The future is urban, however much many may romanticise the pastoral appeal of village India. This explains why 250 million Indians live in cities today and the number is growing by the day. Delhi, which has had a relatively charmed existence, has now got yet another shot in the arm with the massive infrastructure outlay, thanks to the Commonwealth Games. With its gleaming metro and wide boulevards, it could almost pass off as an international city. Almost, because underneath the gloss lies its shanties, poor sanitation, shortage of drinking water, garbage dumps and homeless people. If this is fate of the city ranked the most-liveable in India, that of our other metros tell a sorry tale of consistent neglect and chaos.
Mumbai, once spoken of as the city where the streets were paved with gold and the magnet for those seeking their fortune has today descended into a vast sprawling maze of confusion where residential and commercial areas are rarely demarcated and traffic conditions the stuff of urban nightmares. Unfortunately for Mumbai, its political class seems far more interested in non-issues like identity politics rather than to try and restore the city to its
former glory. The fate of the satellite towns around both Delhi and Mumbai tell the story of how urban planners, if any were ever involved, put the cart before the horse. Their motto seemed to have been to build first and then try and fit in infrastructure, with disastrous results. Gurgaon is a case in point. In the case of Mumbai, apart from the Bandra-Worli sealink, there has been hardly any infrastructural project worth the name that could make life easier for its millions. As we saw during the Games, it is easy to blame the poor and homeless for the urban mess and try and sweep them out of the picture. But the reality is that migration to cities will continue and has to be factored into the growth of any city. Hyderabad, the once gracious city of the Nizams, is today indistinguishable from any other congested urban sprawl. Bengaluru, now famous for its unique brand of politics, was once a favoured retirement destination for its leisurely pace of life and its salubrious weather. Today, it is crippled by lack of public transport and bursting at the seams with construction. Kolkata has been crumbling for years and there seems no hope of change in the near future. The situation in the second tier cities is even more frightening since they don’t seem to be on the radar of urban planners.
The only silver lining in the cloud is that Delhi was able to get it right this time, even though it was largely to buttress the Games. But we can learn lessons from the manner in which the metro construction and renovations were carried out and replicate this in the satellite towns and other metros. Let’s hope that the Delhi dream run will have a domino effect and the living truly becomes easier in our cities.