It would be no exaggeration to say that Delhi now has a Master Plan for covering illegalities and corrupt practices and not a Master Plan for a rational and balanced development of a metropolis. The days of its planned development seem to have ended.
Today, a very large part of Delhi is writhing in pain consequent to the ‘thousands of cuts’ that have been inflicted upon its hapless landscape by its ever-growing tribe of law-breakers. Practically, every political party is competing with the other to become a ‘godfather’ of this tribe and to enlist its support for securing or retaining power in the capital.
No respect is being shown even to the highest court of the land. Every time the Supreme Court passes orders against illegal constructions and conversions, a hurried attempt is made to circumvent them. When the court recently directed that illegal commercial establishments in residential areas be sealed, a hue and cry was orchestrated and an extraordinary law, the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006, was approved by the Union Cabinet and passed unanimously by both the Houses of Parliament with a voice vote. This simply reflected not only the total moral bankruptcy of today’s politics but also its poor level of commitment to the Constitution and the laws of the land.
When the Supreme Court expressed its doubt about the constitutional soundness of the new Act, a notification was issued with unmatched haste, amending the Master Plan (1982-2001), the original time frame of which had already lapsed. Over 2,000 public objections received against the amendment were arbitrarily disposed of within three days. The amendment, inter alia, empowered the local bodies to declare any road as a commercial road. And the Municipal Corporation of Delhi promptly declared 2,183 roads as ‘commercial’. With equal dispatch, the Delhi government put its stamp of approval on this declaration.
Neither the Town and Planning Organisation nor the Urban Arts Commission was consulted. The provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, were also bypassed. No one cared to prepare any environment-impact statement or specify the spaces that would be needed for parking or for the circulation of traffic.
No thought was given to the implications of allowing commercialisation of the Ring and Master Plan roads. It was forgotten that if these roads were choked on account of commercialisation, they could not relieve the pressure of traffic on subsidiary roads. Inevitably, traffic snarls would become the order of the day and road safety would be undermined.
The fallout of the commercialisation on other items of infrastructure was also ignored. For example, Delhi’s daily shortage of electricity is about 1,000 MW. This shortage would mount steeply because every commercial establishment that replaces a residential unit would, on an average, consume about 10 times more electricity.
Tragically, what has happened has not only encouraged an ‘open loot’ but has also created a highly unjust situation. While those who ravished the city and imperiled its future have got away with illegal gains, law-abiding citizens will suffer as it is them who will have to face the brunt of the consequences of traffic congestion and shortage of civic services. Thus, not only civic chaos, but also moral chaos has been caused.
Already, there are about 1,700 unauthorised colonies and about 1,250 jhuggi-jhopri clusters, besides about 50,000 illegal conversions. Perhaps no city in the world has witnessed such ‘pirate urbanisation’ on a scale that has, of late, been witnessed in Delhi. The predatory forces in business and politics have established a mutually self-serving network of power and brought a major part of the metropolis under their hegemony. The consequences for the future will be disastrous — unless strong and sustained remedial measures are taken.
When, in 2001, I was functioning as the Union Urban Development Minister, I had launched an extensive drive against offenders of civic and planning laws. At that time, I had pleaded with my fellow members of Parliament to consider: “In what type of Delhi do we want to live, and what type of legacy do we wish to bequeath to posterity and to our children and grandchildren? Do we want our city to become a junkyard of unauthorised constructions or an orderly and disciplined capital of a resurgent Republic?”
The response of the power wielders to this plea was a sudden change in my portfolio. Soon after this change, about 18,000 illegal constructions came up with impunity. These constructions are currently under the scanner of the Delhi High Court. Separately, the Supreme Court has expressed its anguish over the government’s attempt to convert “practically the entire Delhi” into markets, forgetting that the city is a living organism in which various other needs have to be catered to and synthesised for a balanced and harmonious development.
To deal with the current mess, I had suggested in an article published in the Hindustan Times (April 7, 2006) that a ‘salvage plan’ should be prepared by the government and placed before the Supreme Court for obtaining its prior approval. This plan should, inter alia, provide for a time-frame for shifting from ‘non-conforming’ to ‘conforming’ uses. The government, however, chose to circumvent the orders of the Supreme Court by resorting to measures that are constitutionally infirm and have the effect of destroying the very soul of master-planning.
So far, the Supreme Court has shown both strength and stamina to drive some sense into the city. For this, the court deserves the nation’s applause. It has dared to do the right thing, howsoever unpalatable to the country’s political power-structure.
But at the same time, it must be conceded that the court has neither the raison d’etre nor the wherewithal to tackle the forces emanating from the diseased womb of Indian democracy. The real culprits are the political elements who are thriving on unprincipled governance and corrupt practices. Even the top leaderships of all hues and colours are not free from hypocrisy. The present leadership has kept a wide gap between what it has been saying and what it has been doing. For the last several years, this leadership has been singing the songs of good governance and of the paramount need for fighting corruption.
But what has it done in the present case? It has encouraged bad governance and covered up even the most blatant acts of corruption. The truth is that the politics of this country has become too unscrupulous to be remedied by the orders of the courts. Already, violent demonstrations are being engineered by the vested interests to put psychological pressure on the Supreme Court. What India needs today is a great helmsman who can awaken “the long suppressed soul of India” about which Jawaharlal Nehru had spoken on the midnight hour of August 14-15, 1947, and can show the country a path of reform and regeneration of the fundamental forces that govern the life of a nation.
Jagmohan is a former Union Minister of Urban Development