Cities are indicators of how well governance
is functioning; going by their current state in India, the answer
is, not too well. The completely cynical manner in which urban planning
evolves and is implemented is well demonstrated in the case of Gurgaon
where developers promised a garden city, a global
city a city of dreams, the Millennium city.
New Gurgaon could have been developed as a model city of the future.
The timing was so appropriate, all the advantages were there: this
was the first post-liberalization development with multinationals
and large corporates queuing up to buy in; developers cornered hundreds
of acres of unencumbered land to realize a coherent vision; financial
backing was amply available and there was a boom in property values;
the examples of and lessons from Delhi and other failing metropolii
of what to do and what not to do were at hand. This could have been
Indias first truly modern planned city, reflecting its best
minds, its best talent.
But where is the modern vision? The idea of a modern
city lies, not in the creation of ugly tall buildings or mall
crawling; it is reflected in the quality of life, the lifestyles
it makes available, and in the heightened awareness of its citizens,
planners and administrators. Gurgaons creation occurred in
an age where, the world over, awareness of lifestyles and their
relation to the environment had long percolated the sensibilities
of even the most ill-informed. Yet, what we have is a vast complex
of structures that are nothing but energy guzzlers, using materials
gigantic quantities of steel and glass that consume
enormous energy throughout processes of manufacture and construction,
and also after they have been transformed into buildings
for lighting, cooling and maintenance contributing substantially
to greenhouse gas emissions and consequent climate change. Most
such buildings not just commercial, but also large residential
complexes operate with oil-guzzling 100 per cent captive
power plants, and have added enormously to the air-pollution load.
And if more evidence of the failure of the modern
vision was needed, it is provided by the collapse of planning that
has created enormous demands for public goods and services, with
no attention to fulfilling these. There are already acute shortages
of electricity, and a widening gap between demand and supply, as
annual consumption increases at 17 per cent, while supply crawls
up at just only 5 to 7 per cent. The insidious corruption of the
planning process has resulted in the rampant commercialization of
residential colonies, overrunning some of the most prestigious housing
clusters in the new city. Among the very many serious problems they
create, these illegal commercial establishments place additional
pressures on power reserves. The result is that many areas end up
suffering power cuts that sometimes stretch up to 15 hours.
Then there is the acute water crisis. Reports indicate that the
water table is going down at the rate of one metre each year, and
has already dropped to 160 metres or even lower in some areas. If
the situation is not remedied, the fast-developing city will lose
all ground-water reserves in the next ten years. But New Gurgaon
remains dependent on ground-water, because piped water supply is
And public transport is almost non-existent. The residents of New
Gurgaon were grateful when the District Adminstraton started plying
just two Haryana Roadways buses on intra-city routes
sometime early this June!
Private hospitals in New Gurgaon have to depend mostly on blood
banks in Delhi. Ferrying blood from Delhi takes nearly two hours.
With a majority of residential buildings still unoccupied and vast
areas of planned development still unbuilt, the narrow and grossly
inadequate road infrastructure is already choked with vehicles, and
traffic jams are endemic.
With hundreds of high-rise buildings, New Gurgaon still lacks basic
fire-fighting equipment to tackle a blaze above four stories (it depends,
for this, on a single 30-foot manual extension ladder).
And finally, spiraling crime and the collapse of the security infrastructure:
in 2004 the police registered 1,481 cases of crime; in 2005, by April
16, they had already recorded 1,704 cases. The ideal city
is now increasingly paralyzed with fear, and Resident Welfare Associations
are laying down regulations for locking up colonies and restricting
access. Thefts in posh apartments and plush housing colonies have
become routine and distressed residents are left with little recourse
but to point an accusing finger at those euphemistically known as
migrants (everyone in New Gurgaon, outside the original
population of surviving urban villages is, in fact, a migrant)
the poor migrant labour. There is an increasing clamour to
cleanse the city of these workers, and a strong belief
that all crime will come to a halt with their eviction. But these
migrants have been brought here to turn the construction boom into
a reality, and to provide the myriad commercial and domestic services
that the people in their up-market apartments and homes need and take
for granted. Once again, the politics of planning and the greed of
the builder lobby made no provisions for these people and the essential
services they provide, and they have no option but to cluster in the
congested urban villages in the area.
We are nowhere close to creating, or becoming citizens of, a modern
city, nowhere near creating a new urban culture. The most distressing
signs of the narrow cliques, the myopic self-interests of the rich,
and the sheer cultural backwardness of the perspectives on which the
city was planned, were visible in the aftermath of a fire in one urban
village a slum cluster in the Sikanderpur village in
April this year. The fire totally lay to waste the entire slum colony
and five people died. Yet most media reports only reflected the ire
of residents of the neighbouring DLF colony, with one report declaring
that the blaze not only shook the confidence of Millennium city
residents but also left them wondering how secure their lives were.
After a spate of robberies, this was another blow for the residents.
And so, the structures of the city are polarized into us
and them, the ghettos of the rich and the ghettos of the
poor. Today the residents of these affluent colonies are urgently
demanding that the police deport all migrants and Bangladeshi
nationals, and clean out all the urban villages of the city.
New Gurgaon was the selling of a lifestyle which fed into the lowest;
it lacked the courage and the vision not to pander to the vulgar,
and was unable to create a new culture of the city. Instead,
what was given to the people was a mindless imitation of the urban
culture of the West, but, again, not the best the West had to offer,
but the tackiest worst, selling to the so-called elite
a lifestyle that only those who had no choice in the West adopted.
Suddenly, the apartment culture was the only way to live,
as the rich bought into the romanticized lifestyles of the developers
As it stands today, the new city is plagued by all the ills that
visit any other city of India. The green city is a concrete
jungle, its essential character manifest in garish, unsightly buildings,
mere blots on the landscape. Malls, multistoreyed corporate office
and residential structures, all appear to reflect the vision of
a troglodyte gone mad. Within little over a decade, the dream of
the Millennium city seems to have disintegrated.
Published in The Pioneer,
June 30, 2005
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