The perilous path of urbanisation in Itanagar


Today, the news bulletins are teeming with news coverage/reports of extreme heatwaves and soaring temperatures in almost the entire country and worse, there is no respite visible any time soon. Cities that were earlier regarded as climate change resilient, like Bangalore, famous for its year-round breezy weather, are fast succumbing to acute shortage of water and extreme weather changes. These alarming effects have forced policymakers to rethink development coaxially with ecological sustainability and climate change. Cities that drive the economic wheels of the nation are fast losing traction and becoming unliveable spaces fated to peril, lest we do something quick and something drastic.

In this regard, the case of Itanagar, the capital of our state, with no more population than a mere colony in a metropolitan city, merits serious concern for its future as a sustainable city.

Itanagar is growing rapidly, both geographically and demographically. With its growth, it is subsuming all the forests lands, rivers and villages in its way. What once seemed like endless tracts of forests and undying rivers are today on the verge of extinction. Rampant earth-cutting, encroachment, garbage disposal, deforestation, etc, are the staple features of the unplanned urbanisation that Itanagar is undergoing today. Government-designed master plans, creation of burial grounds, establishment of waste management, advisory against wanton earth-cutting, advocacy for water source rejuvenation and afforestation, etc, are reactionary and lacks the will and ingenuity to strike a deeper chord with the common public, resulting in a disconcerting disregard and ignorance among the public towards the perilous path that Itanagar is heading towards.

What the above is leading to, we can all see for ourselves today. The rivers around Itanagar are dwindling rapidly, water catchment areas are drying, garbage disposal in river and roads have become an unrelenting menace, extreme weather patterns have become common, forest lands are disappearing, etc, which in turn has led to a downwards spiralling human quality and living index of Itanagar. For such a relatively small population and an ecologically rich geography, Itanagar is heading towards an existential crisis against an unabating lack of concern and efforts.

Ecological urbanism, defined as crafting an urbanisation system that is in accordance with the ecological resources of a landscape and not against it, is a principle that should guide the policymakers and the common public of Itanagar in particular and the state in general. Urban jungles and rejuvenation aims, as envisaged in the AMRUT Mission, should permeate onto the ground and not stand merely as slogans. The ecological costs of urbanisation should be sincerely accounted for, not for the sake of ecological activism but as a non-negotiable exchange for sustainability.

More often than not, ecology is viewed as something that belongs to no one, and thus remains unattended for. The effects of ecological imbalance are seen as a natural consequence and unrelated to human actions. A dangerous idea that ecology has to pay an inevitable price for development seems to be the dominant truth. It is time we realised that it is us, the humans, who are paying and shall continue to pay the exorbitant costs of ecological imbalance.

We need to urgently understand what the American physician Jonas Salk said: “Eventually we will realise that if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves.”

A concerned citizen,

MA (urban policy & governance),