Watching the polling results of four states recently at his three-bedroom apartment in Vasant Kunj, Bhanu Bishnoi said, “I remember how I used to watch election results on my Dynora TV in this room when we came here in mid 80s. The election results were a three-day affair then. When we came to the colony, we knew everybody by name - bus drivers, postmen, police officers and civic staff. But now everything is so fast and artificial.”
Bishnoi was among the first settlers of Vasant Kunj. He moved to this flat in 1986 with his family after his father, a government officer, got transferred to Delhi from Patna. “We purchased the flat for Rs 2,11,000. The same flats here now cost at least Rs 3 crore,” he added.
Vasant Kunj, once a farmland, was acquired by the government in 1960s. DDA carved out the colony which included two-bedroom , three bedroom and duplex flats. There are five sectors in the locality — A,B,C,D and E. The area has around 18,000 houses and 250 farmhouses with a population of around 80,000.
THE EARLY DAYS
Vasant Kunj, one of the most coveted addresses in Delhi, didn’t even have basic amenities in the beginning. Drinking water was sold in a goat-skin bag known as the mashk. Gradually, some tubewells were dug and an underground reservoir was built in Sector A to solve the water problem. Since the colony was on the southern end of the city and the first Metro train in Delhi was still 10 years away, connectivity was a major problem. Bus services started in the late 1980s after the residents made repeated requests to the authorities. The Delhi Transport Corporation sanctioned 616 number bus services that plied from Vasant Kunj Sector A to New Delhi Railway Station.
“I still remember the driver’s name was Bharta. I used to take this bus to go to PGDAV College. If he saw me, he would stop the bus. He did the same for schoolchildren and others,” he said.
Vasant Kunj then had no schools or hospitals. Most of the people went to schools in Alaknanda or Greater Kailash. V Rajamani , who taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University and was also one of the first settlers in the area, said, “Cattle from Masoodpur and Kishangarh village would come to the colony in search of water as there were small water bodies in the area then.”
With the construction of flats and other real estate projects, the flow of rainwater was interrupted and the ponds went dry. Narender Khatri, who lived in the adjoining Kishangarh village but later purchased a flat in Vasant Kunj, said, “During the 1970s, when we lived in Kishangarh, animals had water from the ponds in the area. We heard sounds of jackals at night and blue bulls roamed around in the morning.”
The locality lacked civic amenities and the pressure of population was steadily growing. In the late 1980s, residents formed the first Resident Welfare Association to raise their demands before public representatives.
PRESENT-DAY VASANT KUNJ
The modern-day Vasant Kunj is known for its green and gated colonies, its strategic location as it is close to the airport and the country’s first Islamic tomb Sultan Garhi. However, the supply of drinking water, traffic congestion and parking problems remain a challenge. Rajender Bharadwaj, a resident of Sector B, said, “When the DDA allotted the flats, parking space was provided for two-wheelers as people buying flats worth Rs 2 to 3 lakh would not be able to afford anything more than two-wheelers. Today, there are BMWs, Audis and Mercedes cars in every block. Some houses have more than three cars in a four member family.”
Water shortage and traffic jams remain two other major problems. “The stretch between Aruna Asaf Ali Marg and Nelson Mandela Marg sees heavy jams during peak hours,” he added. Neela Hauz on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg near Vasant Kunj had the potential to solve the water woes of the locality by recharging the groundwater level. But unplanned growth here led to its downfall.
Over the years the stormwater drains and the sewage systems of several unauthorised colonies made their way into the lake, but the worst happened when the Public Works Department (PWD) constructed a bridge across the lake around seven years ago to cut short the distance between Old JNU Campus and Vasant Kunj. “When the flyover was built, the debris was dumped into the lake after which its deterioration started. DDA did not follow the correct procedure for its construction,” said Khatri.
Vinod Rawat, Air Vice Marshal (rtd), who lives in Sector B that was built in early 90s, said, people fight over parking space. The colony has reached a saturation point and there is no place to park cars for outsiders. There are illegal taxi stands everywhere where hundreds of vehicles remain parked, he added. Another problem that residents are facing is the mushrooming of jhuggi clusters. “There are more than 200 jhuggis in front of our sector. If the government can’t remove them, at least they should be rehabilitated.”
WHEN ASSETS BECAME LIABILITIES
Vasant Kunj’s biggest USP is its proximity to the airports with Indira Gandhi International Airport (Terminal 3) being just 5.9km away while the domestic airport (Terminal 1) at a distance of 7.8km. However, when the other areas of Delhi get a sound sleep at night, people in Vasant Kunj remain awake due to the noise pollution by aircrafts.
Sood, whose NGO Chetna has launched a campaign against noise pollution, said, “Residents are suffering from hearing loss, insomnia and stress due to deafening sounds caused by aircrafts flying above their houses,” he said. The sound is around 90dB against the 45dB permissible noise level at night as stipulated by the pollution board. Even the morning decibel levels stand at 55dB.
Old timers say that there was a time when Vasant Kunj’s temperature would be at least three degree less than city’s temperature as it is at the foothills of the Aravalli mountain range. Green areas like Sanjay Van, Rangpuri Pahari, Ghitorni reserved forest, Jawaharlal Nehru Univeristy ensured the air here remained clean. “Too many vehicles, excessive use of air conditioners have upped the temperature and air pollution levels,” said RTI activist and resident Anil Sood.