Like any ancient city, Delhi has seen many makeovers in its 2,000 years of history. Post-1911, the British laid out New Delhi with its stately sandstone structures, tree-lined wide roads, even wider walkways and a modern network of water and sewage lines. Post-Independence, when the city hosted the Asian Games for the second time in 1982, Delhi got a few flyovers and a bunch of five-star hotels.
Now thanks to the Commonwealth Games, our chief minister has promised to make Delhi “a world class city” by the year 2010. What does this promise hold? More five-star hotels, a wider metro network, an elevated road connecting east to south, fancy bridges, wider highways, still more flyovers and a whole lot of dubious construction on the Yamuna riverbed.
But can mere brick and mortar make a city world class?
This monsoon has seen a total breakdown of civic infrastructure in the city. Roads crumbled in the absence of drains. There is little to choose between Sangam Vihar and Khan Market when it comes to chronic sewage backflow. Half an hour of rain on Wednesday and New Delhi, India’s VVIP hub, came to a standstill.
The sewage lines laid by the British have not been changed since. In the rest of the city, the last overhauling exercise happened in the 1980s. We know of the Rs 3,500 crore sewage interceptor project to fix the existing sewage pipes and build a conveyance system to treatment plants. But in one year, work has progressed on only 12 kilometers of the targeted 50 kilometers.
The plan for garbage disposal is yet to take off. Instead of introducing mechanized sweeping, MCD has recently made its broom heavier by a kilogram.
The anti-littering, anti-spitting Bill is put on hold because of elections. Another plan to clear, repair and build storm water drain to minimise waterlogging has been discussed just once in the last four year.
Instead, we have heard about the government’s plan to order beggars out of the city limits. For the 2003 APEC meet, a 600-meter-long “banner” was constructed on the banks of Chao Praya River to hide what Bangkok considered potentially unsavory to the eyes of the foreign delegates. Maybe, 2010 will see Delhi’s very own Potemkin villages.