Never mind the mess at hand. The government has just made it much, much bigger.
Last week an area as big as eight times the size of Delhi was added to the National Capital Region (NCR). Now if you travel 200km out of Delhi into Rajasthan, you would still be in what has become the largest urban agglomerations in the world.
Far-flung districts such as Bhiwani and Mahendergarh in Haryana and Bharatpur in Rajasthan have been included in the ‘coveted’ NCR club. Two more Haryana districts — Karnal and Jind — are waiting in the wings.
As in the past, the inclusion of new areas comes with great promises. To quote from the mandate of the NCR Planning Board, the expansion is to ‘promote a balanced regional development with urban infrastructure facilities such as transport, power, communication, drinking water, sewerage and drainage — facilities that are comparable with Delhi’.
But it is exactly on these counts, the NCR dream has failed. For the new migrants and the old residents who got priced out of Delhi, the NCR’s ‘affordable’ housing has been tempting. But outside their gated communities, public facilities remain that of a mufassil town.
The NCR towns that share border with Delhi now have Metro connectivity. But to get to the Metro, one still has to depend on rickety eight-seaters, unmetered autos and cycle-rickshaws.
Planners talk about high-speed train networks to ferry people from Meerut to Delhi under an hour, but one still cannot travel by a three-wheeler across the NCR, without having to change at the border, even three years after an agreement to start seamless travel within NCR was signed.
Residents of satellite towns virtually live off back-up power, footing electricity bills that run in five-digits. There is no dedicated power supply to these towns despite their population growing by as much as 50% in the past decade.
Large swathes of NCR survive on bottled or groundwater because they get no piped supply. Almost 80% of New Gurgaon lives on borewell water. Already in ‘dark’ zone, today, it is extracting three times of what is naturally replenished.
Although situated on the Yamuna floodplains, Noida’s water table is depleting by 66cm every year. In 2009, it slipped into semi-critical zone. If extraction continues at the current pace, the water level will reach the critical zone in the next four years.
Waste management and drainage is another. Absence of a garbage disposal system frequently leads to clogged sewage and stinky, flooded roads across the NCR.
While satellite towns such as Noida and Gurgaon have developed faster, thanks to their close proximity to Delhi and the consequent real estate boom, others such as Hapur in UP and Mewat in Haryana are still the most backward pockets of their states.
The Centre set up the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) in 1985 for inter-state coordination, approval and execution of projects. But poor funding mechanism and no enforcement powers have crippled the board. No member state pays heed to its plans and recommendations.
Three of the four NCR states – Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan – have Congress governments. Yet, coordination remains a casualty and there is little common ground on even basic civic and safety issues.
The NCR concept demands a certain uniformity in the physical and social infrastructure.
Delhi and all its satellite towns need a common development authority and a system that allows the police overlapping jurisdiction across state boundaries. Unless NCRPB is strengthened, possibly with better representation from the states, as an authority that does not merely plan but also takes decisions that are binding, no expansion will salvage the NCR dream.