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Delhi’s urban legends

india Updated:
Ajay Maken
Highlight Story

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading many reactions to the Master Plan. The writers of these pieces are not only unaware of the ground realities, but also a few vital statistics and trends the world over. Here are some of the myths that are being propagated vis-à-vis the realities.

Myth: 2,183 roads notified as mixed land use and commercial streets will convert Delhi into a commercial slum. Reality: these 2,183 streets constitute just 1,400 km of the total of over 31,183 km of roads available in Delhi — that is 5 per cent of total roads.

Myth: Delhi is devoid of adequate water and power. Reality: the problem is not of availability but of effective management. Sunita Narain, in one of her articles, highlighted that Copenhagen uses 125 LPCD of water, Munich 130 LPCD, Singapore 162 LPCD while Delhi processes 230 LPCD of water. Going by the sewage generated (around 80 per cent of the water consumed), it is estimated that 120 LPCD of ground water is also extracted and consumed. Therefore, the availability of water is around 350 per LPCD but all the water supplied does not really reach the people. Further, 70 per cent of Delhi’s population consumes less than 5 per cent of the total water supply while 3 per cent of its population receives more that 11 per cent of Delhi Jal Board’s supplies. Somewhat similar is the case with power supply in Delhi.

Myth: Delhi has a population beyond its holding capacity. Reality: as per the 2001 Census, the density of Delhi is 9,339 persons per sq. km. compared to Mumbai (29,434), Chennai (24,231), Manila (41,014), Tokyo (13,333), Paris (24,672), Hong Kong (15,880) and Manhattan (25,849). This is further explained when we look at the working population density of London (1,15,384) that is much more than its resident density, and so the carrying capacity of the working population of Delhi still has immense potential.

Myth: high-rise buildings will exert more pressure on the existing resources of Delhi. Reality: as per the IDFC Report (page 66), dense and high-rise cities consume less energy than those that are spread out. Further, there is less loss in the transmission of power and water and also more energy saving in terms of transport, water, power, street lights etc. Dense and high rise cities would provide for more open spaces being available with the limitation on maximum ground coverage being 33%. The India Infrastructure Report 2006 adequately lays out the fact that higher population densities of people per hectare are more energy-efficient in terms of the consumption of energy per capita in 1,000 millions of joules. While the denser cities of the world like London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong etc. consumed well below 20,000 million joules per capita sparser cities like Houston and Phoenix consumed nearly 80,000 million joules per capita. [Source: Newman & Kenworthy (1999)].

Myth: solid waste management will be a big problem because of the Master Plan. Reality: we have provided for over 10,000 hectares in the Master Plan for sanitary landfills and statutory greens. The Master Plan also provides for 10 new sanitary landfill sites of 2,000 metric tons capacity for which we have provided 1,500 acres. Further, for 10 processing units we have provided another 100 acres.

Myth: the Yamuna can be cleaned by cleaning the river itself/alone. Reality: the Yamuna can be cleaned only if we plug the sources of contamination — i.e., 45 per cent of Delhi sewage that falls untreated into the river. This is possible only if we can equip slums and unauthorised colonies with in-house sewage treatment plants and disposal facilities. These can only be set up if these unauthorised colonies are regularised and slums rehabilitated.

Myth: we can do away with all slums and unauthorised colonies. Reality: we can’t just wish away all the inhabitants of the unauthorised colonies and slums.

Myth: with the MPD, we can stop people from Bihar, UP and Orissa coming to Delhi. Reality: all previous attempts of the NCR Planning Board have failed because of the lack of the understanding of the basic fact that people come to Delhi for employment which is unavailable in their states for which we in Delhi can do little about.

Myth: the poor people are a burden on the economy of Delhi. Reality: as is even established by the survey conducted by the Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA), over 92 per cent of the homeless are employed in the informal sector and, therefore, do significantly contribute to the economy of Delhi.

Myth: the satellite towns of Noida and Gurgaon would be developed by the state governments of UP and Haryana to take away the burden of Delhi. Reality: the governments of UP and Haryana have developed Noida and Gurgaon to benefit their own states at the cost of Delhi so that is why beyond the borders of Delhi we find huge industrial and commercial areas the likes of which are not found in Delhi.

Myth: Delhi should be compared to some of the developed cities of developed countries. Reality: Delhi can never have greenfield development because it is a city that has often been built and rebuilt. The development of Delhi has to be in line with developed cities of developing countries like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore.

I would like to request all those who had been at the helm of affairs in their capacities as Urban Development Ministers, Lt Governors, Chief Secretaries etc — and are thus largely responsible for the present state of affairs — to come together to work for the development of Delhi in an inclusive manner that would take along the rich and the poor, the deprived and the privileged, the service users and the service providers, the jhuggi-jhopri walas and the posh colonywalas to make Delhi a better place.

(The writer is Union Minister of State for Urban Development. The views expressed are personal, and do not reflect the Congress party’s.)

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