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Disquieting blight behind big city lights

india Updated: Mar 21, 2008 23:50 IST

Hindustan Times
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Over the years, Delhi has transformed itself from being a sleepy administrative capital of the nation to a bustling metropolis. To be sure, it still remains the bastion of power — much like Washington DC or Tokyo — but its functions have transformed to embrace business and industry as well. Not surprisingly, it is one of the fastest growing big cities with a real growth rate of 12 per cent that is much higher than the national average. At first glance, the latest Economic Survey, released by Delhi’s planning department, puts out numbers that will definitely impart a feel-good factor to its citizens.

For starters, the income of the average Delhiite for 2006-07 is pegged at Rs 66,728, that is more than double the national average of Rs 29,642. A higher per capita income indicates higher purchasing power and higher standards of living. Delhi’s per capita income has crossed the inflection point to make it one of the nation’s biggest markets for automobiles, consumer goods and all the appurtenances of upward mobility. With 85 people per 1,000 owning a car, this is ten times the national average of 8 per 1,000. The Survey points out that Delhi spends more on health and education on a per head basis.

Does this add up to vibrant progress in economic and social spheres? Not entirely. A higher per capita income does not necessarily point to a better physical quality of life. The exponential growth in car ownership has far outstripped the growth in road length. Thus, the long-suffering Delhiite has no respite from jams — perhaps only the flavour of traffic varying. Petrol and diesel consumption has also gone up tremendously, raising serious problems of environmental pollution.

What about law and order? The capital is increasingly unsafe for women and minors. Worse still, the sheer growth of the city has seriously strained the infrastructure. Power shortages are endemic as Delhi remains dependant on power purchased from other states and highly vulnerable when outstation power plants trip. There must be a greater sense of urgency in boosting power generation. Water shortages, too, loom large. One out of every four households does not have a piped water connection. One out of five doesn’t have a toilet. Poor solid waste management threatens the health and safety of all.

True, the 2010 Commonwealth Games is bound to improve infrastructure facilities like the Asiad did in the early 1980s. There is mention of 17 flyovers coming up in Delhi and expected to be ready by 2009. But will this be enough to ease traffic congestion? If vehicle ownership keeps climbing relentlessly, the problem will not go away. Like other big metropolises, the solution lies in affordable public transportation. Delhiites maybe getting richer and buying more cars but they must be persuaded to use the Metro instead.