that we once did in green. But where did those open public spaces go? I’ve been following this subject on and off for a few years, more attentively when this or that sports club is in the news for cutting off access to a playground that was once reserved for the public.

Where’s this coming from? Turns out, London has a problem of privately-owned public spaces too. I like this passage from the story:

The geographer David Harvey once wrote that “the freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is … one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights”.

It’s time to take a stand, the author says.

Read the whole thing.