Even as the union ministry of home affairs and UT administration grapple with a master plan for the City Once Beautiful, residents of Chandigarh remain in a pitched battle with daily urban chaos.
Census 2011 has underlined that Chandigarh has outgrown itself. It is now the second most densely populated region in India, after Delhi, with a density of 9,252 persons per sq km. In vehicle density, Chandigarh is ahead of Delhi, second only to Gurgaon.
To cite its effect, consider that barely five years ago it used to take 15 minutes from Sector 16 to the airport, but now takes 30 to 45.
And that’s just a layman’s example. The chaos is more complicated.
Bumper to bumper
During working hours, parking lots are choked and roads suffer the spillage. The ‘green’ area on the eastern flank of the main road from Matka Chowk to the high court is now an ugly parking lot. Negotiating a roundabout during peak traffic can be excruciating, fraught with risk to life, limb and vehicle. Why?
Historically, the development of Chandigarh was envisaged in phases — the first from Sectors 1-30 with a projected population of 1.5 lakh, and the second for Sectors 31-47 for 3.5 lakh people.
To keep it free from pressures, the Capital of Punjab (Periphery Control) Act was enacted in 1952 and a zone of 8km around the city was delineated. In 1962, this was extended to 16km to: (i) check expansion of city beyond planned size, (ii) prevent speculation of land, and (iii) provide green environs.
This periphery covers 1,162 sq km — Punjab (837 sq km), Haryana (289 sq km) and the Chandigarh UT (36 sq km).
Ironically, in the name of planned development, the zone has been depleted by Punjab, Haryana and UT alike.
So before conceiving a master plan for Chandigarh, it is imperative to deliver a ‘management plan’ that will mitigate the immediate agony. The latest census must be the starting point, as it’s the only authentic source of data.
As a first step, the administration must identify immediate, as well as emerging, traffic choke points.
One is the railway station. The addition of just one Shatabdi has created a parking crisis, and the railway budget promises more. With the Chandigarh-Amritsar direct link becoming operational, it is expected that shuttle services will operate by the hour between Chandigarh-Delhi and Chandigarh-Amritsar. Is the station equipped?
There is no doubt about the inevitability of the new international airport being operationalised. Passengers will come from Punjab and Haryana, besides Himachal, J&K and parts of Uttarakhand.
That would create a tsunami of traffic along the triangle of Tribune Chowk, the airport and railway station, separated by less than 5 km from each other. Conversion of industrial area into commercial area is already choking this area, and the draft master plan envisages a Transport Nagar and an IT hub here!
Mullanpur also needs attention. Dream projects like a cricket stadium, EduCity, MediCity and high-profile residential apartments have the potential of an urban nightmare.
(The writer is a former Punjab IAS officer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)