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Delhi: Sunlight, fresh air biggest casualities in urbanised areas

columns Updated: Jan 19, 2015 13:14 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times
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For a city in election mode, Delhi can obsess a lot about the cold and the fog. Every morning as Delhiites layer themselves to step outdoors, mercury trends dominate conversations. Heading home every evening, we play the guessing game on fog.

The political establishment has been worried about visibility levels on the morning of Republic Day. With US President Barack Obama as the chief guest at the celebration, India doesn't want a repeat of 2010 when thick fog obscured the view of the parade for South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak. Thankfully, we do not yet aspire to control the elements like China did by shooting rain dispersal rockets in Beijing to ensure that no downpour spoiled the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics.

Nevertheless, the weather is occupying far more mind space than before. Armed with smartphone weather apps, many of us track the hourly forecasts. We plan ahead or reschedule journeys if there is a fog or storm warning and shift a garden party indoors when there is a prediction for rain. But that is all we can do to beat its unpredictability.

In pre-24x7 TV days, when weather was not a matter of 'breaking news', we just took it in our strides. Much like now, winter was always cold, summer searing and monsoon, which never arrived "officially" on June 29, meant waterlogging and backflow.

Back then, schools always reopened in the first week of January. We turned up in our winter uniforms -- a sweater, a blazer, a warm scarf, and thin-soled white canvas shoes -- at 7 am to catch the school bus. It was never too cold, foggy or warm to attend school. We never even had a rainy day announced; forget the extended winter breaks schoolchildren get now. Today, we even blame mood swings on the weather. Delhi’s infamous road rage is being attributed to the summer heat and depression to cold foggy winters.

Our increasing weather-sensitivity is forcing us to -- and in turn feeding on -- a weather-proof lifestyle. As Delhi residents cover open areas in their homes to maximise the living space, sunlight and fresh air have been the biggest casualties. Not too long ago, winter days were best spent in front lawns, backyards, terraces, balconies or any open space in the house that got sunlight.

Neighbourhoods have now become dense with multi-storey "builder" flats and high-rises blocking sunlight and air to the low-rise buildings. In unplanned, unauthorised colonies, home to about a third of the city's population, illegal buildings face one another with only a few feet of breathing space leaving little scope for any light or air to trickle in. It is not surprising that many Delhi homes are dank and cold in winters and furnace-like in summers.

In New York, the skyscrapers along Central Park have cast shadows on Manhattan's largest park, some as long as half a mile, triggering a debate on the citizens' 'right to light'. In many countries, natural light is legally guarded. In England, the "right to light" enables homeowners to stop their neighbours building a wall or a tall building that would block their sunlight. In Denmark, a law determines exactly how much direct sunlight an apartment must receive. It has even changed the way windows are designed. (

The Norwegian town of Rjukan spent $850,000 to place large mirrors on hillsides to reflect winter sunshine into the main square. In Cairo, researchers have developed a sheet of corrugated plastic that can double the amount of light that trickles into the narrow lanes.

Delhi receives more than 350 days of sunshine every year. All we need is to make way for it. Recently, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) promised better designed flats in the future that get at least two hours of sunlight daily and still keep the interiors cool with minimal 'Heat Island Effect'. The private developers need to follow suit. But it won't happen until there is a strong demand from home buyers. After all, sunshine is a lot more than just a mood-lifter.