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Let ‘Infra’ lead the way in Next Decade

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By Roli S

In the New Year, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has come up with heartening news that the tree cover has increased by 11 lakhs in the last decade. As per the tree census 2018, there are 29.75 lakh trees in Mumbai as compared to the 19 lakh trees in 2008. Increased planting of saplings is said to be the reason for the same. This may be an answer to all the environment enthusiasts that were concerned about the destruction of Aarey tree cover because of the construction of a Metro Car shed.
Rail and roads remain the essential network of the non-virtual world. They are the infrastructure upon which almost all other infrastructure depends. They are the paths of human endeavour and it is essential to keep them growing. We cannot put a stop to infrastructure development projects because, from the water that we drink to the way we travel to work or school, infrastructure touches every aspect of human life. It has the power to shape the natural environment—for good or for bad. As the world’s population expands, urbanisation accelerates and emerging middle classes in developing countries demand more services, the need for infrastructure is rising rapidly because it is crucial for development. From transport systems to power-generation facilities and water and sanitation networks, it provides the services that enable society to function and economies to thrive. Now, as the world seeks to meet ambitious targets of infrastructure development, such as the Sustainable Development Goals as set out in the global Agenda 2030, and the Paris Agreement on climate change, infrastructure is becoming more widely recognised all over the world and so it should be for India.
And, to be truthful, prayers and goodwill don’t build good infrastructure. They don’t develop countries. They don’t improve the poor healthcare system or the education system. God has placed a few wise men and decent leadership in command of all the infrastructure development on planet Earth.
Infrastructure development is now at the heart of efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Encompassing everything from health and education for all to access to energy, clean water and sanitation, most of the sustainable development goals imply improvements in infrastructure. Infrastructure plays a key role in all three dimensions of sustainable development: the economy, the environment and society.
I urge that infrastructure should not be viewed as individual assets, such as a power plant, a hospital or a water network, but as part of a system containing a bag full of assets that collectively hold great potential to deliver the three pillars of the sustainable Development Goals: economic, environmental and social sustainability. I also urge all the well intentioned environment lovers to understand that, in the long run, infrastructure development in fact helps protect the environment.
When it comes to the economy, whenever infrastructure development is taking place, many jobs are created during construction and maintenance. In terms of job creation, every billion dollars invested in the physical infrastructure creates 47,000 new jobs according to Bernie Sanders. The infrastructure such as a bridge or a pucca road links a rural village to urban markets. By connecting communities to cities, education and employment, infrastructure such as transportation and telecommunications in fact establish national economic goals.
In protecting the environment, infrastructure assets play a key role in conserving natural resources and reducing the impact of climate change. How does it happen? Well, clean energy generation plants, for example, are critical in reducing dependence on fossil fuels, also by taking cars off roads, mass transit systems contribute to the reduction in pollution and generation of greenhouse gases. Research estimates that, if someone commuting 20 miles a day switches from driving to public transportation, it would lower their carbon footprint by 4,800 pounds annually. So, a Metro Service in a mega city like Mumbai is always beneficial for a city to protect its environment.
Society benefits from infrastructure since it delivers services such as power supply, healthcare services and sewerage networks, etc., essential for sustainable development. Whether by providing the public transport that makes it easier for women in rural areas to participate in the workforce or the clean water and sanitation that reduce maternal and infant mortality, infrastructure also advances gender equality and life expectancy.
Infrastructure should be looked at primarily from the point of view of providing services to people in the hope that we can do that in a way that will be effervescent and viable economically, environmentally and socially. In doing so, governments will face tough challenges from governance weaknesses to financial gaps to activists’ claims, but infrastructure should be seen by all as a means of delivering essential services with the hope that by building the right type of infrastructure governments will not only have a positive impact on the environment and meet climate goals but also contribute to reducing inequality within societies.
I sincerely hope that when in the new decade, governments provide infrastructure facilities in India from its remotest villages to its grandest space mission, they also build an infrastructure of care, along with riding the wave of economic development.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)