Planning a Future that was Yesterday
Jagan Shah


Whoever said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions must have been thinking of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which would “make Delhi a global metropolis and a world-class city, where all the people are engaged in productive work with a decent standard of living and quality of life in a sustainable environment” but, alas, could not imagine the means by which such future can be secured.

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. The DDA has the dubious reputation of being one of the most corrupt organizations in the world, probably because it is also the largest real-estate developer in the world, and the agency that has failed to stem the burgeoning chaos that plagues the capital city despite—one might even suggest, because of—two previous master plans dated 1962 and 2001.

Presiding Over Horror

Burdened with responsibilities that it is unable to shoulder, the DDA has happily presided over the un/making of our present: a vast fragmented metropolis where rich and poor are divided by concrete and barbed wire and the homeless abound on every street, a lawless city where women, children and the old must fear for their lives and the law-abiding citizen withdraws from civic life, a corrupt city where lives are traded for a buck and public goods are sold to the lowest bidder, a sick city where the sewers are too few and too full, and the water is polluted, where the air is rent with the noise of clamoring self-interest and the ground is beaten by the soles of the numerous unemployed, a defaced city where the past can be cheaply erased and the future cheaply bought, and a city on the brink of disaster, where homes and workplaces can burn like tinder and collapse like a pack of cards.

The transformation of this misbegotten present into a happy and sustainable future requires a Herculean effort, beginning with the comprehension of what it means to create a democratic city, where the needs of the individual are in consonance with the common weal. The Master Plan needs to be a lean document that expresses the public’s desire for an equitable and sustainable future and the aspiration of a society that can nurture and avail in all respects of the best talents, the best products and the most worthy ideals that the world has to offer, that takes stock of the means available and budgets their use in an anticipatory manner, and that sets clear targets to be achieved by relevant agencies.

In lieu of fresh ideas to deal with a new world, a broadness of vision and a holistic understanding of modern life, the DDA constantly withdraws into familiar territory, trying to control the future rather than to facilitate its becoming. Rather than learn lessons from the single success of planning and implementation that Delhi can boasts of today—the Delhi Metro—our premier planning agency snatches at the opportunity to claim that everyone’s favourite success story will become the backbone for the redevelopment of the whole city. With typical bureaucratic fervour, it wants to ride on the efforts of others, rather than internalise the lessons of the Metro: that a leader with an able organization of workers can achieve great things if they are given the freedom and the wherewithal. The Delhi Government has facilitated the work, the work has been done by the metro people, but the DDA wants to reap the profits.

End of Imagination (to quote a phrase)

Faced with a primarily intellectual challenge—how to anticipate to future—the DDA finds itself crippled by lack of imagination, a chronic condition that afflicts most State-supported establishments in India. Not surprisingly, given the daunting nature of the scene in 2021 for which the MPD is meant:

Delhi in 2021 will have 23 million inhabitants living on 1483 square kilometres that comprise the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT). The NCT (read Delhi) will be ensconced within a National Capital Region (NCR) which covers either 33,578 sqkm or 30,242 sqkm (the website of the National Capital Region Planning Board states both figures, vaguely ascribing the difference to “the remaining five tehsils of Alwar”). To support this population, we will need 1150 million gallons per day of safe potable water (we presently have only around 650); will need to somehow deal with 920 million gallons per day of raw sewerage, where we presently have capacity for 512; will need to find the supply of 6448 megawatts of electricity (were we presently have about 2352); and will have to deal with 10207 tons per day of solid waste (where we are only able to deal with about 5543 today). We are already suffering from infrastructure problems that the DDA coyly admits “could become a cause of crisis.” We will need to build around 10 lakh new houses, whereas we are already short of 1 lakh houses, and more than half of these will be “small dwelling units” for the poor, whose needs the DDA has completely disregarded for the last five decades in its incessant bid to serve the rich. We have over 1 million literate unemployed people and the number is fast growing. Our roads might still be choked with personal vehicles that serve only 20% of our population while the remaining 80% will continue to depend on public transport. Even the Metro will only serve about 15% of the city’s area when complete and we are only beginning to link it with other modes of transport. As if this was not enough, we have to try and preserve the over 1500 monuments that are not even officially listed yet, as well as design a strategy for making buildings that are sustainable as well as meet the demanding aesthetic standards of a globally aware society.

Anti-migration, Anti-poor

The DDA’s response to this continuum of crisis 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 wishes to overlook with the new strategy of promoting mixed land use. The plan document is a litany of regulations and development controls—how much area you can build to what height and with how many parking spaces, stuff that is more relevantly stated in the building bye-laws—and insidious clues to how the propertied class can further augment their wealth. It calls this statement of prohibition “an elaborate set of do’s and don’ts” whereas it ought to be a statement of what can be done, how the citizenry of Delhi can build the tantalizing future that beckons us. Thus it reacts in a pathological way—displaying the anxiety of a schoolboy sitting unprepared for an exam—by wanting more laws and regulations. In the process, it further deepens the already entrenched system of arbitrariness of rules and grants discretionary powers to government officials (mostly within the DDA) at every step. The DDA would build a world class city with Aurangzeb-like medievalism and mediocrity.

In fact, the only ‘people’ who find mention in this document are those who the guidelines provided to the DDA by the Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation refer to as “the poor people who migrate from the hinterland.” Neither the Ministry nor the DDA can muster up enough respect and dignity to recognize that it has always been the migrants who infuse the city with new creative energy and maintain the momentum of growth. Rather than devise a plan that would harness their energies and incorporate them as productive citizens, the DDA sticks to a paternalistic attitude towards citizens in general. The brunt of its condescension is borne by the majority of the city’s population, the urban poor and the law-abiding working class and the plan’s success is made a condition of their “will and willingness to adhere to discipline in the use of land, roads, public space and infrastructure.”

The entire Master Plan document is a grudging acceptance of the existence of those who live in crowded slums and ghettoes without public services, regardless of the fact that it is the DDA that has presided over the creation of these slums and colonies. Despite the fact that it is these people who do the cleaning, washing and other menial jobs that sustain our daily lives, and it is their communities that generate close to 2020 crores every year, they are clubbed together under such inane euphemisms as “small enterprises”, “petty trading activities”, “unorganized trading activity”, and “informal sector units.”

Perhaps it is this institutionalised mean-mindedness that continues to drive our most productive populations to the suburban townships around Delhi, and we might find that Delhi becomes a suburb of the NCR rather than the other way around. Gurgaon’s and NOIDA’s gain is Delhi’s loss. While the DDA’s lack of imagination is driving away the educated elite, the city continues to attract lakhs of poor migrants seeking a better life. Rather than absorb them into a society and a space that had done so for centuries before the DDA arrived, and was always the richer for it, the DDA’s Delhi will only shun them and dehumanise them.

The DDA notes the Ministry’s guideline that “affordable housing has to be brought within the reach of economically weaker sections and of new migrants to the capital” but disregards the real economics of shelter. It is shocking that, when Indian society is abuzz with the issues of economic self-reliance and global economic leadership, the plan is devoid of hard cost calculations. Instead, the DDA peppers the document with vague references to enhancing ‘Public Private Partnership’, thereby making room for its infamous bedfellow, the real estate mafia. MPD2021 is not a plan but an elaborate smokescreen to hide the illicit partnerships that have made DDA richer and the city poorer.

Blind Envisioning

There is no sense of urgency and purpose to MPD2021, only endless projections of data as stand-ins for the future. It is a declaration of good intentions that carries no conviction and no expression of the deep changes required to respond to Delhi’s emergence “as an international centre of education, health care, tourism, sports and business.” That the DDA is unable to grasp the import of such dramatic changes as the “liberalization of the economy, entry of multinational companies in the consumer sector, improved telecommunication system, increased per capita income and the purchasing power of the people” is evident in its blatantly regressive intention to eliminate all “new major economic activities, which may result in the generation of large scale employment related inflows.” It intends to “promote hi-tech and low-volume–high-value-added industries” and to “encourage modernization and technological upgradation of existing industries required for day-to-day needs of the people of the city” but will do so by building more district centres and community centres and by systematically selling off all industrial lands to hoteliers and commercial developers under the garb of ridding the city of polluting industry. Instead of preserving Delhi’s heritage by molding the new city around it, the master plan favors “blending [heritage] with the new and complex modern patterns of development,” suggesting that our monuments will become mere embellishments for ubiquitously flashy urbanism. Heritage conservation is supposed to work “within a framework of sustainable development, public-private and community participation and a spirit of ownership and belonging among its citizens” but there is no acknowledgement of the clique-ism, opportunistic connoisseurship and rapacious tourism-development that has deprived the citizens of immediate access to their heritage.

Disregarding the Ministry’s demand for “complete coordination” between the different stakeholders of the plan, the DDA serves up over 180 pages of stale text—“which seem to have been photocopied from earlier plans and put together by some junior engineer,” as Delhi’s former LG Mr. Vijay Kapoor informed the audience at a seminar on the subject recently—produced by twelve subgroups whose reports form the bulk of eighteen dull and uncoordinated, repetitive and uninspiring chapters. It is a cause for worry that the group of around 200 bureaucrats, politicians, DDA officials and “experts” that formed the DDA’s unworthy think-tank did not hesitate to put their names to the shameless acknowledgements of past failure, the mind-numbing convolutions of logic and the disgusting admissions of hapless ineptitude that mark every page of this co-called plan. Alibis for failure are embedded in the plan, as the responsibility for implementation of any of the plan’s recommendations almost never rests with the DDA itself but with other agencies of the Delhi Government.

Left Hand Oblivious of the Right

It is ironic to find that the DDA seems to function in a void and in isolation from clearer minds in its allied organizations. Where it might be expected that there is a sharing of ideas between the DDA, which is planning for Delhi, and the Planning Board for the NCR, it is obviously the latter who might have greater know-how in this field. The clarity with which the master planning exercise can be described is amply demonstrated in a recent advertisement (16th May 2005) posted in the national dailies by the Urban Development Department of the Government of Rajasthan in association with the National Capital Region Planning Board. The advertisement calls for consultancy services for the development of “a global city”:

“The objective of developing the New Town is to attract investment in the State by developing city infrastructure and facilities at par with international standards to meet the investor’s perception and requirements.
Consultants are required to develop detailed “Strategy and Action Plan” [to] cover all aspects of planning, development, financing, phasing, marketing & management along with institutional, financial, legal and administrative mechanism (including corporate organisation structure) for implementation of the new town. The strategy should essentially ensure techno-commercial success of the new town and highlight solutions to all impediments in implementation of the strategy.
The strategy and action plan should be based on benchmark studies of the world class business cities, with reference to their infrastructure and facility standards… should consider making the proposed new town, an intelligent city by providing IT based services on different public interfaces…[and] would also include providing IT enabled services for different sectors like industry and trade, education, health, etc. The strategy needs to bring out possible configuration of each cluster city eg. IT city, Bio-tech City, Trade City, Dry Port City, SEZ, Entertainment City etc. to make it self-sustainable. Options available for water supply, power and other infrastructure required for sustaining the new town should be evaluated in respect of all sub components, and suggest suitable strategy for the new town. The strategy should also work out the cost of development of the proposed new town with possible financial mechanism for all components of new town development with particular reference to alternative models of public, private and joint sector partnership and appropriate institutional framework.”

If the DDA is judged by the same consultancy requirements that are advertised by its associated agency—it is, in effect, a consultant preparing the Master Plan for ‘a global city’ Delhi—then MPD2021 would not pass muster. Maybe the Ministry of Urban development and Poverty Alleviation, if it wishes to be true to its own name, ought to state the needs and the standards expected with the same clarity. Otherwise, it ought to consider appointing a different consultant, who can produce a lean and mean document supported by capable agencies and efficient processes that can ensure its timely and total implementation. Unable to imagine a capital city for 21st century India, the DDA produces a tome that reveals its encyclopaedic ineptitude. Behind the flimsy slogan of “world class city” hides an inability to grasp the problem itself.

Dim Prospects

By the year for which this master plan is intended, India will be an urban nation, whose capital city will have to represent all the vitality and beauty that such a society will hopefully create: the generosity of spirit and the affluence of ideas, the respect for the world and consideration for every human being, and the desire to make a beautiful and peaceful world where every individual can reap the fruits of democracy. In an urban future, the nation will be its cities, and such cities must be created with a clear sense of purpose.

Only a confused agency can even consider the negative option that it poses oh-so-cleverly: “The choice is between either taking a road to indiscriminate uncontrolled development and slide towards chaos or a movement towards making Delhi a world-class city, if handled with vision and care.” If the future of Delhi is decided by the DDA, it looks like we’ll be sliding towards chaos.

(The writer is an architect, historian and Director, Urban Futures Initiative)





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