Re-imagining Habitat & Shelter; Infrastructure Development; and Science, Design & Technology in India

COVID-19 Response


Section Theme

Pre Covid19 World / India

What has been?

Covid19 infected World/India

What is?

Post Covid19 World

Re-imagine - What can be?

Post Covid19

The Actionable Points


Habitat & Shelter


In nature’s economy, currency is life, not money


Vandana Shiva


·   The prince and the pauper both had dreams in their eyes. The prince dreamt better, bigger, beautiful, bolder citadels to pamper his ego, the pauper dreamt a better life for his children…

·   Focus and priority on urbanization and developing cities with better services, housing, infrastructure, livelihood opportunities as magnets for people to be. Smart City models. Cities developed as models of aspiration.

·   Despite this, cities failed to create homes for all.

·   Cities became hubs of consumption of natural resources and produces from the rural hinterlands and also centres of pollution.

·   Specialized zones for living, business, work, industry became prevalent in city planning. As a result, a good amount of time and resources are spent on travel for work, also resulting into pollution and depletion natural resources.

·   Many rural hinterlands became deprived of core skill sets, resources and even motivation to create good habitat and shelter.

·   The media projected dream-world of city-life became the aspirations in rural areas. This resulted in gradual cutting of habitat and shelter's connect with nature in rural areas - which once predominantly used natural materials with minimum waste.

·   The gap for shelter still remains high.



·   The dichotomy and inequity – the prince- those who plan, design, manage and use it largely remain protected and safe. But paupers- those who actually construct it – the artisans, the labour, while they may get basic livelihood, they continue to remain unprotected from hazards, do not get safe and hygienic housing or basic social infrastructure for themselves, despite ‘creating’ those huge, grand buildings.

·   People in thousands and lakhs flocked to go to their homes  in rural hinterlands - even few hundred or thousands of kilometres - much outside the city, even when they could have felt safe and secure in the city? This reality has to be understood and absorbed.

·   This is the failure to achieve inclusion and resilience apart from huge shortcoming in 'smartness',  priorities, governance, planning. and design, as well as in urban societal attitudes.

·   It was primarily those without their own shelter in the cities that went back in distress. Places where shelters were already  provided by community for migrant labourers (e.g. Shimla and Kerela) - there, such reverse migration did not happen.

·   The complete lockdown forced many works to shut down completely- since travel to work was impossible, due to its distance. However, where work and residence are close to each other, some productivity could still happen despite lockdown.

·   Culturally connected, reassuring, safe habitat and shelters for diverse communities could not be created in cities.

·      There are many newly acquired skills and competencies from urban areas that have reached back to rural areas - with no work or livelihood options in hand.


·   When birds weave nest, or ants build ant hills, they kiss the earth gently. From earth comes the twigs, the earth, water and sand - and goes back gently to the earth, once the birds fly away, or ants relocate. The nature’s cycles are maintained. No habitat is destroyed. No waste is created. Human habitats too have been like this.

·   We need to learn this wisdom and art in nature for developing habitat and shelter now. Communities and societies that live closer to nature, still carry that knowledge and wisdom.

·   The skills and competencies acquired by migrants as part of city life, who have gone back home in rural areas, to be utilized to the fullest to provide them a dignified livelihood. However, it may not be used in replication of urban 'mistakes', but to bring to practice, what has been described above.

·   Re-envisioning habitat and shelter that is simple and affordable to make and maintain, anywhere, that is  responsive ecologically, culturally, socially to become a norm.

·   In cities, mixed land-use that reduces travel (hence saves time and resources, reduces pollution and depletion of natural resources) to be part of all development plans.

·   To start with, what already exists anywhere with these attributes, must be conserved and restored first.  Future shelter gap must build upon the wisdom mentioned above.


·    Across every habitation, towards habitat and shelter creation, mapping what already exists:

§  Traditional wisdom

§  Skills sets (including those which may have reached back now)

§  Natural resources

§  Shelter gap

§  Land

§  Connectivity (physical & electronic)

§  Aspirations

·    Strengthening core services of Food, water and nutrition, Health sanitation and hygiene, livelihood, agriculture, education and human development, as per need and priority everywhere.

·   Identification of good models that already exist in India or elsewhere. Learn from them.


·   Strengthen rural habitats and shelters while addressing the core values.

·   Use the skills now available to re-model, adapt, repair, augment existing habitat and shelter to become more responsive   ecologically, culturally, socially and resilient to natural and human made disasters. Use modern knowledge, with the filter of responsiveness to ecology and nature.

·   No new construction in this phase till viable responsible solutions that responsive to ecology are found.

·   Encouragement and support for:

§  Development of new competencies, skill and wisdom

§  Innovation towards any aspect of responsive habitat and shelter development.  

Long term

·   For each geo-climatic region and ecology, determine what is  responsive ecologically, culturally, socially. It may be a traditional practice, or a traditional practice with augmentation, or a new practice, but duly tested for its sustainability.

·   Any new construction in any habitat to be allowed only after the above.

·   Strengthen all habitats and shelter (rural, urban, others) while addressing core values.


Infrastructure Development


When we walk like - we are rushing, we print anxiety and sorrow on earth. We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on earth…be aware of the contact between your feet and earth, walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.

Thich Nhat Hahn


·   Construction industry - for roads, land development, housing, social infrastructure, industries, etc. - generated huge employment – in mining, manufacturing, transportation, trading, designing, managing, building, construction, maintenance.

·   It has also been one of the most polluting, most resource guzzling industry in the world.

·   Earth has been dug, Forests and trees cut, minerals mined - polluted rivers and destroyed natural habitats, - created mounds of rubbish.

·   We also have created construction waste, which is rejected by earth. So it sits for years, like a festering wound, poisoning everything around it.

·   Typically,  each new construction cost broadly divides as 70% materials and 30% labour - i.e. it is more material intensive.

·   There exists a huge stock of existing infrastructure -already in place ( whether it is good, bad, ugly, adequate or inadequate, affordable or unaffordable, irresponsive or responsive, functional or dysfunctional ) - across the country in all habitations.


·   Entire construction came to a virtual standstill. This is due to: complete lockdown, hence:

§  No mining, no industrial processing, production, packaging of building materials

§  Restricted movement of any goods

§  Reverse migration of construction workers from many large cities.

·   As a result of the above (it has been about 36 days since lock down started) it is now reported that nature is already on a bit of healing course:

§  Rivers are much cleaner

§  Flora and Fauna is thriving

§  Air is less polluted and cleaner

§  Waste dumps are not increasing at usual rate. 

·   Large number of people employed in the infrastructure development have no work and fear that they may lose employment.

·   The new emerging reality requires a deeper level, longer term thinking, planning, allocation of resources towards expanding quality of core social services in all habitations - food security, health, livelihood, education, childhood care, etc. - where people are. The associated existing social infrastructure may need re-modelling, repair, augmentation and upgrading.


·   Nature first. Infrastructure that lives with nature and lets it thrive.

·   Infrastructure planning must first engage with the question - is a new infrastructure really needed and for whom and why? Is there a better alternative?

·   Local, self-reliant self -sufficient planning of habitats and social infrastructure with good quality services will substantially reduce the need to transport material and people, need to migrate to access better services elsewhere.

·   Local production of materials that are contextually more relevant and generate local employment would enable this.

·   Conserve and restore towards new emerging reality - what we already have in social infrastructure. Bring a new lease of life into what exists. 

·   Repairing / remodelling / realigning/ reimagining will be highly labour intensive with about 80%-90% labour and only 10% material cost - i.e. it will consume substantially less materials (and hence nature). This labour will be required in planning, designing, managing, supervision, actual restoration and repair or remodelling work.

·   It addresses multiple fold objectives in one go – environmental, social as well as economical. How?

§  Uses less materials, hence less depletion of natural resources.

§  Reduces material consumption, hence its transport and saves energy.

§  It allows existing skill-sets to be built-upon in people, where they are presently.

§  It becomes more labour and employment intensive to sustain and generate livelihood.

§  It helps in improving delivery of basic services through augmented infrastructure like that of health, nutrition, child development, education, livelihood, local governance, connectivity, natural resource management, etc.

·   This can be done across the length and breadth of the country – every tribal and rural habitation or urban conglomerate.


·    Complete moratorium on all (on the drawing board and yet to be constructed) new building projects – public or private.

·    Map the social infrastructure that already exists in every habitation. Map what repair / augmentation/ remodelling it may require for

§  New emerging reality of number of people it has to serve

§  Enhancement/ adaptation in quality of core social services

·    Strengthening core services of Food, water and nutrition, Health sanitation and hygiene, livelihood, agriculture, education and human development, as per need and priority everywhere*.

·    Identify infrastructure development methods which have had zero or positive impact on nature and analyze how these can become models to reach scale in diverse regions.


·    Promote and invest in new research on infrastructure development methods  that will have zero and positive impact on nature– in regional planning, rural planning urban planning,

·    Learning from nature and its processes.

Long term

·   For each geo-climatic region and ecology, determine what is  responsive ecologically, culturally, socially for infrastructure development.

·   Any new infrastructure development in any habitat to be allowed only after the above.

·   Strengthen all infrastructure developing (rural, urban, others) while addressing core values.


Science, Design and Technology


·   In design, planned obselence of products became a norm - due to human greed to sell and earn more, resulting higher depletion of natural resources, and creation of immense waste.

·   Many modern day seemingly cost-effective technologies hide the true cost. An exploited child labour or underpaid labour may be producing an artefact by putting themselves to a health hazard. The seemingly cheaper cost entices buyer to buy more, without realizing its implication on other hidden human beings and nature.

·   Technology started with assisting the human but increasingly started to replace the human. 


·   Technology is helping to connect people in multiple ways.

·   There are unconfirmed reports that change in radio waves links with spread of pandemics.

·   Technology is also used to quickly disseminate false information, alter and re-present the reality, as it suits some.


·   Technology as extended hand to expand human capability, rather than altogether replace it.

·   With human wisdom on how to use, technology must be used to reach the unreached and serve the un-served and open new opportunities, rather than deprive anyone of opportunities or lose livelihood.