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Delhi needs more space, but how?

In the last 50 years, the urban area of Delhi has constantly grown, taking over agricultural land, villages and even rocky areas. Its growing population, however, has meant that the space available to each Delhiite has been shrinking every year. Sidhartha Roy reports.

delhi Updated: Dec 19, 2011 00:47 IST
Sidhartha Roy
Delhi
Delhi

Delhi is a city caught in the throes of history. On the one hand, it bears the legacy of an aesthetic skyline dotted with low-rise buildings, vast greens and wide roads. On the other, it faces the very real problem of a rapidly growing population and shrinking space.

In the last 50 years, the urban area of Delhi has constantly grown, taking over agricultural land, villages and even rocky areas. Its growing population, however, has meant that the space available to each Delhiite has been shrinking every year.

The Master Plan of Delhi 2021 found the answer in going vertical. Experts are polarized on the issue. There is, however, one common ground — Delhi can't enjoy the luxury of being a garden city any longer. Both prescribe densification of the city, either by going up or redeveloping the existing residential areas.

"It is not the ideal situation but the fact is that Delhi can't remain a horizontal city anymore," says historian Aman Nath. "There is the aggression of population and 10,000 vehicles are added every day...Delhi has to go up or underground, which sounds sensible keeping the hot weather in mind."

Despite traditionally being a low-rise city, Delhi's tryst with high-rises is not new. When the first Master Plan was being drafted in 1962, it was felt that due to the growing population, Delhi needed to go vertical.

It was from the mid-1960s that the first high-rises started coming up near Connaught Place, the heart of low-rise Delhi. Areas along roads such as Barakhamba Road and Kasturba Gandhi Marg were made part of the Central Business District and notified for commercial use. Bungalows were razed and buildings with more than 20 floors arrived.

"The Floor Area Ratio for these areas was raised to 400 that allowed these buildings to come up," said AK Jain, former Commissioner (Planning), Delhi Development Authority. "It was later that these buildings had no composite design and went against the character of Lutyens' Delhi."

A clampdown on high-rises followed and FAR for commercial buildings came down.