The Master Plan for Delhi-2021 is in many ways a recipe for chaos. The Plan can be faulted on different aspects, but its most significant failure lies in its abdication of the responsibility to plan systematically and in depth. The most glaring example of failure is the manner in which it has sought to rationalise the extensive misuse of residential premises for retail use, by declaring 2,183 roads as commercial and mixed land use streets. Does the city really need such a large area of retail in residential areas? This is a question that has not been asked and has not been addressed.
Consider the fact that these 2,183 roads constitute a length of approximately 1,400 kilometers. With an average depth of 25 metres on each side of the road, it works out to a colossal area of 7 crore square metres of retail space. This is far beyond the actual need.
Following the introduction of the 1962 Master Plan, specific shopping areas proposed in community centres were slow to develop. Local area plans were not made, so shops began to come up in various residential areas in response to local needs. It is of interest to note that retail shopping has its own economic compulsions, and is not always viable in locations dictated by deterministic plans. This fact is borne out by a number of significant occurrences witnessed during the growth of the city.
In 1962, there were three major largescale retail and commercial areas in the city — Chandni Chowk and the walled city area, Connaught Place, and Ajmal Khan Road in Karol Bagh. These were not only substantial shopping centres but also major service centres, serving large parts of the city. The 1962 Plan proposed that major retail activity be concentrated in the district centres. For a variety of reasons, mainly economic, no shopping of any significance developed in the first few district centres like Nehru Place, Rajendra Place and Bhikaji Cama Place.
Over a period of time, retail and service shops began to come up in areas like Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi South Extension, and INA market. Similar service and retail development has more recently come up in Rajouri Gardens. Such shopping centres though unplanned, seek prime locations along major roads, and are clearly a response to a felt need — otherwise they would not survive.
To maintain the sanctity of the process of planning, this gradual expansion of retail in predominantly residential zones should have been stopped in the early stages. This was not done, and no detailed local area plans were made providing alternative sites. The Master Plan for Delhi-2021 now seeks to rationalise this kind of development by a blanket declaration of 2,183 roads as areas of mixed land use. In doing so, the DDA is clearly abdicating its responsibility to plan for systematic and organised development of the city. The need for detailed planning cannot be ignored, nor can the problems be solved by notifications.
It is essential that the actual situation existing on each of these 2,183 roads be recorded, and studied in detail. It needs to be checked whether these areas are viable for commercial development and mixed land use, have enough space for parking, have the necessary infrastructure of water supply, drainage, sewage, and electrical services. Detailed area plans need to be prepared defining access, traffic movement, space for pedestrians, and its linkage to the surrounding residential area. The size of each development needs to be assessed in relation to actual need, with a reasonable evaluation of future growth. Without the careful examination of all related issues, there can be no meaningful planning. By declaring mixed land use areas, the authorities are ratifying extensive illegal commercialisation.
The Plan also proposes intensification of development along a 500-metre wide strip on either side of the Metro rail and transport corridors, regardless of what kind of areas it passes through. Delhi is a heritage city with a distinct character and identity. It also happens to be the city with the largest amount of open space and trees. A large part of the character of this garden city has already been spoilt by the imposition of massive concrete structures carrying the Metro rail overhead. Unless the citizens come together to protest this kind of thoughtless planning, Delhi’s unique qualities will be compromised forever.