Cesspool City(Unabridged)
Chitvan Gill

The DDA demonstrates its ‘multi–pronged’ confusion as it spells out its plans for the overall improvement of the environment and its management of resources, including elements of Delhi’s physical infrastructure.

At the very outset, we find a detailed lament on past failures, an admission that the DDA’s projections through two previous Master Plans got it all wrong.

Creation of a sustainable physical and social environment for improving quality of life is one of the major objectives of the plan. The almost unprecedented scale and speed of urbanization in Delhi has resulted in enormous pressures on the physical environment … and today Delhi is considered to be among the most polluted cities in the world (emphasis added).

The lurking environmental crisis in the city is revealed in the Master Plan’s update on natural resources:

Based on studies and statistics it is revealed that the main sources of water to the city – the Yamuna and the drains are already highly polluted… the supply of water for human use is too much in absolute terms, but is characterised by iniquitous distribution in per capita terms in different areas, and significant wastage… the capacity to treat waste water is grossly deficient… the actual quantity of water treated is much below the installed capacity on account of missing links in sewer connectivity… treated waste water is largely put back into the drains and gets polluted again before flowing back into the Yamuna… a large number of traditional water bodies have been encroached or have become defunct… average annual rainfall is 611mm... The annual rainwater harvesting potential has been assessed at 900 billion litres… If 25 percent of this could be harvested it would imply availability of 625 mld, which would be nearly equivalent to the presently estimated deficiency.

But who is to be held responsible for this? Much of this ground was covered in the two previous Master Plans, and the present draft arouses a sense of profound frustration as you are confronted with nothing but a phenomenal admission of failure, a constantly repeated track through MPD 2021, a comprehensive inability to manage the city and its resources.

Despite this, there is no evidence of any urgency to map out and plan, in a concrete, fixed and time bound manner, the restructuring of Delhi’s infrastructure and resource use in an environmentally sound and sustainable framework. Instead, there is a continuous repetition of vague clichés and generalized declarations of intent: “the existing drainage basins to be made self sustainable in water management by integrating water-sewerage- drainage systems.” New projects and upgradation of present infrastructure “should” be taken up in addition to “promotion of water conservation”; “Complimentary short term and long term strategies… will need to be initiated.”

Nothing better describes the rot of the system than the state of the Yamuna today, so completely contaminated that the river is described as ‘dead’ after reaches Delhi, as 3,296 MLD (million litres per day) of raw sewage meet its waters. 80 percent of the pollutants are from the discharge of waste from the 19 major drains which flow into the river. Over the past decade, more than Rs. 1,000 crore has been spent on ‘cleaning’ the river under the Governments Yamuna Action Plan (YAP), but according to experts pollution levels have actually gone up. Other than details of the linear expansion of sewerage channels and waste treatment capacities, MPD 2021 offers nothing that would make any noticeable difference to the present state. It however does suggest “designation and delineation of appropriate land uses and aesthetics of the River Front which should be more fully integrated with the city and made more accessible physically, functionally and visually.” A backdoor clause for more building in an ecologically sensitive zone?

The sheer irrationality of the management of available resources manifests itself, for instance, in the fact that in 2002 the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) charges for 10,000 litres of water ranged from 35 paise (starting use for domestic users) to Rs 16 (upper limit for industrial users). Treating a single kilolitre of water cost Rs. 5. The DJB did not even recover Rs. 2 per kilolitre. Worse, half of all usage in Delhi fell into the ‘non-revenue’ category – unrecorded and illegal use – for which no charges were recovered. Where are the solutions to real problems, such as these, in MPD 2021?

Air pollution once again throws up the amazing biases around which this city is planned.

It has been estimated that buses, which constitute barely 1.2 percent of the total number of vehicles, cater to around 60 percent of the total transport load , while personal vehicles – cars and scooters, though almost 93 percent of the total number of vehicles, cater to only 30 percent of the travel demand. 70 percent of total air pollution is from vehicular emission… Public transportation planning must, therefore drive the future policy.

Now you realize this! But where is the ‘public transportation planning’ in MPD 2021?

Another sudden realization is articulated shortly thereafter: “Another issue which has been raised in the context of vehicular congestion and pollution relates to the policy of mixed land use, which will also have to be carefully considered.” Since the entire MPD is nothing but a thoughtless spur to intensive development and adoption of mixed land use wherever possible, how serious such ‘consideration’ has been can be clearly seen.

A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) study found that, during autumn months, between 200 and 250 tonnes of dry leaves were burnt every day, causing 6 to 7 per cent of the air pollution in the city during this period. The problem finds no mention – consequently no solution – in MPD 2021. In the past, CPCB has had to repeatedly seek police help to prevent the burning of leaves. Despite this, the failure to end the practice has been spectacular – and extraordinarily noticeable even in the Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone, where most of the city’s and country’s senior-most officials and ministers reside.

The idea of noise pollution as an environmental and health hazard has finally taken root. But take a look at DDA’s ‘solution’: “…green buffer through thin leaved trees, land formations, mounds, embankments, etc., along major roads could also provide effective barriers to transmission of noise.” Where on earth is the space for all this along the sides of Delhi’s roads? And DDA has, in fact, spent the past decades cutting down or choking off with concrete pavements, the existing trees that provide some shade and insulation on these roads. Further, today, with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) using silencers and mufflers on their construction equipment, building temporary noise barriers and demonstrating the success of their zero noise project, it should be obvious that technologies and techniques for noise abatement exist, and what was needed was the imposition of norms for the manufacture of vehicles, equipment, construction and social activities.

The ‘rapid urbanisation’ of Delhi – and the collapse of implementation of the provisions of previous Master Plans – has resulted in the creation of all sorts of environmental disturbances and it is but natural that the forests and biodiversity would be equally affected. Today, according to the State of the Environment report for Delhi, the city has a mere 88 square kilometres (sq. km.) of forest cover in its total geographical extent of 1,483 sq. km., representing just 5.93 percent of this total. MPD 2021 takes little account of the factors that have led to this situation such as encroachments for constructing buildings, roads, settlements, parks, the use of these areas for garbage dumping, extraction of fuel and fodder and grazing of livestock. Mining and quarrying activities, especially in the south–central ridge, have also resulted in the shrinking of ridge areas, causing enormous loss to biodiversity. The planting of fast growing exotics has also affected the biodiversity of the ridge. MPD 2021 simply notes that “previous Master Plan proposals for retention of Green Belts have not been maintained and a considerable part of the green belt has already been utilized for both planned and unplanned development.” It expects to repair some of this damage by transforming agricultural land “from the NCTD boundary up to a depth of one peripheral revenue village boundary” into a Green Belt, “wherever possible”. But where, precisely, is this possible? Most of the land along the National Capital Territory’s boundaries has already been urbanized; most of the little that remains has been taken up by ‘farmhouses’. By the time MPD 2021 comes into force, the isolated fragments that survive as real farmland, will have been consumed by developers.

As in much of MPD 2021, the DDA is quite brazen in admitting its comprehensive failure to do what it, and various other administrative and municipal agencies, were mandated to do in the past with regard to the city’s physical infrastructure – comprising water, power sewerage, drainage and solid waste management. Instead of taking responsibility for the stagnation or tardy and inadequate expansion of capacities and the failure to take timely action over the past fifty years, DDA conveniently blames the “rapid and almost uncontrolled growth of population” for putting “these facilities under severe pressure.” Could no one in the administration see that the population was ‘growing uncontrollably’ over this extended period, and that these capacities needed dramatic expansion? And if that was the case in the past, is there anything in MPD 2021 that assures us that DDA’s ‘sight’ has, in fact, suddenly been restored?

MPD 2021, regrettably, provides no evidence of any such optical enhancement. If anything, the Master Planners’ vision has decidedly worsened – or the desire to paint a clear image is missing.

Indeed, there is much in MPD 2021 generally, and in the chapter on Physical Infrastructure particularly, that seems to suggest that no one has read through this document with any significant care – and worse, that no one is expected to, despite the ritual of ‘public notification’ and ‘invitation of objections and suggestions’.

The ‘availability and projections’ of capacities on these various resources is a dramatic case in point. ‘Requirement’ for water in 2001 is put at 1,096 mgd (availability, 650 mgd) and the projection for 2021 is put at 1,150. In other words, with nearly ten million persons added to Delhi’s population over this period, the additional demand for water is expected to rise by precisely 54 mgd! Not surprisingly, DJB states in an appendix to MPD 2021 itself that DDA has got its projections for water requirements all wrong.

Sewerage offers a comparable surprise. 2001 requirements are estimated at 877 mgd (available capacity is just 512 mgd), and the requirement is to rise to 920 mgd by 2021, a minuscule increment of just 43 mgd. Is the ‘projected population’ never to go to the toilet? And this is after we have been authoritatively informed that at least 30 per cent of the present population “does not have proper access to sanitation facilities” and that, by 2021, “entire Delhi should be served by regular sewerage system”. Interestingly, at another place in the same chapter, we are informed that the sewerage system “has to cater to 1,472 mgd… of waste water by the year 2021. This excludes commercial and industrial waste water handling which needs to be treated separately.” So what is the final capacity required?

The projection on power appears credible, rising from 2001 requirements of 3,265 mw (availability, 2,352 mw) to 8,800 mw by 2021.

Solid waste projections, again, give a first impression of reliability. 2001 requirements are 7,100 tons/day (availability, 5,543 tons/day), and this is expected to more than double at 15,750 by 2021. But this may, in fact, be a significant underestimate. A Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) study, for instance, has put the anticipated volumes in the region of 17,000 – 20,000 tons/day by 2021.

Projection errors apart, there must be a coherent plans to achieve at least the targets MPD 2021 sets for itself. This must be a minimal expectation, since even if these targets are achieved, the city, it appears, would still be in major crisis on at least some of these variables. But does any of this sound like a real plan?
“A broad augmentation to meet the projected requirement is essential.”
“Technical feasibility of rehabilitation / augmentation network of sewerage, water supply and drainage is required…”
“The recycling of waste water has to be based on a techno-economic feasibility… by concerned agencies.”
“Inter-State river water allocation is required to be worked out.”
“…promote water conservation through an integrated and community driven model.”

And we still haven’t got through the first two pages of the chapter on physical infrastructure! In fact, every page reverberates with ‘integrated approach is required’, ‘systems should be developed’, ‘innovative techniques are to be encouraged’, ‘time bound plan is vital’, and other vague generalizations and declarations of good intention, as well as lists of what ‘may need to be done’ under various categories. But the game plan, the real ‘Master Plan’ to reconstruct Delhi’s physical infrastructure from the state of absolute collapse that it currently is in, is entirely absent.

It is useful to look briefly at the enormity of this collapse. In 2002 after the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s (MCD) annual de-silting operation of 1,332 drains under its control, a major chunk of the total 402,561 tons of sludge were left “lying on the sides of the drains waiting to be washed back into them once the monsoon sets in.”

A multiplicity of agencies manage the city’s drainage: the Flood and Irrigation Wing of DDA, the PWD and MCD look after smaller drains. The Flood and Irrigation Department of the Union Government manages the 75 bigger drains. Reports indicate that the MCD alone loses Rs. 15 crore a year in bogus works by contractors in the sanitation department. The sanitation department, moreover, employs 47,000 safai karamcharis to clean the roads and lanes of Delhi every day, but “their perpetual absence from work is a cause of worry for officials.” And as for the grand plans to wish the problem away by “privatization”, a senior MCD official had earlier noted, “unless some effective method is introduced to first integrate collection, segregation, transportation, and treatment, privatization of sanitation will not be successful at all.”

That the Master Plan will fail on many parameters is already visible – and occasionally conceded. A major proportion of solid waste, we are informed, is to be “disposed off in sanitary landfills”. But 16 landfills, comprising 106.4 hectares have already been “filled up”. Another four – 60 hectares – are “in operation”, and four “new” locations – 108 hectares – are identified. We are informed, however, that “finding new sanitary landfill sites in Delhi is becoming extremely difficult.” According to one study, Delhi is one of the dirtiest cities in the world and produces nearly 8,000 tonnes of solid waste every day. Civic agencies manage to clear only about 4,884 tonnes of this filth and most of the garbage is dumped in open land fills despite a Delhi High Court order to clean up the city. According to a CPCB study, “The gap between waste generation and management will rise to 64 per cent by 2021 from the present level of 40 per cent, if the current population growth and lifestyle does not change. In other words the quantity of waste that will be produced in 2021 is estimated to be between 17,000 and 25,000 tonnes per day” Delhi’s existing landfill sites are already packed with a mixture of non-biodegradable and toxic waste.

MPD 2021’s grand alternative? “…there is no option, but to resort to alternative and decentralized methods of waste treatment, reduction, recycle and use, which include vermiculture, fossilisation and composting.” And what specific facilities are proposed for these under the Master Plan? These alternatives “should be constituted and made effective”. This tenuous response for a city that is sitting on a ‘garbage bomb’!

Sewerage is a similar case in point. Total sewerage is variously estimated 920 mgd and 1,472 mgd at different places in MPD 2021, excluding “commercial and industrial waste water”. But total targeted sewerage treatment capacity for 2021 “as proposed by DJB” (Delhi Jal Board) is just 805 mgd! So there is a necessary deficit of between 115 mgd and 667 mgd – plus an unspecified volume of commercial and industrial waste water. Of course, “new sewerage treatment plants may be identified as per requirement.” This is a Master Plan?

There is some talk of integrated management of “surface drainage and sewerage systems”. But the reality sinks in when we are informed that “Yamuna River, major drains and canals, with indiscriminate dumping of wastes, have become polluted and foul.” It is significant that many of Delhi’s major ‘sewage’ canals are, in fact, very old fresh waterways long predating India’s Independence; and the Delhi Administration has done nothing but foul up these waterways by uncontrolled flows of filth in all these years. It is clear, moreover, that though the need for “strict pollution control measures and eco-sensitive land use controls” is recognized, the erstwhile and now degraded waterways remain the heart of DDA’s envisaged system of sewage management, at least up to 2021, though there is a general declaration of intent to the effect that a “time bound action program for augmentation and capacity revision of existing and new drains… is also vital”, and some statements of a “green network overlapping a blue network” and the segregation of the wastewarter disposal system. The incurable optimist may, of course, draw hope from the exhortation that “Regular desilting of drains and control of dumping of solid waste / malba into the drains should be taken up”, but we have already seen that sewerage treatment capacities will remain well below what is needed. Consequently, even presuming unprecedented and extraordinary efficiency in the utilization of these capacities (a remote possibility, given past performance), these water bodies will continue to be hugely fouled through 2021.

There is a single and inspired passage in the chapter on physical infrastructure – perhaps the only passage of its nature in the entire Master Plan – which occurs in the treatment of power and energy efficiency. Even the most rudimentary analysis of style and content would demonstrate that this segment has no commonality of authorship with the rest of the document, and has, in all probability, been lifted from elsewhere to be surreptitiously included – entirely without examination in terms of its impact on the larger Master Plan – in MPD 2021. The passage speaks of “energy efficiency” based on the idea of Zero-fossil Energy Development (ZED), which envisages an “urban form and design of passive building envelope that reduce the demand for power.” This would need a radical restructuring of the “city geometry” and “a holistic approach combining the issues and actions at various levels of planning, design, construction and maintenance leading to a sustainable and energy efficient regime.” Little that follows, or that is contained in the rest of the Master Plan, suggests any such radical restructuring or holistic approach, and the remaining section on ‘power’ makes a few nominal bows towards energy conservation, encouragement of non-conventional energy sources, etc., but makes no clear projections about the exact targets of energy saving that are to be secured, and through what methods.

There is, of course, a reference to a 1997 Asian Development Bank report that suggests that “potential in saving (electricity) due to better overall efficiency in domestic sector is about 20 per cent, and this makes “a strong case” for use of fluorescent tubes, CFLs and light emitting diodes, as well has having “tighter door seals” and other technical improvements in domestic refrigerators. Beyond this, we are informed that, to meet the 8,800 mw demand for power by 2021, “concerned agencies need to augment the power supply and improve the transmission and distribution system”. A table gives us a listing of “proposed power plants”, which would add a capacity of 2,070 mw to the existing availability of 2,352 mw, totalling 4,422 mw. Several other “Central Sector Power Projects” are listed, including some in faraway Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, but it is not clear how much power can be harvested from these for Delhi’s use. A deficit, consequently, appears implicit in the MPD 2021 narrative. We are, nevertheless, informed that “schemes to minimise power thefts/losses by improved metering arrangements should be enforced”, and that a “400 kv ring is being set up around Delhi to draw power from northern regional grid.” While it is not clear how, we are also encouraged to believe that, “The additional power requirement would be met from local generation and allocated share from the grid system.” A summary judgement on all this is offered by the letter (appended to MPD 2021) of the Chairman and Managing Director of Delhi Transco Limited, the State unit that manages Delhi’s electricity transmission grid, which declares, simply: “Difficulties are created by the continuing mismatch between the situation envisaged in the master plan and the actual ground situation.”

MPD 2021 is DDA’s drawing out of Delhi’s future. The Master Plan is to be executed by the multiplicity of agencies actually charged with the management of various resources and services. If any attempt to marking out a clear plan had been made, it would have been preceded by an exercise to bring about a system of coherent integration between these various agencies, their assessments and their plans. Left to themselves, and given the very vague and contradictory guidelines and programmes of MPD 2021, these many agencies can only be expected to dash on, with blinkers on, towards uncertain, conflicting and frequently discreditable goals





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