Urbanization

BATTING MANY ODDS

THE Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) is an independent entity, which
is backed by the Samarthanam Trust, a non-profit organisation. The Indian visually
handicapped cricket team was formed in 1998 and is being managed by CABI. It is
associated with the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC) and is the apex body in India.

By Shivangani Dhawan

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Around 25 states are associated with CABI, which is the only authorising body to get other teams to play cricket. The team participates in all one-day International and T-20 International cricket matches. In 2012, India beat Pakistan in the T20 World Cup.

We feature interviews with Dilip G Gogari, coach of the Indian visually impaired cricket team, and with Vinod V Patel, president, CABI.

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Interview with Dilip G Gogari:

Could you tell us about the practice sessions organised by your association?

We have two hours’ practice and training session for the players in the morning. This involves exercise, warm up for the players and after that we have a practice session involving bowling, batting, fielding etc. We also have a practice session in the evening for three hours, which includes an hour for exercise and the rest for batting, bowling and fielding practice.

What is the basis for selecting players?

We invite four teams from each of the zones (east, west, south and north). Then we organise a match between those teams and 14 players are selected for a state team. We then organise a 10-15 days training session for the team before the tournament.

What is the difference between the cricket played by normal players and the visually impaired?

There is nothing special in this cricket. There are three categories – B1, B2 and B3 – depending upon the distance of vision. The players have to undergo medical checkups before the selection process.

Tell us about your experience.

I started my journey as a player from 1994 and played till 2010. After that I got selected as a secretary of the Gujarat Board and also a secretary of the west zone. I am also a member of the selection committee for the west zone apart from being the coach of the team.

What were the challenges that you faced?

We have faced many challenges, but the main was – and still is – getting sponsorship. We had a meeting with Anandiben Patel, the Gujarat chief minister and we were told that we will get all the sports facilities that are provided to the normal cricket team.

How did you manage all these years without the government’s support?

Our president Vinodbhai used to pay personally for our expenses such as for travelling, food, accommodation etc.

Do you expect a better ground and other facilities from government?

Chief minister Patel told us that the state government will support us. As international tours are expensive, we sought support from the government.

Why has the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) not yet recognised visually impaired cricket as a real sport?

It will be better for us if the BCCI supports us so we can develop our skills and represent India in a much better way.

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Interview with Vinod V Patel, president, CABI:

Who helped you financially for the world cup team?

We got some help from the Gujarat government, but the other expenses were managed by the board from Bangalore. I have been helping them majorly with the finances and even my friends do the same.

Could you share your experiences?

I was a primary teacher and in 2010 I came to know that three players got selected for a cricket tournament in England, but they did not have the basic documents or money to go there. So that was the time I got involved and along with other staff members raised Rs75,000.

The team won that series and from then I have been engaged with the association. It was later that one of my friends suggested we set up a registered cricket association. We registered the association in Valsad in Gujarat.

The T20 Blind Cricket world cup was held in 2012. Five of the Indian team players were from Gujarat and we won that series against Pakistan in the final.

I was the assistant manager of the team that went to Cape Town to play for the world cup series in 2014. We won that world cup too and after returning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited our team to his home and congratulated us for the victory.

Since you had no support from government, what were the other challenges?

In the beginning it was challenging for us. We didn’t have any contact with the national board and it took us a year to get connected. It’s quite difficult to manage everything as we have to send the players for training and tournaments to far flung areas. But now we are getting some support from the government, board and other foundations.

I want the government to support our team and look after the players by offering them jobs through sports quota or any other means. I want the government to provide the same facilities to the team, which they provide to the normal cricket team.

Do you think young girls and boys are getting interested in this sport?

Earlier, women were not ready to join the training sessions. Their parents didn’t allow them to go on long tours or training sessions. But now they are coming for the training and are showing interest in the tournaments also.

How was your experience with the women’s team?

There are only four state cricket teams of Blind women in India, which we announced and launched on women’s day. Hopefully, the Gujarat Blind Women’s team will also perform as well as the men’s team.

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GUJARAT:THE GROWTH ENGINE OF INDIA

The western Indian state of Gujarat, which celebrates its Foundation Day on May 1, is the business and industrial hub of India, a state that has encouraged trade and manufacturing and ensured a high standard of living for its people

Gujarat will celebrate its 56th Foundation Day on May 1 and the Anandiben Patel government is determined to accelerate the pace of growth in the state through various initiatives.

A Gujarati is the Prime Minister of the country and the cooperation between central government and the state government is laying a stronger base for the welfare of the people.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi solved the long pending issue of increasing the height of Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam soon after coming to power, which will be a game changer for the state which has registered highest agricultural growth rate in the country.

Gujarat has always taken a lead in trends. Under the leadership of Mr Modi, Gujarat became the growth engine of India and it became the most favourite investment destination. The success of the Gujarat model topped the campaign agenda of Mr Modi and the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

In May 2014, Gujarat witnessed historical developments. After serving Gujarat for almost 13 years as the chief minister, Mr Modi became the Prime Minister of India with a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. It was for the first time in three decades that a single political party got clear majority in general elections in India.

Following the elevation of Mr Modi as the Prime Minister, Mrs Patel became the first woman chief minister of the state. Carrying a legacy of inclusive growth, she introduced the slogan of “Gatisheel Gujarat” and emphasised on the speed of governance.

Under Gatisheel Gujarat campaigns, she sets target for different sectors and their activities. The first two editions of Gatisheel Gujarat registered target achievement of 139% and 126% respectively. Under the third edition, she set year-long targets spread over 16 sectors and 173 activities.

Mrs Patel’s government has done significant progress in strengthening public services, ‘swachchhata’ mission and women’s empowerment.

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For the first time, the government introduced the concept of ‘gender budget’ to empower women of the state through focused budgetary allocations.

She has made a number of reforms in revenue laws to ensure simplification and faster development.She announced providing copies of land records to farmers without any cost for the first time.

In September 2014, Mrs Patel launched “Swavalamban” in the presence of PM Modi. Under this initiative, 11 schemes were initiated, focusing on empowerment and welfare of various sections of society, including cattle-rearers, farmers, construction workers, physically-disabled persons and tribal people.

Gujarat and its rich history

Gujarat has always attracted and welcomed people from all over the country. Even Lord Krishna had chosen Dwaraka in Gujarat to establish his empire in the Mahabharat era. Over the centuries, Mauryans, Gurjars, Solankis, Muslims, Marathas and the British ruled Gujarat.

The state played an important role in the independence movement. Leaders like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai, K.M. Munshi, Narhari Parikh, Mahadev Desai, Mohanlal Pandya, Bhulabhai Desai and Ravi Shankar Vyas all belonged to Gujarat.

Various Satyagrahas in Kheda, Bardoli, Borsad and Dandi (salt satyagraha) created waves across the country and forced the British rulers to leave the country.

MAHAGUJARAT MOVEMENT

Soon after the Independence, a Mahagujarat conference was organised in 1948 to integrate the entire Gujarati speaking population under one administrative body. The term

Mahagujarat represented all Gujarati speaking areas including Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch. The late Indulal Yagnik led the Mahagujarat movement in 1956 which made the demand for a new state stronger. Finally, on May 1, 1960, Bombay state was split into the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

GUJARAT MEANS BUSINESS

Gujarat had significant trade and business even during the Harappan era. Much later, the British East India Company established a factory in Surat in 1614, which formed their first base in India. Since then, Gujarat has always performed well as far as industrial growth is concerned.

Gujarat-based traders used to do business with various countries for centuries through the sea route and Gujaratis are recognised as one of the most courageous businessmen.

Gujarat has very strong fundamentals. The people of the state are entrepreneurial and they find it easy to go ahead with their ambitions as there is political stability and business friendly policies. The state offers excellent infrastructure and the government thinks ahead of the times.

Then chief minister Narendra Modi started the biannual flagship business summit, the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit in 2003 to promote the state as the best investment destination. Over the years it earned the reputation as the Davos of the East.

Gujarat has attracted huge investments through these summits between 2003 and 2015. It also became a platform for other states to exhibit their excellence. In addition to that, many other states followed the theme and started hosting their own investment summits. The Gujarat government has successfully showcased the state’s agricultural, industrial and service sector growth.

KEY FACTS

1. Strategically located on the west coast of India, Gujarat is well connected to the major cities of the world by air and sea routes
2. During 2005-2013, state domestic product (SDP) growth was as high as 10.1% and even during turbulent times, when many economies around the world suffered, it has maintained high growth rates, much above the national average
3. Gujarat achieved an annual growth rate of 9.51% during the 11th plan (2007-2012)
4. Gujarat is one of the top states in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in India
5. Gujarat is the world’s biggest diamond cutting-polishing hub and nine out of 11 diamonds of the world are processed in the state, mostly in Surat
6. The state is India’s ceramic capital with more than 70% contribution to national ceramic production
7. Gujarat contributes 40% to India’s total pharmaceutical production
8. The government of Gujarat intends to invest $3.28 billion in the textile sector over the next 5 years which will also help create 1 million jobs
9. Gujarat contributes more than 30% to India’s total cotton production and 60% of its exports
10. Gujarat is India’s top denim producing state with a 61% share
11. Gujarat is also a leader in solar power generation. It has Asia’s largest solar park in Charanka in north Gujarat. It also has significant wind power generation capacity
12. Gujarat leads the country in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and Special Investment Regions (SIR). Dholera SIR is one of the most ambitious projects of the state government.

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“We are not mere investors in Gujarat. We are part and parcel of this growth engine.”
Gautam Adani, Chairman, Adani Group

“I am proud to say that RIL is first a Gujarati company, then an Indian company and later a global company. We began from Gujarat and we come back here again and again to invest.”
Mukesh Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL)

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“In Gujarat, we see a culture of implementation and our commitment in Gujarat goes beyond industrialisation and investment. We, as the Tata Group, will continue to invest in the state.”
Cyrus Mistry, Chairman, Tata Group

FARM-SECTOR ORIENTED BUDGET

Naman Pipara is a partner of Ahmedabad-based chartered accountancy firm, Pipara & Company, and is an associate member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. Pipara has eight years of experience in audit, accounts and taxation and helps the authorities in probing financial frauds by providing forensic audits.

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In an interview with Urban Vaastu, Pipara talks about the union budget presented to parliament by finance minister Arun Jaitley on February 29. Excerpts:

Could you share your perspective on the union budget presented by Arun Jaitley, the finance minister?

The government is acting in a very calculated way. It’s not throwing around a lot of schemes and benefits right away. They feel that the country needs more money to grow; even with crude oil prices coming down they did not pass on the benefits to the people. It was used to decrease the deficit.

The government seems to have its focus on collecting money because it came out with this disclosure scheme, where an individual can disclose concealed income by paying income-tax, surcharge and a penalty, all adding up to 45 per cent.

Do you think it was a farm sector focused budget that would hopefully help lift millions of rural Indians from dire poverty?

Absolutely, but the most important part is effective implementation. There is now a ‘KrishiVikas’ cess of 0.5%. There are already other taxes and levies, but we cannot really measure if the money collected is used effectively.

We can only hope that it is used effectively as it can do wonders. It is a rural and farm sector-oriented budget, which would definitely help these people come up, but subject to the government really implementing the various schemes.

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What was there in the budget for middle class and urban Indians?

For the middle class and urban Indians, there are minor benefits. They have increased the ceiling of tax rebate from `2,000 to `5,000 for individuals with income of less than `5 lakh, which will give marginal relief.

Secondly, the tax exemption for house rent allowance has been raised from `24,000 to `60,000. These are the only reliefs for the average tax payer. But the increase in service tax and customs duties on imported stuff would add to the burden of the middle-class.

So while there are some benefits for the salaried class, the government has also raised taxes.

Will the budget proposals help India overcome the challenges posed by external factors including the slowdown in the developed world?

There has been a slowdown in the developed world for quite some time. India has been dealing with this slowdown for the past two years now. We cannot say that it is the government that has made India resist or stand strongly against this slowdown.

It is the hard working people of the country who keep finding opportunities and doing business. Also, India with its huge population is itself a big market with good captive consumption. So despite slowdown externally there is sufficient demand internally.

I don’t think it is sustainable to grow at 7-8 per cent annually, unless there is demand globally. India has really done well because of the fall in crude prices and the country has saved a lot of money. New developments, for which budgetary provisions have been made, will at least take two to three years to materialise and that is when we will see the new benefits.

Besides external factors, there are many internal ones that are affecting India. These include the stress on banks due to non-performing assets. We hear of action being taken by banks to cut down their NPAs, but this should have been done three years ago.

With the government being the major shareholder in banks, it is the taxpayer’s money that is affected by NPAs. In the budget, the government allocated Rs25,000crore to support banks. This is necessary, as even if one bank fails, it can create a ripple effect, affecting not just banking, but even the stock markets.

This is what happened in the US a few years ago. It is good that the government is supporting these banks. But had these banks been prudent in the past, we would not have been forced to pay higher taxes to subsidise their NPAs.

‘LEARNING BY PRINTING’ – THE FATE OF PAPER IN ARCHITECTURE SCHOOLS

Though technology has made paper printouts redundant in many sectors, architecture students in India continue to waste paper, blissfully ignorant of the damage to the environment at large

By Niharika Joshi

A group of students from an architecture school in Ahmedabad visited a shop to print out several sheets of their work, to present at a jury. Most of these students were to take ‘test prints’, or preliminary, printed first drafts of their work, to check for errors in colour, composition, and coordination in sizes and texture of the paper.

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The ‘test print’ is important to assure students good physical quality of their hard work on digital media, and is used by most students before giving important presentations.

While one student who was extremely confident of her work walked out of the shop with rolls of 10 A1 (594mm x 841mm) size papers, smiling and self-assured, her classmate seemed quite the opposite. He was exasperated with the quality of print, mismatched sizes and scale.

He knew he couldn’t blame the shopowner, whose printers and technology is the best in the city. But seeing the poor quality of work, and so close to the jury dates, he could only focus on all that needed to be redone, and all that had been a wasted effort.

After a quick cup of chai, his 12 sheets of crisp paper still warm from the machine were rolled up and thrown into the large green dustbin in the middle of the canteen square. By sundown, the dustbin was full of the day’s refuse of fruit peels, uneaten food, plastic bottles and cups, metal knick-knacks and spare parts…all mixed with piles of used and fresh paper, printed or otherwise.
As a spectator, and most often a participant to this daily process of use, un-use and creating waste, the awareness of the amount of paper involved in the whole system appalls and intrigues me.
At architecture schools, and as architecture students, a large part of our creative lives depend on and revolve around paper in its many forms and qualities. Good quality paper is religion, addiction and an aspiration of the creative community and time is invested in contemplating, buying, selling and choosing paper.

Traditionally and in the pre-digital era, the architect and his stationery were tethered to the drawing board, with a smooth, textured paper pinned to it.

Back then, the architecture industry relied heavily on limited forms of paper, to produce large drawings and models made from paper and its by-products.

Today however, one might assume that with digital tools and technology, all work done is in the digital media, saved on hard disks and servers. On the contrary, the dictum of “learning by doing” applies as much to producing physical models from wood, ceramics and other materials, as to taking prints of digital work.

“Learning by printing” might be the dictum according to the shopowners of architecture schools, who see large quantities of photocopies, prints , and special reproductions in paper every day. But the problem here is not printing for use or reference. The problem begins with the mindless discard of paper which is still ‘healthy, reusable and of value’.

Like most concepts which face a disconnect within and without academia, the issue of ‘sustainability’ too is looked at the large scale of building material, process and technologies. There is a serious need to infuse smaller concepts of sustainability in the early years of the education system, where most certainly, the future of the profession is negotiated and critiqued.

Sustainability need not be the giant, external aim, but could be a way of life in centres of learning, starting with the most-used and most misused resource – paper. While paper tube architecture today is popularised and awarded, what becomes of the paper itself is not well-researched or thought of in India.

Focusing on the school of architecture’s paper waste, one can not only gauge the many creative and intellectual processes that take place, but also look at the trends in forms paper used. Whether the initiative of reducing the use of paper, checking the amount consumed deems as a solution or not needs to be researched.

But certainly the thoughtful reuse and re-purposing of paper products is an exciting experiment leading to unexpected results. If as a school we can manage to save even a ton of paper, this would conserve 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, and three cubic yards of landfill space.
Next time I see a fellow student heading to the bin with a pile of paper, this ‘paper’ will be discussed.

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TEMPORAL MARKETPLACE – THE RAVIVARI OF AHMEDABAD

A walk through Ravivari, a bustling bazaar and flea market located on the east bank of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. ‘Ravivari’, the informal market is held under Ellis Bridge on Sundays and continues to take place even as the market is being redeveloped to provide better facilities for the vendors and visitors.

Text: Niharika Joshi

Pic credits: Dhwanilnath Gharekhan

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“The universe is not a collection of objects, but is an inseparable web of vibrating energy patterns in which no one component has reality independently from the entirety. Included in the entirety is the observer.”
Paul Davies

The residue of a city and its many processes, its living heritage and repaired items, often find themselves washed up on the shore of its flea markets. These remnants of lives led in the city, of used furniture and unused toys, well-worn books and fresh crockery are put on display in these markets.

One such bustling bazaar thrives on the east bank of the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad. This is the ‘Ravivari’. The name Ravivari means ‘that which happens on a Sunday’, since this ‘Gujri bazaar’ or second-hand market is open to trade on Sundays alone.

This market is said to have been the initiative of Sultan Ahmed Shah, started over 600 years ago and operated on Fridays between Teen Darwaza and Bhadra Taar. Through the ups and downs in the city’s history, the market saw a temporary closure during the 1941 riots. Upon reopening soon, it found place near the Siddhi Sayed mosque, then the old civil court, later shifting to the Sabarmati riverfront in 1954, where it has been thriving since.

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A walk through this space, which sees over 3,000 visitors, can be an intense experience. Sights and sounds of traders haggling, the occasional tourist photographing this complex Indian atmosphere, a large variety of wandering domestic animals ; and the river as a backdrop to it all.

The Sunday market is placed under Ellis bridge, and in the early hours of the day, one finds traders, labourers and various craftspeople unloading their wares from carts, lorries and sometimes domestic animals.

At first one may feel disoriented, and sometimes intimidated by the fierce selling techniques of local and regional traders. Some women traders are extremely persuasive, and equally possessive of their hand-crafted products. But with the large variety of goods on sale, one is quickly drawn into the process of liking, disliking, selecting, bargaining and buying.

There is the most unlikely collection of wares on sale. From agricultural implements, household utensils, cycle rickshaws, electronic goods, spare parts, to more exciting things like antique items, books, raw food and lanterns. Rummaging through rare and used books is a personal favourite.

The art of up-cycling

The unique aspect of this market is that it has something to offer for all sections of society. For the common masses, the items sold here are domestic essentials, and often luxuries. For travelers and tourists, the journey through the space could be more powerful and attractive than the items per se.

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While elitists may argue about quality and authenticity of products sold and the overall crowded experience, such markets have long been the source of interesting articles for artists and designers. With the ‘jugaad’ mindset picking up both in art and design, many designers nowadays source their raw material from the Ravivari in Ahmedabad, and the Shukravari in Vadodara. It’s a delight to see ordinary products transform into beautiful objects.

“Although it is difficult to find quality products at Ravivari that can be used as they are, it definitely is a great place to score some quirky products like vintage typewriters, tins or a funky pair of binoculars,” says a student of architecture. “For our projects, we generally spend a few Sundays every year looking for objects that can be repurposed as a part of installations for the spaces we design. The joy of finding a previously loved product that can be repurposed into art definitely makes you forget all the time and patience required to look for it. We recently created an entrance installation out of old clock springs that we found to be quite fascinating for one of our projects at Surat. Earlier, we had also used old bicycle wheels and gears for another installation in Ahmedabad.”

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Pavana Hegde of the interdisciplinary Meraki Design Studio. Vadodara, says: “Shukrawari which is the Vadodara equivalent of the Ravivari is a long held tradition of flea market dating back to the Gaekwad rule. It’s here where you find an eclectic mix of objects ranging from old kettles and coins to vintage books, posters and furniture to hardware.”

From a designer/architect’s perspective the Shukrawari is a complete treasure trove. Things that you’ll find here are one of a kind and what they say about one man’s junk being another man’s treasure is absolutely true. The principles of the studio are based on the concept of up cycling, jugaad and reducing the energy footprint in design execution. “Hence, Shukrawari is the ideal destination which we religiously visit every Friday to pick up things that can be tweaked and aptly used in our designs,” she adds. “The spectrum of things that we find here actually fuels our creative thought process and offers a lot of choices for alternative designing.”

The studio also conducts workshops for school kids called the “Friday market mash up” to bring awareness amongst these children about the value of up cycling and getting creative in the process.

Recently, the structure and organisation of the market has undergone change. Over the years and the countless visits to the market, a dramatic shift is easily recognisable; not just in the form and structure of the place, but also in the mix of visitors.

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Around 2010, with the Sabarmati riverfront project around the corner, and with growing debates on development and urban planning, the riverfront development body of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation was reconsidering the location of the informal market. The supposed disbanding or relocation of the bazaar would affect the lives of thousands of people , directly or indirectly associated with the weekly trading activity.

Thus, during that time, the development authority’s plans to beautify the stretch saw considerable resistance from the Ahmedabad Gujri Association (AGA), which defended itself by producing legal receipts and official letters of legitimacy of the bazaar. All this culminated in a public hearing in 2009.

With the sensitivity of the case regarding displacement of livelihoods , the verdict was that projects like the shifting of the Gujri bazaar, a heritage activity of the city, should be re-examined by the AMC with the participation of the traders.

Thus, now, the Sabarmati Riverfront board has managed to provide 16,500 sq m of space as parking for 3,000 two wheelers. Apart from this, basic facilities such as drinking water, wash rooms, information kiosks and seating areas are in the process of upgrade. Now the specificity of the market is to change from being a Sunday-only one, to a more multipurpose space, with organised vending facilities during special seasons and events. The lower promenade to the river will be accessible from the market, through stairs and ramps.

The question is how does one respond to this change? And does it change the perception, process and organic nature of the market? This is an answer only time will tell, with many ‘urban flea’ markets selling high-end, up-cycled and handmade products being organised in the city.

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Antique furniture, crockery, cameras and vintage clothes , can be repurposed, re-polished and treated to create fresh pieces of art and useable items. In the larger scheme of things, this cycle of reusing the old to create new causes many ripples. This not only directly affects the livelihoods of all people involved, but also encourages sustainable consumption.

In this age of whirlwind consumption of material things, markets like these stand as little ecosystems with big cultural and economic impacts. The existence of the Ravivari and such local markets may seem to be a simple phenomenon arising out of need, but the implications of such set-ups are complex.

Are these spaces merely a source of necessities for the urban poor and interesting finds for a rising section of DIY designers? What is the future of this microcosm of objects, in the larger macrocosm of perpetual consumption?

Looking forward to exploring this cosmos on the next Ravivari.

CHENNAI The reasons behind the deluge

The recent devastating floods in the capital of Tamil Nadu and the havoc that was caused have brought the focus on the pitiable state of affairs in our cities and how ill-prepared they are in tackling disasters

By: Revati Rajwade

The nation’s eyes are transfixed towards Chennai just like a mother’s concerned ones towards her child. The child is being reprimanded for the mistakes which have unleashed nature’s fury in the most dangerous form. With the media focusing on the negative aspects of the city’s planning and administration and Chennai being in the news for all the wrong reasons, let us explore the city through various perspectives and trace its journey to the deluge.

The city of Chennai is like any other Indian metro – full of life and opportunities but unable to caress all of them. A part of it is like a kite – wanting to flow freely with the wind and embrace the world whereas in reality it is tethered to a tree, thus landing up rustling in the wind. Located along the coast in southern India, the people here are more accustomed to bearing the brunt of the furious sun than the rain as in the present scenario.

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In the 20th century, the character of the city was largely hostile towards immigrants, thus turning them into intruders. The predominance of the local language and way of life disallowed a cosmopolitan atmosphere. However, gradually with the city turning into a hub of the automobile industry and other business ventures, the influx of people was finally welcomed.

Development was rapid in all sectors and this led to a rise in opportunities. Life was busy like a typical metropolis where people’s lives intersected and diverged like ants scurrying about in search of a morsel of food. The city developed rapidly with some parts turning into overcrowded zones and others being well planned and executed.

Some parts of the city like Marina beach are quality recreational spaces with proper street planning for unhindered pedestrian as well as vehicular movement. Places like these function as public spaces for cultural and religious events, naval or air shows. Unfortunately, a majority of the present urban fabric is unplanned, dense and claustrophobic. Houses are largely devoid of light and ventilation owing to the maze of residential structures.

The building typology is mundane but the past comes to the rescue in terms of the city’s architectural vocabulary with religious monuments like the Kapaleeshwar, Adeeswar, Parathasarthy temples proving to be a visitor’s delight. The rich architectural detailing, ornate gopurams and massive proportions are a marvel.

The white flourish of the San Thome Basilica is an endearing sight. The neo-Gothic style of architecture is apparent through the lancet windows and decorative forms adorning the edifice.
Chennai also boasts of a few world class healthcare centres. It is appreciative of arts and has seen the inception of a renowned Music Academy in 1928. Says M. Shrikant, who made Chennai his abode for a few years: “I lived in Chennai in 1992 and then from 2001-2005. I have seen the transition in societal behaviour, infrastructure and culture. The city provides an array of institutions for education and recreation where each street or locality has its own character.”

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According to him, changes over the past 20 years include the introduction of FM radio stations, experimentation with materials like paver blocks for pavements and the recent introduction of an elevated metro as a part of the mass transit system. “Public transport in the city always relied heavily on the shoulders of buses which they carried out deftly and economically but a little help was always welcomed,” adds Shrikant.

However, alongside all these positives, the civic authorities were unable to address one of the major issues of water scarcity. A perpetual dearth of potable water is a problem that has spread its tentacles over the city forcing most citizens to invest in bottled water on a daily basis.
The recent floods have suddenly brought into limelight the several drawbacks of the city which have always been hovering in the shadows. Chennai is still suffering, owing to a mélange of reasons – indifference towards nature, poor urban planning, overpopulation, incompetent disaster management and the apathy of citizens and the authorities.

There is a striking resemblance to the 2005 Mumbai floods. The fact remains that no Indian city is better than the other. It is a herculean task to combat nature’s rage, but it is essential to equip ourselves to minimise the devastation.

Experts have cited the main reasons for the damage as rampant illegal growth, poor storm water drainage, encroachment of water bodies and thousands of acres of swamp converted into an IT corridor. A premier school has been accused of clearing more than 52 acres of forests, including destroying thousands of trees between 2001 and 2013 as part of a major construction spree that saw 39 renovation projects and new construction in its campus.

Reports say none of the projects have local body approval or environmental clearance. Incessant rains in November forced the authorities to release water from the Chembarambakkam reservoir into the Adyar river. Had the river been as wide as its originally was, it would have housed most of the water instead of flooding its banks.

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“As cities expand and land values rise, planning agencies have allowed rapid land-use changes over areas that serve as natural drains and holding ponds,” remarks P.S.N. Rao, an urban planner who teaches at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. “Moreover, there is a lack of domain expertise in urban flood management. City planning today fails to integrate public health engineering which looks at issues such as design of water supply, sewerage and drainage lines from the health and environment perspective.”

Chennai is highly prone to floods as it is in a flat zone where water doesn’t drain naturally. Moreover, the clay in the soil doesn’t allow water to be absorbed fast enough. Hence, disasters cannot be averted, but efficient administration and drainage network can reduce the damage.

A dedicated control room with administrators having a good grasp of the city’s topography can respond effectively depending on the warnings. Chennai, as well as other Indian cities, have a long way to go in order to be able to avoid a wreckage of this magnitude if nature is to strike again.