Countless vehicles whizzing on glistening city flyovers — this has been the most representative image of the Capital in the past decade. What many miss in this picture is the struggle for life in the underbelly of the flyovers. Over the years, these spaces have become a haven for the homeless and destitute such as rickshaw pullers, ice-cream vendors, beggars and hawkers. What is worrying is that at some locations, drug-addicts and vagabonds have also made home while at other spots debris and garbage has been dumped. As a result of poor civic planning, the areas under flyovers that could have been put to innovative use to meet city’s needs now lie waste.
While flyovers at Modi Mill or AIIMS are green, most others in the city are examples of wasted community space due to lack of planning. RK Srivastava, a resident of Kalkaji Extension said, “I have seen children smoking and consuming drugs late at night. I wonder why authorities have turned a blind eye towards this issue.”
Professor PK Sarkar, head of transport planning department at School of Planning and Architecture, said people living in such a manner where they are not separated by four walls are vulnerable to crime.
Experts said people living under these flyovers should be rehabilitated and the space should be brought to better use so that it doesn’t get encroached upon again.
A parking lot or market can be developed to utilise the space. But it should be done in a way that it does not obstruct the traffic. A small flaw in planning might lead to jams as the area under a flyover is also used for taking a U-turn, experts said.
However, a section of experts argue that since Delhi is already reeling under pollution, developing a parking space will promote ‘use of cars.’ Amit Bhatt, director of Integrated Transport, WRI India, said, “Instead of creating a parking space for cars, we should focus on developing these spaces as cycle zones. We need to promote all forms of non-motorised vehicles.”
Many believe public space should not be given to “greedy” private players like it has been done in Defence Colony where a flyover market has been built. AK Jain, former commissioner of planning at DDA, said, it causes inconvenience to people living nearby due to the traffic jams from the inflow of vehicles. Instead, these spaces could be developed as green spaces, libraries or public toilets.
According to reports, the Public Works Department (PWD) now plans to make new flyovers look “aesthetically appealing” by giving them a colour theme instead of painting them with the grey non-corrosive paint. However, the area below has gone unnoticed till now and PWD has no plans to develop them. At one point of time, Delhi government deliberated to install kiosks at the unused and vacant pieces of land under flyovers and bridges. However, the concept was put on a back-burner.
Chetan Raj, PWD deputy project manager, said, “We have no plans to utilise spaces under the flyovers. Right now our focus is on improving the strength of the structures. However, we would like to develop the spaces into community zones in future projects,” he said.
The space under the RTR flyover is being used for construction of a three-lane flyover at Rao Tula Ram Marg on Outer Ring Road. The area is being used to park JCBs and other equipment. The flyover is infamous for jams caused due to its narrow carriageway. The PWD began work on adding another carriageway at the end of 2014. The deadline for the project is the end of 2016. According to reports, PWD has asked for permission from forest department for cutting 139 trees on RTR Marg and 177 on Benito Juarez Marg for construction. The ideal, way, therefore, to utilise the space is to make it a green area, said many environmentalists.
In 2010, to ensure space below the flyovers are not encroached and control on-road parking along Munirka market, PWD announced a plan to build parking lots under flyovers. Now, carefully decked up cars adorn the space under the flyover. Traffic personnel say that the parking has helped ease congestion. “There is enough space under the flyovers and more such spaces can be developed as parking lots. This parking lot can accommodate more than 50 cars at a time,” said a senior traffic official.
Ber Sarai flyover looks like an ill-maintained, open-air shelter home. One can see children wandering around in the area while their parents are begging or selling toys at traffic signals to earn a livelihood. The place is also a home for those who do not get a bed in the nearby AIIMS hospital. The shopkeepers near the area said the flyover shelters more than 30 families. According to reports by several NGOs working for street children, kids when ‘mixed’ with the adult population in such manner are exposed to drugs and various other ills of the society.
IIT flyover is probably the most ill- maintained flyovers in the city. The space is heavily encroached by squatters, mostly beggars at traffic junctions. Locals claim after sunset teenagers can be seen drinking in the open or consuming drugs here. Ravi Kumar, who sells balloons at the intersection, said, “This flyover gives us protection from the rain and scorching heat and is a good home for the Delhi winters.” He said, “We cannot afford to pay rent. This is only place where we can afford to sleep.” Experts say that government must rehabilitate people living under slums but at the same time reclaim its space.
AIIMS is one of the best examples in the city on how to use flyover space to introduce greenery. Though the beautification of the AIIMS flyover had come under fire from various quarters after a steel art installation was put up without clearance from Delhi Urban Arts Commission, the area now looks aesthetic, said Ram Dayal Sharma, a resident of Safdarjung Enclave. The flyover was inaugurated by Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government in 2003. Dixit had then claimed that the flyover was environment-friendly with extensively landscaped greens.
Looking at Panchsheel flyover, it seems PWD tried to give it a facelift but couldn’t succeed in executing the programme. There are iron grills all round the space under the flyover. A raised platform is used by passersby for idle banter. Locals said that saplings were planted in the area but in absence of proper care all of them died.
The grill barrier under the flyover leads to a small gateway that opens to abandoned mattresses, utensils, clothes and other articles that form the homes of the homeless. Locals say during the day, people living here beg and, at night, they come home to a disturbed stay under the flyover. A kilometer-long patch of barren land, this flyover is a well-guarded home to ragpickers and beggars. The grills were installed a few years ago to keep encroachments at bay but families living under the flyover say that they have nowhere to go.
A stone’s throw from the famous Central Market, is an innovative market launched as a pilot project by DDA in 1979. Today, Defence Colony flyover market is one-of-its kind in the entire Asian subcontinent. Housing 353 shops under the flyover, the market has survived over the years as a success story for optimal utilisation of space under flyovers. It started as a garment hub, but this market has come to be known for take-away joints famous for tandoori momos, reshmi kebabs, chicken barra and traditional Arabic food.
The U-turn under the flyover is outlined by grills on both sides. Scores of clothes and plastic bags hooked on the grills are an eyesore for the commuters. In the absence of proper street lighting, the patch is vulnerable at night. Several huts with muddy bases and roofs made of plastic have come up over the years. For many children, aged 5-10 years, who live under the flyover, ragpicking runs in the family. The flyover also houses a few scrap collectors who put their wooden and metal possessions on display under the flyover.
Amid the chaotic rush of vehicles, a Metro line under construction and a sea of auto-rickshaws, life under the flyover is a stark contrast. Boasting of a rich variety of flora the flyover stands out from others that have become an eyesore. The shed acts as a facilitator for plant growth. Bright summer blooms like Mandevilla and Crape Myrtle add to the overall serene appeal of the green patch. This half an acre of lushness arrests commuters’ attention and can be used as an archetype to fix other flyovers.
Okhla flyover is a fine example of a flyover being utilised. The area under it houses the PWD office. While the flyover was built around 20 years ago, the office came up 10 years ago, said officials. Around half acre of land is used as an office and the rest of the land is used to store construction material or park vehicles.