Following the New Delhi Municipal Committee’s
(NDMC’s) much-publicized intentions for the redevelopment
of Rajpath and Connaught Place, the Government of India’s
(GOI’s) interdiction of such “ill-conceived redevelopment
and renovation plans,” on 28th April 2005, is to be welcomed.
But not without a sense of foreboding. The capital city’s
premier municipal agency has amply and frequently displayed its
ineptitude, but the GOI should not twist its arms to have proposals
vetted by yet another coterie, the Heritage Conservation Committee
of the Ministry of Urban Development, especially when an appropriately
mandated Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) already exists. When
at long last the DUAC has a chairman, architect and planner Charles
Correa, with the ability to articulate an urban vision — something
he has done for forty years — an injustice would be inflicted
on New Delhi if his authority is undermined.
It is axiomatic that Delhi’s fate will be determined by
the extent to which its complex administrative rigmarole can be
simplified and streamlined. The future is about mega-city-states
that compete with each other for resources, manpower, growth,
profits and talent, in an environment governed by just, sound
and due process. If it wants to emerge ahead in that race, Delhi
desperately needs a single agency to sustainably manage its development,
and to submit its functioning to scrutiny by the state and public
alike. That agency cannot be the DDA, which, in its Master Plan
for Delhi 2021, professes a desire to make Delhi a “world-class
city” but is clearly at a loss on how to do so, casting
a pall of doubt on the very document that should elicit faith.
Nor does our destiny rest in the incestuous lap of agencies like
the NDMC, the MCD, the PWD, et al, who behave just like defunct
PSU’s, boasting of flabby payrolls but entrusted with properties
that comprise some of the most valuable real estate in the world.
Because the stakes are high, it is time that Delhi’s urban
development becomes a product of scientific research and analysis,
and conforms to the universal mantras of best practice: anticipatory
planning, accountability, delegation, timeliness and efficiency.
If we go by the recent public notice by the NDMC inviting responses
to its ‘plans’ — displayed exclusively on their
website — for the redevelopment of Connaught Place (CP)
and Rajpath, it is evident that best practice is a tall order.
In fact, they must be joking, because two poorly-conceived PowerPoint
presentations do not constitute ‘plans’ (‘schemes’
is more appropriate). Gnash your teeth for six hours on a standard
MTNL connection, and the files that land on your desktop are “corrected
copy of presentation on 11.2.2005” (the 49.5Mb ‘plan’
for Rajpath,) and “final_redevlopment_cp1” (the 2.9Mb
‘plan’ for CP). A monkey could figure out that the
NDMC does not credit the public with any great intelligence, even
if they can use a Computer.
Now that the GOI has cracked the whip at its addled underlings,
the Rajpath scheme will hopefully rot in a file somewhere, but
a workable revival plan is desperately needed for CP, the tortured
womb of a Central Business District, its horizons blocked by unsightly
‘skyscrapers’, its crowded innards brimming with filth
and encroachment. Left to the NDMC, the revival will be like an
Egyptian mummy — morbid inside, but colourful of face —
since they have reduced the complex task of heritage revitalization
to the augmentation of parking and a face-lift for buildings.
A redevelopment process must include measures for the revival
of interest of all stake-holders in CP, convincing the property-owners
that they are custodians and beneficiaries of potentially one
of the most unique shopping experiences of the world, and initiating
an economic restructuring. This is manifestly beyond the existing
The NDMC’s Powerpoint ‘scheme’ is mostly a
school-boy’s analysis of CP’s traffic — probably
the same school boy who planned the parking-debacle on Baba Kharak
Singh Marg, where the perfectly civil row of emporia with substantial
parking has been replaced by a pedestrianised CP-copy with no
parking. Offering no analysis, it effortlessly regresses into
proposals for prettification; the usual lampposts, footpaths,
curbstones & signage type of budget which effectively depletes
public funds drop by drop, to drain an ocean. Multi-level parking
lots are proposed at undisclosed locations, the desire to “increase
usage of commercial space” is professed but no details on
implementation, and consequently no specifics regarding their
consistency with the objectives of heritage conservation are provided,
nor is any specific solution to “regulate use of backyards”
presented. And, the Press informs us elsewhere — though
NDMC’s cyber-‘Plan’ is silent on this count
— that the price-tag for these non-solutions is Rs. 73 crores!
The Government appears incapable of displaying even the minimal
Saral-form transparency that it expects from every taxpayer.
Only financial naiveté can support the presumption that
everyone can and should be provided parking in CP, that any investor
— save for the state, which is habituated to wasting public
funds — will find it cost-effective to build a garage on
some of the most expensive urban space in the world. If the parking-fees
in CP reflected the value of land, the NDMC would be rid of the
delusion that CP’s problems are parking-related.
It is difficult to tell what is more damaging: the NDMC’s
lack of imagination and will or, as noted by the Economic Survey
of India 2005, their refusal to adopt double-entry book-keeping.
Sound financial reasoning would show that mere ‘face-lifts’
will not save CP from the ruination that is imminent if rent control
continues, producing an absurd juxtaposition of high-end retailers
with bottom-line wholesalers, caviar sellers with purveyors of
cheap deodorant, tailors with couturiers. The inner circle is
barely surviving, the middle-circle is a mess of parking lots,
booze shops and motor workshops, and the outer is littered with
bankruptcy. Some might claim that this combination is endearingly
exotic, but it is clearly robbing all businesses of enterprise
and opportunity, and the city of its vibrant core.
The Metro hub will bring millions of people through CP. Leverage
this frequency of ‘footfalls’, the real value of the
land and the extraordinary character of the buildings, and CP
can boast an urban renewal of staggering success, and our current
parking anxiety will seem like a teenager’s tryst with acne.
The possibilities for creating super-premium office space (as
Mumbai has done in the Fort area) are endless, and we have not
even begun to address the potential for upgraded residential use
on the upper floors, with exclusive parking-equipped access from
the inner courts, huge carpet areas and rooftop terraces.
Given that the NDMC’s jurisdiction is primarily over heritage
properties, it needs to go back to school to learn how to deal
with this specialty, as many municipal agencies have done throughout
the world. Especially in CP, but more generally for all heritage
‘sites’, conservation needs to be thought of in terms
of revitalization, such that built-heritage can pay for itself
and provide the platform for other profitable businesses. Heritage
revitalization is the main issue, and the physical state of buildings,
services and infrastructure are its dimensions. It is not an assorted
item, as the NDMC treats it in their schemes, a mere inter alia.
If it continues to deny urban heritage the primacy it deserves,
then even the future of the city will be just that: inter alia.