Women In Construction: Mala Singh

Women In Construction: Mala Singh

She belongs to Himachal Pradesh, a state famous for its natural beauty. “One can breathe there without hesitation,” affirms Mala Singh, while accepting with dejection that this does not apply to the whole of India. Having dedicated over 18 years to the well-being of the environment – industrial and commercial – green is not just a colour for her: “It is like worshiping a tree; green signifies ‘life’.” In fact, this year, Singh, a green building design and total sustainability advisor for various developer groups and infrastructure companies, received the ‘The Best Green Entrepreneur’ award from the World CSR Congress. In her current role as Chairman and Managing Director, PEC Solutions Green Designs, she provides strategies for climate change issues and business opportunities through a sustainable development approach. An executive committee member of the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and head convener, green governance, of IGBC’s Mumbai chapter, she is also a core committee member for the Green Building Committee of the Gujarat Government’s Forest and Environment Department. Singh shares her life’s work and views on India’s green build- ing scenario in conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN.

What led you to choose the green path?

I grew up in Mandi, a town near Kulu Manali. When I joined Roorkee University in 1993-94, my friends opted for commercial subjects while I chose to specialise in environment studies. Back then, if you spoke of the environment, it just meant atmosphere. No one spoke of climate change and global warming and its repercussions. But that year, for the first time, Roorkee introduced an environment engineering department and I did my Masters of Philosophy in Environmental Science. My first job was with the Tata Group in Delhi. I did several projects on waste management and environmental impact assessment. I worked with the industrial sector which helps me today as an assessor for green rating – and, for some years, I worked with the construction sector.industrial sector – which helps me today as an assessor for green rating – and, for some years, I worked with the construction sector.

What inspired you to establish PEC Solutions Green Designs?

As an employee, my last job was with Ackruti City, today known as Hubtown. When I worked with a builder, I found myself restricted to just a number of projects. But once those are developed, as an environmental or design engineer, what remains for me? I wanted to do much more for the country and this included encouraging the government as well. When I was not just guiding one person or comp what it feels to be independent. I could co with any committee or developer. I was able to expand my knowledge and experience. It proved to be a win-win situation for me and the developers; I established this company and now I can support more than one developer.

What are the challenges you face in your current role?

The challenge lies in convincing and inspiring developers with a conventional approach. For them, it’s just about getting t environment clearance or green certification. They are not clear about the payback of the green features and, hence, do not consider value the effort that goes into the design.

Tell us about the landmark projects you h been associated with.

We are doing about 70 million sq ft of g construction space across India. This covers government projects, townships, residential and commercial buildings. At present, I am doing a net-zero building in Bhavnagar for the Gujarat Pollution Control Board. We are also doing Narendra Modi’s dream project, the 200-ACRE Raksha Shakti University, in Gujarat. On completion, it will be the first-of-its-kind in the country.

Developers often bemoan the costs of going green. Please comment.

This is a misperception. Green is for all and it is not expensive. It is all about reduce, recycle and reuse. As con- sultants, we try to introduce practices our ancestors adopted as traditional values and architecture directly connects with sustainability. A developer may use ‘technology’ to his advantage claiming that its efficiency makes his project energy- and water-efficient by 20 to 30 per cent. But primarily, green is about using minimum; it is then that one can talk about being sustainable.

Tell us about the Government of India’s Climate Change Mission.

This comprises eight missions of which one talks about energy efficiency. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is working on this; it has already made it mandatory to use BEE-rated electrical products. Another mission talks about achieving a sustainable habitat. To fulfil this, you need a green structure, a sustainable model, green infrastructure, green building, etc.

How about the various codes in India?

The National Building Code (NBC) talks about five climatic zones. For instance, Mumbai falls under warm and humid, Gujarat under hot and dry, Delhi composite climate, etc. So, it becomes easy to integrate design parameters based on these zones. Also, there is an energy conversation building code.

Apart from faster environment clearance, what incentives is the government offering to green buildings?

In Bengaluru and Tamil Nadu, the government offers reduction in VAT for rainwater harvesting, especially when you buy the filters. Apart from tax benefits, you can also avail some sort of funding. For instance, the Gujarat government provides 30 per cent subsidy for integrating rainwater har- vesting and solar power. This incentive is part of Narendra Modi’s vision for Gujarat. For instance, he has used canals and building roofs for solar generation. Also, in Gujarat, there is an import-export policy. A building that runs on 100 per cent solar energy is a net zero building and is hence considered green. So, there you buy energy from the grid for Rs 5 per unit and generate your electricity, which is directly connected to the grid. As it is a system there, they do not store energy in a battery as backup. There is a utility com- pany, Torrent Energy, who has an agreement with you and they put their meters on your site; automatically, whatever surplus energy is being generated in your building goes to the grid. For this surplus energy, you are paid every month. At Gandhinagar in Gujarat, it is Rs 9.47 per unit. So where I pay Rs 5 per unit, I get paid Rs 9.47 per unit for the surplus energy I give. In this way, within a year or two, you recover the cost invested in setting up the solar system.

Are similar efforts being taken by the Maharashtra government?

As part of IGBC, I had suggested that the Gujarat Pollution Control Board could be an inspiration to other com- munities by making their own buildings green. I conveyed a similar message to the Maharashtra government as well and it eventually formed a green building committee. In the beginning, it was an association between the Maharashtra government and IGBC. We developed some codes that have been approved by the chief secretary. However, these will be implemented for government projects in the first phase; in the second phase, they will apply to private developers. But a policy introduced in the state, which even the court has passed, says that a project requires environment clearance only if the area is over 2 lakh sq ft. What happens if the area is less than 2 lakh sq ft? Nowadays, in cities, most develop- ments take place in small plots. And if these projects don’t seek environment clearance, they may just not be environment-friendly.

In these interactions, have you ever been witness to gender bias?

There have been several instances where I have experienced a level of discomfort in my initial conversation – especially when the topic is the environment – with the opposite person. But when my experience and achievements are put forward, in no time I become a dignified woman for them. However, my objective is not to intervene or mull over somebody’s perception, but to convey in the best way possible the need to cater to a subject I closely relate to: the environment.

What is the importance of green in your life?

Whether it is a small or big project, or a township that takes about 10 years to complete, I always count my footprint because this is my small contribution towards the environment, ecosystem and the planet. For me, practicing green is more than a profession, it is worship.

What’s your message to women in the construction and building industry?

Believe in yourself and your capabilities to perform and make others perform. Your strength, willpower and self-confidence will take you forward.

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