Clerical Urbanism vs. Public Interest(Unabridged)
Jagan Shah

In order to create a ‘world class’ city, not just a kitschy imitation, the ‘Master’ Plan for Delhi will have to ditch paternalism and target the satisfaction of real social needs. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) suffers from a gross misconception about the purpose of the master plan by treating it as an end in itself rather than a means to achieve collective goals. Development cannot be allowed to remain a process divorced from social concerns and needs, which only provide justification for expenditure but are seldom the benchmarks for judging success. The surest indicator of these needs and concerns is the economy, yet the latest Master Plan for Delhi (MPD2021), like its ineffective precedents, contains no projections of costs and no estimate of the value of the outcome.

This kind of shot-in-the-dark planning largely derives from an outdated understanding of the city as an aggregate of functions that are definable, distinct and consistent, a Lego-like assembly of building blocks that, once built, are somehow the realization of pre-projected social goals. Not only does this determinism limit the scope of what a city is and can be, it also assumes a nonsensical form, aptly demonstrated in MPD2021. Thus, the social matrix of Delhi in 2021 is reduced to a list of ‘facilities’ for health, education, sports, communications, security (police), fire control, distribution of milk, vegetables & LPG (still honouring state-owned monopolies despite), ‘socio-cultural’ activities, ‘other’ community activities, and cremation & burial.

Such blind functionalism is not able to accommodate the overlaps between functions and the simultaneous existence of multiple functions, both of which are commonplace in a metropolis. Thus, for instance, education is considered to be totally concentrated in schools, colleges and universities, whereas the biggest growth area in the field of education, coaching classes, is actually a commercial activity carried out in commercial spaces. In fact, strangely enough, commercial space has been excluded from the list, disregarding the rather banal fact that most of the population spends most of their time doing business. Commercial space cannot be outside the ambit of social infrastructure, especially not in Indian society, where business relations extend way beyond the purely transactional and monetary. The conspicuous exceptions are vends for essential daily commodities like milk and vegetables and, inexplicably, LPG. While the sale of all three is an outright commercial activity, the special-case inclusion of LPG as a social infrastructure insidiously promotes a state-owned monopoly and allocates urban space to it. At the same time, this listing mentality also forces such categories as “communications”, which have very limited ‘social’ component as such, into “social infrastructure.”

Security, which is an issue with overarching relevance for contemporary Delhi, and one that completely permeates the entire scope of planning, is equated with policing, and that too, with the facilities for the police force. If it has to have any meaning at all, ‘security’ would have to be inherent to the planning of neighbourhoods, to the layout of streets and open spaces, and the design and construction of buildings. Urban security is a concern that has been dealt with effectively by many developed countries, and there is a vast body of knowledge available on the subject, but the DDA has neither the research capability nor the inclination to educate itself. As a result, MPD2021 does great injustice to the people of Delhi by missing out an opportunity for making provisions that are already threatening the free evolution of the city’s social and cultural life.

In lieu of thinking about the nature of Indian society and its emerging urban characteristics, MPD2021 posits 3-column tables that define “use premises” and the “activities permitted” within them. This nonsensical exercise yields needless descriptions such as a burial ground being “facilities for burying of dead bodies” and problematic definitions, such as “library” being defined as “having a large collection of books for reading and reference for general public or specific class [stress added].” It also displays DDA’s gross ignorance and unintelligence: dairy farms have “sheds for birds” and a piggery may have “sheds of pigs.” Troubling juxtapositions are also maintained, such as facilities for the mentally ill and physically challenged being clubbed together with Old Age homes, which are therefore facilities for “caring and training the underprivileged ones.”

The perilous outcome of this callous attitude to social needs is singularly represented by the handling of the issue of disaster management. In a short paragraph on “Pre-Disaster Preparedness’, the DDA shirks responsibility—as it does throughout MPD2021—by passing the buck to the Delhi Fire Service, which is expected to ‘identify vulnerable areas’ in the city, ‘sensitizing people’ and creating public awareness “about emergency procedures and location of emergency shelters etc.” The vulnerable areas in the city are presumed to be those with high density and poor accessibility, precisely the kind of vague definitions that make us hapless victims of disaster. When MPD2021 is essentially a strategy for further densification of the city, beyond limits for which it has been planned, and the ‘accessibility’ in most areas of Delhi suffers because of encroachments and unauthorized constructions that the plan seeks to legalize, it is shocking and dangerous to entertain such lackadaisical notions about disaster management. The public would expect that when planning for an issue of such gravity, there would be no place for etceteras.

Rather than working out the detailed implications of disaster preparedness, the DDA provides planning norms—one Disaster Management Centre on 3 hectares of land for each administrative zone, containing, among other things, a hospital of unspecified size and, inexplicably, a parade ground—and development controls that are the same as a fire station and a fire training institute. There is absolutely no thinking about the enormous social training and the changes in lifestyle and the corresponding changes in planning of habitat that will be required to make Delhi’s public safe from disasters. Like the issue of security, disaster management is an issue that has overarching significance for all aspects of planning, but DDA is incapable of dealing with such complexity.

It is evident that DDA’s only interest in creating tables and defining use premises, an infantile activity to which it devotes most of the chapter on social infrastructure, is to advance a vested interest in the third column of each table, where it lists the “activities permitted” in each premise. It is these clauses that empower DDA’s engineers and their like-minded cohorts in the municipalities with the exercise of discretion and thus allow them to perpetuate corruption. The greatest corruption in a chapter on social infrastructure would be to permit uses that are not of strictly “social” significance, and this invariably means commercial interest. Almost every ‘use premise’ can have a “watch & ward residence”, which is uncounted in the housing statistics (and which the DDA finds necessary even in a Disaster Management Centre teeming with security personnel). Snack stalls, banks and retail shops are permitted wherever possible, including pathology laboratories, and in areas that don’t have a post office, community hall, maternity home or milk booth, the DDA will allow these to be built on sites meant for nursery schools.

The sad fact of the matter is that DDA’s clerical urbanism and proclivity for brain-dead listings robs the planning exercise of its urgency, import and potential for effecting desperately needed change. In addition to the existing and chronic problems of the metropolis—unequal development, inadequate and rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, lack of rational projections of resource requirements, total exclusion of the public from decision-making and implementation, rampant corruption in every aspect of urban development—the master plan for Delhi must be able to address the larger problems of Indian society and conceive of ways in which urban development can and should help in providing or facilitating solutions for them. If one considers the eight Millenium Development Goals (MDG’s), four have a direct bearing on Delhi’s future and even, although they may seem not to, on MPD2021:
• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
• Achieve universal primary education;
• Promote gender equality and empower women;
• Ensure environmental sustainability

The Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and its premier development agency, the DDA, has a responsibility to address these issues in whatever way and to whatever extent possible. MPD2021 should represent a consensus on how to deal with poverty and hunger, both of which are witnessed daily by every citizen of the city on its streets and footpaths. The only way that this can be done is to strengthen and realize the concept behind the National Capital Region, which is a huge resource that must be mobilized to provide the means of livelihood for the largely able-bodied poor that flock to the city and waste themselves. The city and its region must find means of rehabilitation for those who are disabled. Urban society must be made to feel a responsibility towards the poor and hungry, and this requires an enormous change in the conception of the city: it is first and foremost a place that upholds civilization and humanity. Delhi should have no toleration for the sentiment that the poor should be allowed to lead inhuman existences on our streets, and it is the Master Plan that must articulate this.

All the goals mentioned above are social goals that can and should be addressed in MPD2021. The goal of universal primary education entails a calculation of schools at a different level from that which the DDA calculates—one school for every 5000 population—on an undisclosed basis. Where the density is highest, the occurrence of illiteracy is also high, but these are precisely the areas where the 0.2 hectares (2000square metres) stipulated for a primary school are mostly not available, and certainly not in the numbers that such plots would be required.

There is no mention of the problem of gender inequality in the master plan simply because it is beyond the comprehension of the DDA and its associates. Yet, such inequality is bred into the very matrix of the city through the simple fact that the city is mostly inaccessible and unsafe for women. As already mentioned, the problem of security for all citizens, but especially for women, is crucial and can only be addressed through structural changes in the city.

Environmental sustainability or the lack thereof, is an entire chapter in the tragic story of MPD2021. It has been addressed in greater detail in another article in this series [hagsdjahgsdjhasg by Chitvan Gill] but it is relevant to mention here that the entire issue of environment protection and the sustainable use of resources rest on the tough premise of citizen’s awareness. In order to make MPD2021 effective, there is a need for other processes which must be accounted for in the master plan itself. It is useless to make provisions for changes that are totally dependent on the behavior of the citizens unless one has found ways to educate them and can expect a measure of success. If public misbehavior is the undoing of the master plan, it is not the people who are to blame but the planners who were naïve enough to expect that their plans will succeed without adequate preparation.

As corollaries of the MDG’s, there are 18 Millennium Development Targets, 7 of which are reflected but unaddressed in different aspects of MPD2021. Targets 7 & 8 are concerned with halting and reversing the spread of AIDS and of malaria and other major diseases. This has direct relevance to the city’s infrastructure as well as its distribution and planning of dense neighborhoods. The same aspects also impact the resolution of targets 9–11, which are concerned with issues like access to safe water and basic sanitation and the “significant improvement” in the lives of slum dwellers.

It is also targeted that there will be significant measures for providing employment to the youth. As society experiences a ‘youth bulge’, it is imperative that this growing population is made productive, and the only way to ensure this, apart from guaranteeing them education, is to augment the pool of jobs in the city. MPD2021 takes a regressive stand on employment, stating, in fact, that no new jobs ought to be created. Not only is this impossible, because unless all urban growth is accompanied with a corresponding growth in mechanization, which is demographically and technologically unthinkable (at least for 2021), it is also contradicted by the overall premise upheld by the plan: densification through redevelopment and mixed land-use. Instead of making the planned redevelopment of commercial areas into an opportunity for promoting productivity and the creation of jobs—by examining what is the nature of businesses and industries needed for the city, the skilled manpower available, and the potential for reviving institutions like the now defunct Industrial Training Institutes—the DDA treats it as a chance to augment the landlord’s profits.

The dynamic and highly productive population of vendors, servants and labourers are described as an “informal sector” and no provision is made for their incorporation into Delhi’s society. The DDA’s contempt for the productive poor, which is itself quite contemptible, is resplendent in one passage in the chapter on transportation, where the one mode of transport that renders greatest service and with minimal disservice to the city, the cycle-rickshaw, is dispensed with on the basis of a facetious argument: “With a mixed type of fast moving traffic on the roads, safe travel by bicycle could be risky for the rider and use of rickshaws not feasible or desirable… an important aspect also pertains to the fact that unlimited and unrestricted use of this mode has a direct relationship with migration into the city and the phenomenon of JJ Clusters/Slums.”

While it neglects the needs of the poor, the needs of the rich are met in whatever way possible. The problem of parking, which specifically afflicts the middle-class, is shoved into a chapter on ‘transportation’ whereas parking is foremost a socio-cultural problem founded on a cynical economic logic. Car-owners are universally culpable for their misuse of public space and a disavowal of social responsibility, but innumerable vehicles can enjoy free parking on our streets, each hogging space enough to house a family of the poor, whose housing stock suffers a backlog of 50,000 units per annum.

As if space for the rich is somehow cheaper than space for the poor, DDA’s mixed-use policy relinquishes our streets to lawbreakers, as long as they form a society or cooperative. Under the ‘policy’ of mixed land-use, entire residential areas can be commercialised, disregarding the rights of law-abiding home-owners who are now forced to vacate their disturbed surroundings. The DDA would privilege the demands of the unruly mob, whereas the individual, the building block of democracy, has his/her rights most conspicuously violated. While singing of public-private partnership, DDA hawks public interest cheaply.

While it seems to think that ignoring the needs of the poor will somehow make them go away, the DDA makes a gross error of judgment, best illustrated by its inability to address the issue of pedestrian space. MPD2021 speaks of “a pedestrian friendly city” in a solitary disembodied paragraph, but makes no provision for it. It can be assumed that space for pedestrians in the city—i.e. space for the common man, which includes the elderly and children, not solely the poor—is an unspecified percentage of ‘circulation’ space. The footpaths of Delhi are inevitably encroached by every self-service under the sun and the city forces its people—the common man, including the elderly and children—to walk on the roads, which, ironically, are not as unsafe for the pedestrian as they are for cycle-rickshaws.

Like pedestrians, the productive poor are expected to somehow find themselves a niche in the city and sustain themselves, but the DDA will not help them to become citizens. It is critical for the sustainable future of Delhi that the master plan conceives ways in which ‘the civilizing process’ can be effected through urban development, such that every city-dweller, rich and poor alike, is initiated into the habits and the lifestyles best suited to that peculiar form of settlement called the city and that peculiar form of collective life known as democracy. Both letter and spirit of the Indian constitution needs to be made manifest on the streets of Delhi.

However, if DDA’s planning efforts are anything to go by, and we have fifty years of evidence available, then it is clear that MPD2021 follows a line of bad precedents that have left their scars on the city’s socius. Peace-meal and iniquitous development of ‘shelter’ has made Delhi a fractured city, where classes, castes and communities inhabit segregated ghettoes. Mismanagement of the city’s myriad diversity has created an unsafe city. Shunning migrants and limiting the creation of jobs, MPD2021 will make Delhi a monument to xenophobia and morbidity, a far cry from a society that abides by the Millennium Development Goals of transparency, participation and equity.

MPD2021 must conceive of new means of comprehending our social needs and new methods for problem-solving. The first thing that must be abandoned is the blanket preference for quantification and curtailment of freedom of choice through top-heavy implementation. Social needs do not always translate directly into numbers, but the means of achieving them must do. Social problems rarely have an objective and measurable existence, but they are often interpreted as such. MPD2021 will have to transcend the objectivism of the Industrial city and embrace the 21st century metropolis, which is a physical manifestation of the ideals and beliefs through which civil society wonderfully attempts the containment of chaos, the abatement of uncertainty, and the creation of beauty. A master plan is primarily a social vision manifest in the rules of urban development. Unless these rules are devised with utmost care they will set up a game in which there is only one tragic loser: we the people.

(The writer is Director, Urban Futures Initiative)





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