A Master Plan for Failure
Chitvan Gill & Jagan Shah


Delhi’s Master Plan has to be able to imagine and construct a capital city for 21st Century India. But MPD 2021 speaks of “limited scope… for pure new urbanisation”. MPD 2021 reflects utter intellectual and imaginative bankruptcy, and it must be urgently understood that the city’s future cannot be left in DDA’s hands. Delhi will have to be re-imagined again.

Delhi is fortunate to have a legislative instrument called the Master Plan, which determines the quality of our collective urban future; but it is unfortunate that the authority to frame that document rests solely with the DDA, which has the dubious distinction of being one of the most corrupt and inefficient organizations in the world, and is the agency that has created the enveloping chaos that plagues the capital city.

Burdened with responsibilities it is incapable of shouldering, DDA has presided over the unmaking of our present, a process MPD 2021 consolidates endlessly. The Master Plan’s ‘Vision’ of Delhi’s future is tucked away into a single, altogether banal, paragraph in this voluminous document, which articulates an unfounded aspiration to transform Delhi into a ‘world class city’, without the slightest idea about what this would entail.

A Master Plan must first conceptualize the city’s future, then cover all aspects of its planning, development, financing, phasing and management, along with institutional, financial, legal and administrative mechanisms for the realization of this future. If it is to create a ‘world class city’, it must be based on benchmark studies of infrastructure and facility standards in such cities. But MPD 2021 has its sights fixed firmly on a set of reverse calculations: population projections define demands for particular inputs; the Master Plan projects some numbers on these, and then articulates the hope that they will be variously met. But alibis for failure are already embedded in the proviso that the success of the plan depends on “the people” and their “will and willingness to adhere to discipline in the use of land, roads, public space and infrastructure.” The DDA, obviously, has little accountability in the event of failure.

A snapshot of the scenario that MPD2021 is meant to address: 23 million inhabitants living on 1,483 square kilometres of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi will need 1,150 million gallons per day of safe potable water – present supply, about 650; 920 million gallons per day of raw sewerage processing – present capacity, 512; electricity demand 6,448 megawatts – present supply 2,352; solid waste processing, 10,207 tons per day – present capacity 5,543. We are already suffering from infrastructure shortages that even DDA is forced to admit “could become a cause of crisis.”

MPD 2021’s response is basically a land-use plan – a colour coded map of the city demarcating how land should be used – pursuing a zoning strategy that the DDA itself is trying to dismantle under its new strategy of promoting mixed land use. Disregarding the Urban Development Ministry’s demand for ‘complete coordination’ between stakeholders, the DDA serves up 180 pages of stale text which cannot even scratch the surface of the problem, but has the air of desperate firefighting. This is not a plan, it is the faltering management of an inevitable disaster.

Managing a city is about managing its businesses. MPD 2021 recognizes the enormous impact and opportunities of liberalization and globalization; but its response is: “no new major economic activities, which may result in the generation of large scale employment related inflows.” The Master Plan puts its faith in exclusionary tactics that it feebly hopes will deflect people to the surrounding National Capital Region (NCR), leaving a sanitised city for politicians, bureaucrats and the super rich.

What it promises to become is, in fact, a city of slums, of enveloping chaos and of the cumulative breakdown of infrastructure that has already nudged multinationals, large corporations, productive young minds and lucrative tax-payers into Gurgaon and other parts of the NCR

MPD 2021 opportunistically snatches at the Delhi Metro, to claim that the whole city will be redeveloped around it; but it fails to learn the lesson that the Metro has taught us: that a leader with an able organization of workers can achieve great things if they are given the freedom and the wherewithal. The DDA, by contrast, is trying to build a ‘world class city’ through medievalism and mediocrity, through “an elaborate set of do’s and don’ts”

The flimsy slogan of “world class city” masks a profound inability to grasp the problem itself. We are hurtling, today, into what is quintessentially an ‘urban age’. The future of nations depends overwhelmingly on how they shape their cities, their urban futures. Great cities need great minds to conceive them, to imagine and design them; great people to construct them. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has none of these.

(The writers are Convenor and Director, respectively, Urban Futures Initiative)

An edited version of this article was published in The Pioneer, May 25, 2005





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