A friend posted on Facebook early last week: “Gurgaon, you are everything no city should ever be. Please do not reproduce”. Routine civic meltdowns often launch such rants. But, two days later, it turned out to be almost prophetic.
As heavy rain lashed Delhi and its suburbs, Gurgaon sunk. Its choked drains ensured that roads, the famed Expressway included, went under water in no time. With a traffic gridlock lasting 20 hours, National Highway-8 rivalled Indonesia’s infamous three-day jam.
Any other city could have blamed it on antiquated infrastructure. In Lutyens’ Delhi, for instance, the sewerage lines were laid by the British and have not been replaced since. Elsewhere in the national Capital, the drains were overhauled in 1981, and almost 40% of Delhi is anyway not linked to the drainage network.
But what is Gurgaon’s excuse?
Rising from the fields 35 years ago, it had all the time, space and resources to build itself into India’s best city. But today, Gurgaon, touted as the Millennium City of India, is a textbook case of how a city shouldn’t be built.
Between 2001 and 2011, Gurgaon registered a population growth of 74%. To put it in perspective, the headcount in Delhi increased by just 21% in those 10 years. Today, Gurgaon boasts of the country’s most expensive gated communities. But outside the high walls, there is no civic infrastructure and little public facilities.
Town planning here has always been an after-thought. It is only when 16 pedestrians were killed within a month of the opening of multi-lane Expressway in 2008, the authorities decided to build crossovers, and slip lanes. It is only after last week’s embarrassment, the Haryana government sanctioned R1,000 crore to fix the drains and started road projects that were stuck for years for lack of funds.
The next test is a monsoon away.
Ironically, for a city so susceptible to water-logging, Gurgaon has almost no water left to drink. A decade ago, it was declared a “dark zone” by the Central Groundwater Authority, which warned that if people did not stop extracting water, Gurgaon would have none left by 2017.
Cut to 2012. The Punjab and Haryana high court observed that the Millennium City was still extracting three times more water than what it naturally replenished and barred the government from issuing fresh licences for construction unless a developer gave an undertaking that no groundwater would be used for construction work.
Meanwhile, Gurgaon is already living on borrowed water. The NCR canal brings the Yamuna water as and when required. On paper, there is compliance of the high court order. But water continues to be extracted through ‘registered’ bore wells which feed most gated communities in Gurgaon. Never mind the sinking aquifers, the lawns, swimming pools, golf courses never run dry.
Like water and drainage, garbage management was also an afterthought for Gurgaon planners. It was only in 2009 when residents of upscale DLF-1 led massive protests against the illegal dumping of garbage in a 60-acre plot behind their condominiums and renamed the area ‘Kachra Chowk’ to shame the authorities, a solid waste treatment plant was commissioned.
But the Bandhwari solid waste plant works in fits and starts. As a result, garbage is thrown just about anywhere, including in the drains, water channels, ponds, and across the Aravalli forest, the only green resource in a concrete jungle.
Like the rest of the NCR, Gurgaon falls in high-risk seismic zone IV. The last time when an earthquake of 6.0 magnitude hit Gurgaon in 1960, it was a safe, low-built village. Today, its skyline is littered with at least 1,100 high-rises.
No survey was ever conducted in Gurgaon to find out how many of these buildings meet the structural safety norms. Three-and-a-half decades later, it may not even be feasible retrofitting such a concretised and crowded sprawl.
Clogged. Parched. Stinking. Rickety. Call it mindless urbanisation or manifestation of a rare death wish, Gurgaon has built too fast, and too much on the foundation of a necropolis. By the time it is abandoned — as abandoned it will be unless a series of miracles happen — hope we will have learnt how not to conceive a city.