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In a dense and rising Delhi, exert your right to sunlight

A recent study looked at the impact high-rises in Mumbai have on the duration of sunlight received by citizens. Delhi may not be a vertical city, but as it grows vertically, we must protect our right to natural light.

delhi Updated: Apr 16, 2018 13:37 IST
Hindustan Times
Delhi,Mumbai,vertical growth
A file photo of DDA apartment blocks in Dwarka , New Delhi. Sunlight and fresh air — long taken for granted in India — are becoming the biggest casualties as our cities grow taller and denser.(S Burmaula / Hindustan Times)

With temperatures touching 40 degrees Celsius, not many in Delhi are complaining about lack of sunlight in their homes. But living in what is pretty much a two-season city, they will, in a few months, be craving for the warmth and light.

Sunlight and fresh air — long taken for granted in India — are becoming the biggest casualties as our cities grow taller and denser. If you thought it was only in New York that skyscrapers cast their long, dark shadows on the shorter buildings in and around Manhattan, take another look at Mumbai.

Recently, Environment Policy and Research India studied the impact a proposed 301-metre high-rise in central Mumbai would have on the duration of light falling on chawls, buildings, construction site, ground and the green cover in the vicinity. In a report released last month, it said that the duration ranged from zero minutes on the ground to 170 minutes on a chawl, 140 minutes on the construction site and five hours on the green cover.

Developing a solar rating for Mumbai, the study, reported in HT Mumbai last week, said that a building receiving less than 30 minutes of sunlight in a day would be placed in the ‘undesirable’ category. Anything between 30 and 90 minutes was ‘very poor’, between 90 and 180 minutes was ‘poor’, while the ‘average’ ranged between three to four hours and ‘good’ between four to six hours. It also recommended at least two hours of ‘uninterrupted sunlight’ for a building every day.

There is no such shadow analysis for Delhi and many may even discount the need for one because the national capital is not a high-rise city the way Mumbai is. In the financial capital, the high-rise category starts from 24 metres or eight floors and, with special permissions, buildings can rise even beyond the municipal limit of 70 metres or 21 floors.

Essentially a horizontal city, Delhi has built a few high-rise buildings — mainly in the business districts and residential towers in Mayur Vihar, Patparganj and Dwarka. But a relaxation in height restrictions under the current Master Plan allows even residential buildings in ‘plotted colonies’ to rise up to 17.5 metres.

Unlike many other cities in India, Delhi does not require residential buildings — other than those rare ones with a plot size of 500 square metres or more— to leave open space on four sides. As a result, most homes in Delhi anyway receive sunlight and air only from the front and the back. Since the 1990s, mushrooming of multi-floored ‘builder’ apartments in these ‘flat but dense’ neighbourhoods overshadowed the original single- or double-storey buildings.

In unauthorised colonies, home to about a third of city’s population, illegal buildings rise as high as five to six storeys. With no one looking, these are some of the densest urban sprawls with structures facing one another only a few feet apart. Not surprisingly, many Delhi homes are dank and cold in winters and feel furnace-like in summers. Indoor lights are switched on even during the day. Prolonged use of heaters and air-conditioners shoots up power consumption by 7-8% annually.

As more and more people gravitate towards increasingly non-elastic megacities, vertical growth is perhaps inevitable. But that does not have to necessarily overshadow the quality of life. That is why many countries legally protect their citizens’ right to natural light.

In England, the Law of Ancient Lights enables householders to stop their neighbours building a wall or a tall building that would block their sunlight. Japan has a law called Nisshoken that guarantees that all residents in surrounding buildings receive a specific amount of sunshine in their existing houses or condos after a new development on an adjacent plot is completed.

In 1984, San Francisco passed the Proposition K — the “Sunlight Ordinance” — which restricts construction of any building over 40 feet that casts an adverse shadow on recreation and park department property unless the planning commission decides that the shadow is insignificant. In Cairo, scientists have developed sheets of corrugated plastic that harvest the sunlight and redirect it into narrow streets and dark alleyways.

Fortunately, the sun shines on Delhi on more than 350 days every year. All we need is to make way for it. But for the authorities to care, we the residents have to exert our right to sunlight first.

First Published: Apr 16, 2018 13:35 IST