Devastation Calling(Abridged)
Jagan Shah

The DDA has taken fifty years of so-called ‘planning efforts’ to realize that a city survives on the basis of infrastructure. On all fronts, the only function that has been served by their preparation of MPD 2021 has been a comprehensive realization of an ecological and systemic crisis. It is unacceptable that they now claim to have discovered that Delhi’s entire system of sewers, water supply, drainage, power supply and waste disposal is suffering from “significant deficiencies.” Our tap-water is unclean, only 70% of the population is serviced by 130kms of sewers that are mostly wrecked and choked, there are mountains of garbage in our landfills and hillocks of the same on every street, and the Yamuna, our main source of water, is so polluted that we are, to put it mildly, defecating on ourselves.

While the responsibility for the failures of anticipatory planning and coordination between infrastructure systems comes to rest soundly in DDA’s lap, it cannot lay claim to any of the city’s meagre success stories. The privatisation of electricity distribution has brought some light into our lives but, no thanks to the DDA, bad physical and social planning has bred inefficiency and waste in our uses of energy and made us chronically unable to curtail the demand for a spiralling quantum at a time when the supply scenario is tenuous at best. The Delhi Metro promises to save public transportation from complete breakdown and rather than work out how it can be efficiently interlinked with other forms of transport, the DDA opportunistically appropriates the achievement and calls it the spine for future redevelopment, a mere acknowledgement of the inevitable. Even the in-your-face streamlining of vehicular movement and extravagant widening of roads and highways by other agencies will be too little too late, as the DDA’s planning for transportation has yet to go beyond development controls for bus-stations and public toilets. The construction of flyovers might be a thrill for the DDA—like boys discovering that paper-planes fly—but we are still only dealing with a backlog of traffic volumes.

It should worry the citizens of Delhi that when we desperately need innovation, MPD2021 is only a compendium of numbers —not a result of in-house research but borrowed from other agencies—and DDA’s infrastructure planning is thumb-rule calculation of built-up areas required for pump houses, transformer rooms, sewage treatment plants and garbage dhalaos. This reluctance to get real has now assumed pathological proportions, because the sole articulation of a sensible urban lifestyle in MPD2021 is a passing paragraph on Zero-fossil Energy Development (ZED), which finds scant reflection in the remaining document. Such shoddiness gives credence to the observation that MPD2021 is a rehashing of previous documents, has been compiled by clerks and displays the abject lack of intelligence that characterises an agency too busy lining its own pockets to find time to do their job or to learn to grasp the full import of ideas. The description of ZED appears to have been quoted from another source, unnoticed by the esteemed planners on DDA’s panel. It should serve the public well to know that such complacency might cost them dearly when prevalent forms of life become unsustainable and a possible future is hidden away under a vestigial subheading: “Zero-fossil Energy Development … envisages an urban form and design of passive building envelope that reduce the demand for power to the point where it becomes economically viable to use energy from renewable resources….The city geometry, restructuring and zoning with self-contained neighbourhoods could minimise the need to travel and substantial saving of recurring energy/fuel consumption. Integrated mass transport system, traffic and transit operation and management, better telecommunications, promoting bicycles and NMV transport, is another major area of energy efficient habitat. The introduction of energy audit and design of energy efficient buildings by site planning, heights, form, construction and materials and reducing energy demand by passive micro-climatic design approach, intelligent energy controls, heat recovery, landscape, opening design, furnishings, etc., are the critical considerations. The key to future is a cybernetic form of sustainable energy, which integrates symbosis [sic], recycling and energy chains.”

MPD2021 does not satisfy its own radical premise. Rather than being the means of embedding an alternative lifestyle into the fabric of the city—through innovative interventions in settlement design, building construction, modes of transport, and management systems—the DDA has reduced the task of infrastructure planning to the dredging of sewers and the filling of reservoirs from unknown sources. As is already evident, Delhi is completely dependent on the NCR and evermore remote locations for its water, air and electricity. What Delhi is contributing in return is staggering amounts of waste. It is time that this form of rapacious development is checked. But left to the DDA, we will have neither change nor solution.

(The writer is Director, Urban Futures Initiative)





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