GUWAHATI, June 8 - With its significantly alarming scarcity of open spaces, Guwahati is perhaps heading towards a grave calamity. It has only 1.099 square kilometres (sq km) of open spaces available, against the requirement of at least 8.616 sq km, going by the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), taking into consideration its 2011 size of population.
This was the observation made by noted consultant engineer and public activist JN Khataniar, who is conducting a study on the Guwahati open spaces. He was talking to this correspondent.
Open spaces are critical for making the cities sustainable, healthy and energy efficient. Moreover, in matters of disaster management too, open spaces play a vital role. It perhaps needs no mention that Guwahati and for that matter, the entire NE region of India, is located in the seismically most vulnerable zone-V.
Presence of natural open space in urban areas contributes to the quality of life by providing important social and psychological benefits to the human societies. Urban open spaces in the form of parks, gardens, forests, playgrounds, etc., play a crucial role for relieving stress and relaxation.
According to the best established practices, the green space per capita should be over 20 square metres (sq m) which translates into a minimum of 1.25 ha (12,500 sq m) open space per 1,000 residents. Access to open space should be within 250 metres of residential areas and 100 per cent local/native plants should be used in landscaping, as this reduces water usage and maintenance while improving urban biodiversity, said Khataniar.
He also referred to a study conducted by the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) in 2016, besides the WHO recommendations, in this respect.
The WHO recommended the minimum green space requirement per capita as 9 sq m for residents of cities. It further recommended that green space networks should be so designed that all the residents can live within a 15-minute walk to an open space.
Khataniar said, referring to the ASDMA study, from the earthquake disaster point of view, a standard of 3.5 sq m of open space per capita is considered by ASDMA, assuming 50 per cent of the total population being affected. In that case, the ASDMA found a deficit of 0.709 sq km (528.914 bighas) of open spaces in Guwahati going by the above norms.
But, it needs mention here that the ASDMA observation was based on the size of the 2011 Guwahati population. Besides, ASDMA did not take into consideration the tremendous load of floating population of Guwahati during the daytime and the guests staying in the city, while calculating its open area deficit. Again, the Guwahati population has multiplied several times by now.
Guwahati is experiencing tremendous rise in its population. From 5,84,342 in 1991 its population rose to 9,57,352 in 2011 at the rate of 18, 650 per year, meaning 51 persons per day as per official records.
If the WHO recommended minimum requirement of open space of 9 sq m per person is taken into consideration to maintain the quality of living standard in Guwahati against its 2011 population of 9,57,352, the city will require at least 8.616 sq km (5,385 bighas) of open space, against its presently available 1.099 sq km (686.87 bighas), which suggests a deficit of 7.517 sq km (4,698.12 bighas) in this respect.
In this connection, it may be mentioned that London is maintaining per capita green space of 31.68 sq m, against the 26.4 sq m maintained by New York, 17.6 sq m by Chicago, 3 sq m by Tokyo, 66 sq m by Singapore and 120 sq m maintained by Vienna. Even in India, Gandhi Nagar has per capita green space of 160 sq m against 55 sq m of Chandigarh, 24.78 sq m of Varanasi, 24.06 sq m of Allahabad, 18.62 sq m of Bhopal and 16.49 sq m of Noida, Khataniar said.