Disregard Traditional Wisdom to Preserve Environment in Cities On Own Peril

Traffic moves along a road shrouded in haze in New Delhi, India, on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. India, China and Brazil, three of the largest developing nations, joined the U.S. in a list of the biggest historical contributors to global warming, according to a study by researchers in Canada. Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In almost all metropolitan cities, the air quality is heavily polluted and barely breathable. This has had serious consequences on the health of citizens. Cases of asthma, breathing sickness and cancer are on the rise in metropolises. Old traditional wisdom centred around cities being planned in such a manner so it would have the right balance of green cover and water sources. Such measurements were necessary to keep the temperature cool and the air and water unpolluted. At the same time, these forests also became home to displaced flora and fauna from cities.

The town planners also kept in mind the wind direction while preserving the forests and groves, so that the city could be protected from wind storms. Cooling air circulation could also be maintained. Cities have always had forests or orchards in the South-West and North-East quadrants. Apart from this, urban areas were surrounded by agriculture farms for the availability of fresh food and vegetables. Industries were not allowed to come up in the direction of the winds that brought air in. Heart of the cities had parks and greenery to act as lungs. Delhi was a traditional forest area some 100 years ago and received heavy rains. The ridge, that still has some forest cover, acted as a watershed to drain rain water in all directions to maintain the right balance of ground water.

What the modern town planners have done is that in spite of the availability of scientific data, we continue to ignore traditional wisdom and everything that was supposed to have been done to make cities habitable. Here are some examples of how modern cities are destroyed and made a living hell by ignoring traditional wisdom:

  • Instead of cities being surrounded by forests and agriculture farms, they are now surrounded by polluting industries. Thus, cities are constantly being supplied with polluted air.
  • Forests are removed and concrete high-rise buildings have come up thereby blocking the cool wind that comes from Uttarakhand and the mountains from Himachal. As a result, temperatures in cities nation-wide have increased.
  • There are no forests to cool the air before it could enter the city, especially in the North-East and South-West quadrants. Instead of forest cover, all four directions have one of the biggest waste dumps of Asia (Gazipur, Okhla, Jahangirpuri & Karnal Bypass) that continuously supply polluted air to the city. Due to these unplanned and unscientific waste dumps, groundwater is severely polluted in drainage areas connected to the waste dumps.
  • Polluting industries are oozing out untreated water and they are contaminating the only source of water in Delhi, the Yamuna River. The river is dead, and subsequently, the entire ground water of Delhi is contaminated.
  • Wet bodies have vanished and gobbled up by the land sharks, even the river bed is now encroached upon. In the past, the destruction of wetland was a serious crime and rules were so strict that anyone found polluting water bodies were severely punished, including the death penalty.

Along with the forest cover, ponds were created for water harvesting. The forest cover is now destroyed and wet bodies are filled. Large metropolises like Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Srinagar and Chennai are modern-day disaster zones.

The impact of such unscientific development of modern cities is monumental. The air and water are polluted; temperatures have soared throughout the years, increasing annually. Cities have become disaster prone, especially to flooding. Pollution levels have caused sickness that is impacting the health of the citizens and future generations. Poor sanitisation and improper drainage have led to the spread of disease and mosquito-borne diseases. Cities remain perennially under the thick blanket of smog for close to eight months of the year.

Despite the horrific atrocities we have brought upon ourselves, there are alternatives to fix these catastrophes:

  • Traditional wisdom should be respected. Every city must have forest cover in the heart of the cities and on the outskirt, especially in the wind direction catering for winter and summer wind patterns.
  • Industries be removed from the outskirts of the cities. This will prevent smoke and smog blowing into the city by winds. Industries should be established separately but completely surrounded by forest cover to minimise the pollution.
  • Cities should not be surrounded by high-rise building, rather the corridors for wind must be kept, along with the green cover. There should be no construction zone beyond three story buildings in zones that bring cool air to the city.
  • Preservation of water bodies’ is an essential aspect. In addition, ponds and water harvesting reservoirs should be dug in close vicinity to forest corridors.
  • Drains should be made in such a manner that they do not contaminate underground drinking water for the city.
  • Though it may be too late, there needs to be an environmental audit. It is imperative that we do this before we destroy the cities completely.


No government has the right to risk the health of the citizen for the failure of governance. What is important is a severe punishment to polluters and those who fail to prevent pollution in spite of court orders. There might be a lot of doom in our future regarding the climate. Scientists are predicting a catastrophe that we, as a society, don’t fully understand or grasp yet. But with the recent historic Paris Climate Accord, the mentality is shifting. We need to continue to persevere and tackle the growing issue of climate change as it continues to affect us on a larger scale. And, at the very least, if we can’t make use of modern scientific knowledge to improve the living in the cities, let us go back to the traditional wisdom on how to keep cities pollution free.

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Brig Narender Kumar is an Infantry Officer with close to 15 years’ experience in counter insurgency and anti-terrorism operations having served in Sri Lanka (Operation PAWAN) J&K and North East. He has been part of UN Mission in North Africa and had a tenure in Indian Training Team in a foreign country. He has served as Brigade Major in Western Theatre, Col Administration of a Division and Brig General Staff of an Area responsible for Northern Border. Commanded a Rashtriya Rifles battalion in J&K and Assam Rifles Sector in North East.