Category: South Asia

Green Building in India: NOT

There is a buzz about green buildings. But the question is: what does one mean by building green? And how does one design policies to make the green homes of our dreams?Green is not about first building structures using lots of material and energy, and then fixing them so that they become a little more efficient. Building green is about optimizing on the local ecology, using local material as far as possible and, most importantly, building to cut the power, water and material requirements.

via Green buildings: how to redesign | Centre for Science and Environment.

Sunita Narain makes some excellent points about building in India, and how western architecture influenced glass facades, closed buildings, etc. make little sense in India, and how traditional building concepts, optimised for local conditions would make more sense.

Two points:

  1. Traditional buildings are not necessarily optimised for density. To fit a lot of people in a little space, you need to build up. No, not 100s of stories, but fives and tens? It would be interesting to figure out that contradiction. But I’m no architect and I don’t know the answer
  2. The glass facade concrete skyscraper jungle look is associated with aspirational prosperity, ask any affluent Indian what they like about Hong Kong, or New York, or Singapore, and the shiny buildings will figure pretty high on the list after cleanliness and shopping. This is the kind of building associated with modernity and “class”. Making a sealed glass and concrete hell hole work in regions of high heat and humidity without large amounts of energy use for air conditioning is difficult.

It appears, though, that at least some people are thinking about this, as this book, helpfully titled Tropical Sustainable Architecture, would attest to.

Sunita Narain’s editorials for the Down to Earth magazine are always thoughtful, and required reading for anyone interested in India’s development and environmental issues.

Fluent English – Racism in Mainstream Reporting

From Canada’s paper of record…

Speaking fluent English, he described the gruelling 42-day high-seas journey and talked of the deteriorating living conditions in his homeland. He also described his dismay at arriving in Canada only to be branded a potential terrorist and jailed for nearly three months.

Ah, the old “compliment”, “you speak such good English”, code for “I am so culturally and racially ignorant that the act of any non-white non Anglo-Saxon speaking English surprises and amazes me, and I am clueless enough to think of this statement as a compliment”. If the statement is made by a lay-person, I view it as an opportunity to educate. This represents the culmination of a long journey growing up in privileged middle class India and slowly accepting myself as a person of colour (different and yet to be written blog post). But, for a reporter specifically assigned to write about immigration and refugee claims, this is inexcusable, especially because the language of his testimony has no relevance to his story. It’s almost as if the reporter thinks that this person would be more deserving of Canadian sympathy if she lets us know that he speaks “fluent English” just like us!

The rest of the story is not too bad, it uses neutral language to chronicle the story of a heroic person’s struggle to first help the people around him, then finally make a risky journey across the world in search of a better life.

But wait, there’s more! The headline writer seems to have his or her own agenda as well (not captured in the website article, but see the Page One headline (captured on cellphone camera!):

Not bad, ” Tamil Migrant Sought Relief from Homeland Threats” – neutral, descriptive and to the point.

Now see the headline for the continuation:

Wow, “Militant Claims No Ties to Tamil Tigers”. Hello, what happened? When did migrant become militant, when did his statement become a “claim”, and what relevance do the Tamil Tigers have to this man’s refugee status? Is every Tamil a Tiger? (true story, playing pickup at the gym the other day, this guy asked me what my ethnicity was, then called me a Tiger, then got very defensive when I yelled at him!).

A writer’s bias becomes very evident in the choice of words used to frame statements. I always look for “said”, “asserted”, “claimed” as short forms for “we are reporting this statement, but here’s what we really think”.

This is not the first time headlines have made me scratch my head. This happens especially often in the world of science, as this blog post very ably documents. I once got into a brief email discussion with a reporter at the Raleigh News and Observer who was writing articles about undocumented workers. She would use “undocumented immigrant” (Good), “illegal immigrant” (Bad) and occasionally, “illegal alien” (Alien??) interchangeably. However, the headline would always contain the very pejorative one word “Illegals”. I asked her about it and her one line dismissal was that “she did not write the headlines”, which is a nice and casual shirking of responsibility! Since most people only see headlines anyway, the words stick. So, Tamil = Tiger, immigrant = illegal, etc.

It made me a little sad to see the story of good things (he survived and will have his refugee claim heard) happening to a good man reduced to a disgusting innuendo filled headline. For more on the Tamil refugee story, see this article. The Canadian government is using secret evidence to decide who gets to go free and who is detained. While some of the people on board this ship could possibly be linked to violence, secret trials and innuendo do not help anyone involved. The Canadian government should know this, given that its dealings with immigrants using the security certificate program have been criticized before. I understand and fully sympathize with the Canadian government’s position that this is a complex situation and each person needs to be dealt with carefully on a case by case basis, but secrecy is not necessary here.

India goes solar

India, of course, gets a lot of sun, it is wasted in the sense that it makes us sweat, causes us to use increasing amounts of electricity for air conditioning, and all in all, is a pain. So, a plan to use that sun to generate solar energy, of course, is very welcome. Solar energy use obviously is not new in India, my best friend growing up had a solar water heater at home (his family business used to make them). Policy has never kept up because there has not been a push, is this one?

The Union Government has finalised the draft for the National Solar Mission. It aims to make India a global leader in solar energy and envisages an installed solar generation capacity of 20,000 MW by 2020, of 1,00,000 MW by 2030 and of 2,00,000 MW by 2050.

The total expected funding from the government for the 30-year period will run to Rs. 85,000 crore to Rs. 105,000 crore. The requirement during the current Five Year Plan is estimated to be Rs. 5,000 crore to Rs. 6,000 crore. It will rise to between Rs. 12,000 crore and Rs. 15,000 crore during the 12th Five Year Plan.

A crore, BTW, is 10 million. India still uses its own number multiplier system for money that goes in 100s, not thousands. So, a 100,000 is a lakh, and a 100 lakhs is a crore. I never understood why this was not changed when the country went metric. Lakhs and crores, of course, are metric, but can get confusing.

The plan will start off by mandating roof top solar panels for government and government owned industry buildings in an attempt to reduce costs by scaling up. It will be followed by mandated solar water heaters for all commercial buildings and apartment complexes, and use of solar panels for all in industrial buildings. All this is supposed to happen in the next three years, which appears to be wildly ambitious.

India is a federal country with delineation of jurisdictions between the central and state governments on regulation. Electricity happens to be on the concurrent list, meaning both the state and central governments can make laws, and the central government’s laws will always preempt the states. However, building appears to be a local government issue, so managing this huge transition could get tricky. They are all supposed to use the same building code, but given the unevenness of local governance, who knows what implementation will look like.

In Phase II, starting 2012, India will go solar thermal. India and Pakistan have 200,000 sq km of the Thar Desert, a typical dry tropical desert with oodles of space and sun. It would be a good place to site all kinds of capacity similar to efforts in North Africa and Spain.

Solar thermal, if combined with the right kind of transmission and storage technology, could power the world in 7000 sq km, so theoretical capacity may not be an issue. Of course, the storage and distribution are key. Molten salt batteries look very promising for solar energy storage and night use.

India’s electricity needs are daunting. This WolframAlpha search provides the following:


Note to Wolfram: your data presentation would result in a failing grade on a middle school term paper, where are the sources? Where did you get your numbers? BIG FAIL!

We in Canada use more electricity than India for about a billion fewer people. Clearly, if India was as profligate as Canada in energy consumption and got the power it needed to get there from coal, we would all be dead soon. India needs to go solar in a hurry and I am glad the government has released a policy that is more ambitious than the US or Canada. It needs the support and funding to make it happen and I for one will be very happy to see progress in this area. Solar power needs big up front costs and little ongoing costs.

Can Indian industry provide the money needed? We shall see. I am not too worried about the photovoltaic panel parts, they will muddle along in typical patchwork Indian fashion with the quality of governance being the controlling factor in success or failure. It is the capital and political will needed for solar thermal that strikes me as problematic. The coal and mining industries are entrenched in some population (and vote) rich states like Bihar based in the central and north east regions and there could be some big losers if India went away from coal (as it needs to in order to prevent catastrophic climate change) and toward solar thermal, which I assume would come out of Rajasthan (West).

Anyway, we live in interesting and sunshiny times, stay tuned for more.

h/t to my one of my favourite climate blogs, solve climate for bringing this article to my attention, love your blog folks!

India has ‘proof of ISI involvement’

India has proof of the involvement of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency in last week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai but will not level a public accusation because the ensuing tension in bilateral relations would play into the hands of those responsible for the incidents, authoritative sources claimed here on Thursday.

The Hindu : Front Page : India has ‘proof of ISI involvement’

I call BS. If you have “proof”, loudly announcing to the world that you have proof while saying that sharing this proof will “increase tension” is like your boss telling you “I know you are stealing on the job, but I won’t tell you what I know or how I know it because it will increase the tension”. Right…

Why not just work with the known facts? They are damning enough.

Congress-BJP slanging match over terror begins

Even before the gunbattle with terrorists in Mumbai could end, a slanging match on Friday began between ruling Congress and opposition BJP on the issue of handling of internal security and dealing with terrorists.

BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani accused the intelligence agencies of failing to get a whiff of Mumbai terror attacks, alleging their preoccupation with "Hindu terror"– an apparent reference to Malegaon blast probe –helped the terrorist plot go undetected.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, BJP's anti-terror mascot, sought to upstage Congress by visiting the three Mumbai spots where the operations against terror were on and was promptly branded as a "publicity monger" by the ruling party.

Congress also raked up the Kandahar hijack episode during the BJP rule and alleged release of terrorists in return for safe release of passengers onboard had brought India to its knees

It also sought to puncture Narendra Modi's anti-terror plank alleging he had failed to provide manpower for a centrally-funded coastal policing

AICC spokesman Manish Tewari accused Advani, who is also the Leader of the Opposition, of failing to accompany Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Mumbai, which would have sent a strong signal of a united India against terrorism.

Advani preferred to go to Mumbai along with Jaswant Singh whose conduct at Kandahar is possibly responsible for what we are facing today", said Tewari at the party briefing.

In a statement, Advani accused the UPA of not being serious about tackling terror. "The government's non-serious approach is reinforced by reports that the Mumbai attackers arrived in the city by the sea route.

via Congress-BJP slanging match over terror begins

Note to BJP, your associates are responsible for thousands of deaths in state abetted riots and pogroms against Muslims and Christians. Also, your associates are suspected in fomenting acts of terror, shut the fuck up. You are equally complicit in increasing tensions in the country.

Note to Congress, You are also responsible for thousands of preventable violent deaths. You are inept and unable to setup a basic centralized counter terrorism program, you have, on your watch, let India suffer many brazen terrorist attacks without doing anything to improve intelligence gathering or have any kind of rational response. You have been using the Muslim community to gather votes for years without actually doing anything to make things better. You have not been able to bring the organizers of riots and mayhem to justice, hell, you haven’t even tried. You have no right to talk.

If there is one thing that can be done right away, list all the violence that has occurred in the last few years and actually bring the people responsible for this violence to trial, get some convictions, do some good police and prosecution work. Maybe then we can build some confidence in the system. We can’t have Hindus going free for hate crimes/terrorism, we can’t have Muslims going free for hate crimes/terrorism.

Rule of law, quaint, old fashioned, boring, but in the long term, combining a robust counter terrorism program with a low tolerance approach to violence is our only cure.

Terrorists boated in from Pakistan

MUMBAI: Maharashtra Police investigators say they have evidence that operatives of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out the fidayeen-squad attacks in Mumbai — a charge which, if proven, could have far-reaching consequences for India-Pakistan relations.

Police sources said an injured terrorist captured during the fighting at the Taj Mahal hotel was tentatively identified as Ajmal Amir Kamal, a resident of Faridkot, near Multan, in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Highly-placed police sources said two other Pakistani nationals had also been held in the course of intense fighting on Thursday.

All three, the sources said, identified themselves as members of a Lashkar fidayeen squad.Based on the interrogation of the suspects, the investigators believe that one or more groups of Lashkar operatives left Karachi in a merchant ship early on Wednesday. Late that night, an estimated 12 fidayeen left the ship in a small boat and rowed some 10 nautical miles to Mumbai’s Gateway of India area.

The investigators say the fidayeen unit of which Mr. Kamal was a part then split up into at least six groups, each focussing on a separate target: Mumbai’s Nariman House, which is home to a large number of Israeli families and a Jewish prayer house; the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus rail station; the Cama hospital; the Girgaum seafront; and the Taj and Trident Oberoi hotels.

via The Hindu : Front Page : Three Lashkar fidayeen captured

Well, so it goes, this gives the government and all politicians free license to start bashing Pakistan all over again, while failing to take care of all the changes that need to happen in order to avoid an attack of such brazenness and sophistication. There is no intelligence gathering, no infrastructure to coordinate intelligence, no disaster preparedness, insufficient patrolling of the coasts, gang influences that run deep in the police and the politicians, an inability to run effective investigations, the list is endless.

All that being said, how does one deal with the lawlessness in Pakistan? If we assume that the Pakistani establishment did not have anything to do with this, we are still left with the conclusion that terror groups can function with impunity and in broad daylight in Pakistan’s major cities and just sneak across the border to attack, either in Afghanistan or in India.

The US is bombing the crap out of the Pak-Afghan border, but the terrorists are in the cities and towns, can’t really bomb away. India needs to seriously tighten its borders, and cannot rely on Pakistan’s situation improving any time soon.

Terrorist attacks in Mumbai

Terror struck the country's financial capital late on Wednesday night as coordinated serial explosions and indiscriminate firing were reported from at least eight locations across Mumbai.

At least 18 people are reported killed and 24 are seriously injured.

The coordinated terror strike which reportedly began at 2233 PM at Chhatrapathi Shivaji TerminusCST, formerly known as the Victoria TerminusVT, killed 10 people in the premises of the station, police say.

A petrol pump has been blown up in Colaba by armed men and at least 10 people are reported to have been killed in that strike.

Three persons are killed in a bomb explosion in a taxi on Mazegaon dockyard road and an equal number have been gunned down at the five-star Taj Hotel.

The victims in the hotel were its employees.

via MUMBAI TERROR: Hotels, hospital, bus stands, cinema halls attacked

All the attacks are in relatively affluent neighbourhoods and posh hotels in South Mumbai, clearly designed to terrorize people who would not normally be exposed to terrorist activity, and to further ratchet up tensions in India. Of course, scaring foreigners and tourists is a big deal as well. CST (or Victoria terminus as it is still referred to) is like Grand Central Station in NY city, an iconic Mumbai landmark and the starting point for many many trains. Security in this city of millions is non existent, so I guess such attacks are easy to carry out.

Hindu Terrorism Update

As they uncover a wide network of those involved in the Malegaon blast with linkages to an earlier explosion at Nanded too, investigators were on Sunday looking for 54 people suspected to have been given arms training at a military school in Nagpur.

Highly-placed sources involved in the investigation into the blast at Malegaon on September 29 that killed six persons, said that interrogation of suspects indicated that 54 people had been given training in handling of arms and explosives at Bhonsala Military School in 2001.

Some of them are believed to be involved in the blasts at Malegaon in 2006 and 2008 as well as the Nanded blast in 2006.

Mysteriously a laptop said to belong to Lt. Col. Shrikant Purohit, an army officer arrested recently after investigations, has disappeared. The laptop is said to contain all the 54 names.

via The Hindu : Front Page : Police looking for 54 people “who got arms training”

Involving a military school and a Lt. Colonel, scary. Earlier post here.

Hindu Terrorists – No Oxymorons

The revelation that a militant section of the Hindutva network was behind the September 29 bomb blasts in Muslim-dominated Malegaon in Maharashtra and Modasa in Gujarat has shattered the myth propagated by the Hindutva campaign that only Islamist fundamentalism breeds terrorism. Indeed the Sangh Parivar’s loaded argument has been that while all Muslims are not terrorists, all terrorists are Muslim. Saffron rabble-rousers have had no compunction in lobbing this charge at the Muslim community as a whole. While it has become almost an article of faith with the parivar to link Islamist fundamentalists with terrorism, today, with the arrests of radical Hindu activist Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and four others, among them a retired Major, the Sangh and its affiliates find themselves warding off the same accusations. Prima facie, the case against the Sadhvi and her accomplices is serious. The Anti-Terrorism Squad of Maharashtra, which has been on the trail of Hindutva terror since 2006, has charged them under the Indian Penal Code for murder as well as under sections of the Indian Explosives Act, 1884, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.

via The Hindu : Opinion / Editorials : Hindutva’s terror link

Note: Sadhvi means saint! Terrorist accused saint, now that is an oxymoron we can believe in.

Seriously, what has this so called Hindutva movement come to? Ban them all!