India's Pristine Monuments To Empower Solar City Plan?

ASI’s harebrained solar panel initiative

By: Sulagna Chattopadhyay
Expert Column
In a recent news flash, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) proposed installation of photovoltaic solar panels on the rooftops of all protected monuments. The initiative found positive coverage in several mainstream media. With solar power generation ranging from 5 to 25 MW, such power plants would supposedly bring down the power bills of such sites. But, nothing could be more harebrained than an initiative like this.
It is time perhaps to stand back and view the renewable missions and plans. The ambitious solar mission is well-meaning but ill-conceived. Where the world is expanding vertically, occupying as little land as possible, we believe in covering up as much land as possible. To hell with archaic and mundane principles of aesthetics and common sense.
G’nY magazine conducted a survey way back in 2006 and 2008 in the windswept realms of Jaisalmer. The wind farms we found, brought little employment opportunities for the local populace amongst other things. But, what stood out sharply was the disquieting revelation of the effect of the wind farms on tourism in the area. Clearly visible from the Jaisalmer Fort ramparts, respondents, especially guides and teachers, who learn different languages and help tourists after school hours, were finding wind farms a hindrance. They felt that the undulating terrain and its starkness added the required ‘expedition’ quality for the international tourists. The Fort is touted to transport you to the era of swords, dusky princesses, barren vistas, sands and silks – but with the windmills in the near horizon, modern visions obscured the ancient ones.
The site, however, could have well been protected, without any marked difference to the wind power status, if only the planners had the sense to move the plants 5 to 10 km away, taking it beyond the horizon. However, such ‘aesthetic’ objections are easily dismissed in a country where food, water and politics still rule the priorities.
In the current case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, ASI officers are falling all over themselves to prove that they too can be part of the ‘development’ bandwagon. Shharat Sharma, Additional Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, speaking with the G’nY correspondent said, “we engaged in planning this activity at this stage. We are proposing to set up solar panels in areas around monuments.” However, monuments, their surroundings and the cultural heritage need to be preserved along with their aesthetic appeal. But, taking the solar mission to another level, ASI personnel feel that the monument sites are lying ‘waste’ and can be used for ‘free’ power. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
For a start, what is the status of India’s remarkably flawed solar city plan? In 2011 India pledged to convert 60 cities into ‘solar cities’ to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To begin with, it is surprising that norms (solar city initiative aims at minimum 10 per cent reduction in demand of conventional energy at the end of five years, through a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures) for declaring a solar city have never been questioned. Moreover, confounding all, the nodal Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has awarded model solar city status to cities such as Chandigarh much before they have met the prescribed 10 percent mandate. As per the Ministry’s director, Veena Sinha, “MNRE has been able to achieve the target of 49 out of 60 cities” in a span of five long years. Where countries world over are moving towards a 50 percent renewable mandate, Indian cities are offering a much diluted 10 per cent. (March 21, 2015, MNRE’s Solar City Sham)
Thus, where governmental organisations with active mandates are failing, why must those with none pick up a challenge that was never meant for them? Urban India’s rooftops are crying out for solar panels – yet we deem to jeopardise whatever little pristine glory remains of our ancient sites. According to reports, there are nearly 3,600 protected monuments in India. Delhi alone has 174 sites of historic importance. All centrally protected monuments with large, open areas are to be considered, including sites like Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Tughlaqabad Fort, Purana Qila, Safdarjung Tomb etc, for installation. Even if solar power were to be considered for parking areas or other ‘waste’ locations, who determines the aestheticism of it, knowing fully well that ‘looking good’ is a subjective issue.
The sense of history is already on a downward spiral in the nation, with fierce consumerism ruling the day. Do we need to erode that further by grotesque installations amongst relics that was bequeathed to us by our ancestors?
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