Plumbing the depths of inadequacy(Unabridged)
Jagan Shah

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has taken fifty years of so-called ‘planning efforts’ to realize that a city survives on the basis of infrastructure, on the quantum and condition of its roads, sewers, supply lines and disposal systems. On all fronts, the only function that has been served by their preparation of MPD2021 has been a comprehensive realization of an ecological and systemic crisis. 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.

But the DDA, while recognizing that “availability of, and accessibility to basic infrastructure facilities [is] a key issue related to the sustainable development of Delhi, and a minimum quality and standard of living,” quickly passes the buck to the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) which, it advises, “should prepare a detailed and integrated plan in coordination with concerned authorities, NGOs and community groups.” If such a plan still awaits preparation and if it is the GNCTD that should prepare it, then what exactly is the purpose of DDA’s Master Plan for Delhi 2021?

Reluctant to take responsibility for their failures, the DDA dedicate most of their chapter on “Physical Infrastructure” to the presentation of data extracted from “Perspective Plans of Physical Infrastructure” submitted by various agencies and departments of GNCTD: a ‘plan’ for water supply by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB); sewerage, also by the DJB; power, by Delhi Transco Limited; and solid waste, by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). The fact that the responsibility for planning the future is returned to the hands of the very agencies who have sat by while “significant deficiencies” have developed in our infrastructure is a cause for worry. The privatization of electricity distribution and the proposed privatization of generation will most likely be able to streamline the electricity scenario, but DDA cannot lay claims to that success. Collusion between its remaining cohorts, all of whom have a vested monetary interest in the outcome of the planning exercise, cannot meet the standards of transparency and due process that would be expected of a workable master plan. The whole exercise of MPD2021 cries out for independent review.

(Mis)Understanding Needs

The most dangerous—for the public good—aspect of DDA’s disastrous infrastructure ‘plan’ is their failure to comprehend the complexity of the task itself. As if transportation systems are defined by cars and buses rather than the roads they run on, the DDA dedicates a separate chapter to them, creating a basic flaw in the overall logic of the master plan. You cannot talk about managing drainage without considering roads; garbage disposal cannot be addressed without considering how garbage trucks can move through the city at the right time (presently, trucks carry their foul loads through the city uncannily timed with the morning rush-hour); and the entire sewerage system works on the calculation of levels that are also determined by the construction of roads and built-up areas.

In order to deal with the infrastructural problems of Delhi, the DDA will first have to find ways to understand those problems, which means that they will have to master the very notions of complexity and holistic thinking. Given that very little has really been achieved beyond piecemeal development and intermittent management of crises, the prospects of planning for 2021 have assumed a staggering scale. If the task of coordinated design of infrastructure for Delhi, which is in shambles, is to be undertaken with a decent chance of success, it will entail the following:

A three-dimensional mapping of the whole city, which will reveal the mind-boggling interconnections and overlaps of natural features—hills, rivers, nallah’s, ponds & tanks, aquifers, forests, ravines—with man-made features like settlements, underground and over-ground building complexes, water tanks, communications towers, wells, waterworks, sewage treatment plants, biogas plants, composting sites and landfills, and all of these enmeshed in vast networks of water supply pipes, return waste water pipes, biogas lines, CNG gas pipelines, LPG gas pipelines, sewer pipes, electrical supply cables, distribution lines, roads, highways, railways and waterways. This much is simply the mapping of the infrastructure as such. To understand whether and how it works and to design it efficiently, the entire complex web will then have to be studied along with the users, which means that the DDA, or whichever agency is bold enough to undertake the task, will then have to overlay the movements of commuters, students, businessmen, shoppers, patients, travellers, suppliers, transporters, maintenance personnel and waste-disposers, and their distribution into pedestrian, cycle, car, bus, truck, rail, air, and even water traffic.

Given that the task of preparing a master plan is essentially one of understanding and managing complex information sets, the DDA’s failure to do this properly indicates gross illiteracy and incomprehension as well as profound ignorance. This is despite the fact that DDA has ostensibly used GIS (Geographical Information Systems) to prepare the MPD2021, for which, it claims, “a whopping budget of Rs. 350 lakh has been made available.” If, as the DDA claims, it has a dedicated Computer Aided Design (CAD) Centre and MPD2021 is fully computerised—although their land-use plan is filled-in with pencil colours—and if satellite imagery is being used to map Delhi, then it is unacceptable by any standards that the DDA has churned out such an inadequate master plan.

Transporting Utopia

On the transportation front, it is a widely known fact—and DDA does not need to draft a master plan to make us aware of it—that the growth in numbers of vehicles on the roads has far surpassed the capacity of our roads and public transport is inadequate, that there is indiscriminate misuse of roads for parking, encroachment and unloading and storage of goods, and that the scenario is only getting worse. But the statement of problems is quite apart from the treatment of rising “per capita trip rates” and the general growth in movement as a bad thing, rather than recognizing that, despite a good percentage of trips being frivolous, it indicates the growing prosperity and productivity of the city.

The DDA’s “strategy” for the future involves a multi-modal system combining road and rail systems and it plans to “explore other options and possibilities” like Light Rail/Tramway/Mono-rail systems, but inadequate thinking only allows it to state the obvious, that the Delhi Metro will become a lifeline for the city, even if “major dependence will continue to be on Bus Transport.” It wrongly criticizes the use of cycle-rickshaws because “unlimited and unrestricted use of this mode has a direct relationship with migration into the city and the phenomenon of JJ Clusters/Slums,” contradicting its own objective of finding non-polluting modes of transport, disregarding their vital contribution to meeting the needs of the existing city, and their indispensability in critical areas like the walled city.

The DDA claims that “the need of the hour” is to have a unified Metropolitan Transport Authority but doesn’t explain why, when it was first proposed in 1981—it must also have been “need of the hour” then—it is still to become a reality after two decades. It speaks about air transportation but only with respect to two airports, whereas several more are needed and are already proposed for the National Capital Region. It recognizes that 75% of the rail transport through Delhi is commuters but doesn’t ask why the 43 railway stations in the city are so inaccessible, even though almost a million people use them every day, that most of the local population doesn’t even know the Ring Railway exists. At the same time, the DDA does not hesitate to seize an opportunity for creating more buildings by suggesting “intensive land use” around the Anand Parbat, INA Colony, Pusa Institute and Kirti Nagar stations, without explaining the basis for selection. Perhaps it has its eyes on the large tracts of land lying unused around these stations, but the impact of intensive land use on the traffic situation in the surrounding areas does not seem to concern the DDA.

While it claims that “roads already occupy 21 percent of the total area of the city, which clearly limits the potential for increase in road length” (which is already over 30,000 kms), the DDA does not hesitate to make the “expansion and restructuring of the existing network through expressways, arterial roads, elevated distributors and relief roads” one of its prime objectives. The majority of transportation in 2021 is expected to be public transport, but the expansion of the road network is mostly based on the growth of private vehicles. This undisclosed bias is evident in other aspects like parking as well. The DDA refers to a report submitted to the Supreme Court by the Environment Pollutions (Preventive and Control) Authority, in which “it was suggested that the approach should be focused more on demand management (restricting vehicle numbers) through parking control and pricing rather than only on increasing of supply of parking in the face of growing demand,” but it does not hesitate to propose new parking lost everywhere and to even create provisions for enhanced parking in markets and housing. It is even willing to give extra FAR to private developers who build parking lots.

The most glaring oversight in MPD2021 is regarding the potential to use containerization as a system for creating an integrated and efficient system for movement of goods through the city. By force of habit, DDA allocates lands for the construction of “integrated freight complexes” and warehouses, but it fails to understand the importance of working out a complete system, from the arrival of cargo and freight by containers—which is increasingly becoming a universal system—to the delivery of the containers to warehouses and depots, to the transfer of containers to smaller transition points in the city or directly to markets, and the transfer of unloaded goods to other carriers. Although copious pages are devoted to markets, the movement of goods is essential to finding a solution to the problem of inefficiency in the system, where delivery of goods is constantly delayed and goods unable to reach destinations without damages. The DDA has not even begun to address the need for a curtailment of raw goods like fruits and vegetables, which create enormous amounts of garbage and are cumbersome to transport, through the promotion of processed foods and packaging. Instead, more fruits & vegetables markets are planned.

Unfinished Homework

MPD2021 is monumental proof of the DDA’s chronic inadequacy and reluctance to be efficient. There is discrepancy even in the standard assumptions used for calculation of requirements. For example, the DJB calculates the demand for potable water in 2021 @ 60 gpcd (gallons per capita per day) whereas the DDA calculates it @ 80 gpcd. The huge difference of 460MGD (million gallons per day) between the requirement of 1380 MGD projected by the DJB and 1840 MGD projected by DDA doesn’t seem to bother the authors of the master plan. Such unexplained differences abound, and we find the DJB claiming that the total sewage generated, calculated by DDA as 1012 MGD, “seems to be on the lower side” because—in keeping with standard logic—most of the water supplied, to the tune of 1840 MGD, regardless of whether it is potable or non-potable, will end up as waste water.

It reproduces parking norms stipulated in MPD-2001, which it has not bothered to modify, despite its own admission that “the norms themselves appear to be considerably on the lower side,” and “actual experience” shows that people do not stick to the norms and use public space indiscriminately for parking. The disturbing suggestion here is that all the “development controls” that the DDA has included in MPD2021, which occupy almost 25% of the document, have parking standards that are outdated and unworkable!

While the DDA is busy quoting figures and constructing an elaborate mirage of a future under control, the other agencies are not so sure. The DJB claims that the only relief from Delhi’s water scarcity lies in the construction of three dam projects: the Renuka Dam project in Himachal Pradesh, the Kishau Dam project on the River Tons in Uttaranchal, and the Lakhwar Vyasi dam on the River Yamuna, also in Uttaranchal. The progress on these projects is uncertain and cannot be relied upon. As for ground-water, “there is no further scope” for augmenting the supply of sub-surface water “due to lack of both quantity and quality”. The DJB claims that there is scope for pumping water from the banks of the Yamuna further downstream from Delhi in the NCR, but this is again conditional to the cooperation of the neighbouring states. Witnessing the rapid and uncontrolled depletion of ground water, it deems it necessary to control this resource and has even formulated a draft bill, the Delhi Water Board (Amendment) Act, and awaits its promulgation. What effect this will have on the streamlining of infrastructure management can only be surmised, but the DDA does not seem to be interested in the issue.

The DDA’s absolute incapability to meet the challenges of their work is best illustrated by the wastage of over 800crores that were sanctioned for the first phase of the Yamuna Action Plan to clean up the river, without, as noted by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office, anything being achieved. That its intentions for the river are neither clear nor for the greater public good is easily demonstrated by their wishy-washy acceptance of “the need to improve the quality of river-water, to secure its continuous flow and to encourage the return of aquatic life,” which needs improvement of drainage, waste water treatment and pollution abatement, while at the same time pushing its Redevelopment Plan for the Yamuna, a secretive operation that is already resulting in unpredictable development of the river bed on either bank. If they are committed to cleaning up the river, they are certainly reluctant to act on it.

On the issue of solid waste management, figures are being thrown about and needs projected, when in fact “the garbage from unauthorized developments, slums, JJ settlements, etc is not collected”; which presents the shocking proposition that half of the garbage production in this city is unaccounted for. How can the projections for the next two decades be made without finding out this quantity? The complacency about waste disposal is shocking considering DDA’s own admission that “finding new sanitary landfill sites in Delhi is becoming extremely difficult.” Yet it still finds it necessary to list 16 landfills that are already exhausted with 4 others that are in operation at present and only 4 more that have been identified but not confirmed.

The “grossly inadequate” sewerage system in Delhi, which provides proper coverage only to 55% of the population, is another cause for grave worry. But the DDA disregards this even in critical areas like the walled city, which it has targeted for densification through the policy of mixed land-use, despite the DJB’s observation that “new sewerage lines can not be laid and the existing sewer lines have to be desilted and rehabilitated.” The 28 trunk sewers of the city, 130 kms in length, and the 6000 kms of peripheral and internal sewers, are mostly 40-60 years old and in dire need of rehabilitation.

In the appendices to the master Plan, there is a letter to DDA from DJB, dated 11th June 2004, stating that the storm water drainage system is “woefully outdated” and its inadequacy (as every citizen of Delhi knows well) “is highlighted every year during rains.” The DJB claims that the DDA has not bothered to finalize “run off norms” for the city. This is crucial in order to manage drainage because the flow of water in the drains work is controlled by gravity, which means that the levels of drains, roads, building sites and pavements are of critical importance. The DJB notes that the last Master Plan for storm water drainage in Delhi was prepared in 1976 for urbanization limits upto the year 1981, and a revised master plan for storm water drainage “needs to be prepared immediately” but the DDA completely disregards this matter in MPD2021.

The DDA’s attention is as usual on building more sewage treatment plants (STP’s), pumping stations and common effluent treatment plants and its answer to sustainable use of water is to introduce a dual supply of treated water and potable water to every home, regardless of the scale of operations entailed. As if Delhi can wait till alternatives are found, the DDA even directs the DJB to “explore the possibility of reclamation of sewage water” on the lines of a Singapore-based company by going through a pilot project of 6 MGD at the Okhla STP and hopes that “if it is found techo-economically feasible”, then large-scale reclamation of sewage water can be taken up in phases.

If the DDA bothered to do its homework well, MPD2021 could in fact be a success, but that is a tall order for our mediocre agency. Even the scanty references to successful experiments find marginal space in the document, whereas they could have been forcefully promoted. A glaring example of this is found in a barely noticeable passage about the 1440 Lacs cubic feet of Bio-Gas which was generated from the Okhla Sewage Treatment Plant and was supplied to residents having sewage gas connection in adjacent colonies. Revenue of Rs. 32,00,000 was collected. Bio-Gas Engines at the new sewage treatment plants in Rithala were commissioned in September 2002 to generate electricity for operating the plants and were able to effect a saving of Rs. 35,00,000 per month in the electricity bill. Despite being successful experiments in an alternative and by-product fuel-source, these do not become integral to the master plan.

Radical Lifestyles

Finding alternatives to existing wasteful systems is the only option for the future. This requires a complete rethinking of paradigms and a shift towards a new style of urban living that can be sustainable, because the style that is being followed today is patently unsustainable. Throughout MPD2021, DDA has inserted vignettes of wisdom obviously borrowed plagiarized from other reports and studies because they bear no resemblance to the stated objectives or the strategies ostensibly being adopted for planning the future of Delhi. Almost every aspect of infrastructure requires radical changes in lifestyle, but DDA is only able to state the changes, not to plan for them.

It is now widely accepted wisdom in all countries of the world that the answer does not lie in endlessly enhancing the capacity for waste disposal but instead on finding effective strategies for a drastic reduction of waste (eg. over 15% of domestic water supply is wasted). The DDA is aware of this fact, but rather than make it a core issue in its strategy for infrastructure, it once again innocuously states the obvious in the context of landfills: “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.” It neither explains nor substantiates this observation with specific provisions, which actually require a complete change in Delhi’s lifestyle. A similar fate will emerge from such vagueness as suffered by the colour-coded waste bins that MCD and NDMC have been placing on our footpaths to promote recycling, without a comprehensive public information campaign. Most of these bins have lost their lids, are perpetually tipped over or have simply been whisked away by enterprising recyclers of plastic waste!

Many of he radical changes are required in the way that human habitation is planned and constructed. The DDA does not even touch the issue of wastefully manufactured building materials and inefficient construction processes, but even the few tactical changes it suggests have not been adequately tested. It speaks of ‘zero run-off drainage’, a system where all water that falls to the ground must be captured and allowed to filter into the ground in order to recharge groundwater. But its suggestion of “retention ponds, sediments traps and balancing lakes” and the expectation that “porous/semi permeable paving” are unlikely to find any takers simply because builders will not sacrifice their land for such uses and would rather find ways to commercially exploit every square inch of their plots, something that, ironically, the DDA is itself encouraging them to do with its mixed-use redevelopment policy. In sum, the DDA’s naïve thinking will amount to nothing, and its proposals that “a green network overlapping the blue network would protect the ecology of aquifers and also provide a pleasant environment” will remain what they are: romantic daydreams.

There are suggestions that have a direct cost implication and are thus least likely to succeed. “All non-residential buildings having a discharge of over 10,000 litres a day should incorporate a wastewater recycling system,” and “for all establishments with floor area of more than 300 sqm, solar energy should be mandatory.” There should be “compulsory solar panels for public advertising, lighting in open areas, public utilities, streets, etc.” and a “mandatory stipulation of water saving/waterless flushing system in the Building Bye-laws.” The most expensive item that forms the mainstay of water-conservation in MPD2021, is the “dual pipe system”, which “has to be introduced in a phased manner in all the areas.” In this system, wastewater from bathrooms is collected in a storage tank and pumped to separate overhead storage tank and then connect to cisterns in the toilets. New areas will have one pipe for washing, water coolers and garden taps and the second for supplying potable water. Given that the GNCTD is unable to raise the water charges sufficiently nor to stem the wastage and theft of water is evidence enough that we are far from being able to effect fundamental changes in thinking.

The final point of its strategy—“Public awareness, capacity building and training”—needs to be the first. But DDA will only be able to succeed at this endeavor (if it ever begins) if it is able to demonstrate that its intentions are for the common good, and will have to take exhibit its awareness and concern through every word and page of MPD2021. How far it is from this goal can be seen in the casual manner in which it mentions that Delhi should have a “barrier free environment” where pavements are flat and “free from unnecessary obstacles” and where “orientation points and guide routes may be provided for usually disabled people,” as if even a miniscule percent of this provision exists on the streets of Delhi. Its callousness is clear when it writes that “information and warning signs must be understandable, clear and well lit,” when a good percentage of the disabled population is blind!

Blind Futurism

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. 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.

Yet the DDA is aware that a vision for the future exists, that it can be articulated in terms that we understand today. That it is aware of the possibilities but does so little to make them work is, as it were, adding insult to injury. Having borrowed liberally from other documents, some unsuspecting clerk or junior engineer in DDA also inserted a passage with the subtitle “Zero-fossil Energy Development (ZED)”, which spells out a complete ecological lifestyle and system for the sustainable use of resources. It is tragic that the description of ZED will remain an unrealized vision, and a source of mild amusement to those who will read it and discover the widening gulf between our present and the future that can be but is unlikely, in the hands of the Delhi Development Authority.

“The concept of energy efficiency should begin with 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 to the point where it becomes economically viable to use energy from renewable resources. This involves 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. The city geometry, restructuring and zoning with self-contained neighbourhoods could minimize the need to travel and substantial saving of recurring energy/fuel consumption. Integrated mass transport system, traffic and transit operation and management, better tele-communications, 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 symbiosis, recycling and energy chains.”





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