Hosting VIPs shouldn't bring Delhi to a standstill
Each time an international leader comes visiting, security concerns turn Delhi into a garrison town, ruling out any popular participation.columns Updated: Sep 22, 2014 16:30 IST
Hosting high-profile world leaders is great diplomacy for any nation. But ask a Delhi resident what she feels about visits by foreign dignitaries and she would tell you she has had enough.
With all their personality faults, Delhi residents are anything but unfriendly. Being so close to the power centre - 36 years as the headquarters of British India and 67 now as India's capital city--we have played gracious hosts to many world leaders. Old-timers will tell you how back in the 1950s and 60s, visits by international leaders were not sanitised events that they are now. My mother proudly remembers how she saw Marshal Tito, Nasser, Eisenhower, Khrushchev and Zhou Enlai at Jama Masjid or at the Nagrik Abhinandan organised by citizens' forum at the Red Fort and Ramlila Grounds.
These days, each time an international leader comes visiting, security concerns turn Delhi into a garrison town, ruling out any popular participation. If anything, the VIP movement tests the patience of commuters across the city. Last Thursday, motorists spent hours trying to negotiate mile-long jams caused by the diversions made for Chinese President Xi Jinping's motorcade. Even the Metro was held up for three minutes near Pragati Maidan when the motorcade passed through Ring Road to get to Mahatma Gandhi's Samadhi at Rajghat.
Delhi has witnessed political assassinations and an attack on Parliament and concerns about VIP security are not unwarranted. But for a capital city that hosts visiting state heads regularly, it is surprising that Delhi does not have a full-scale VIP movement plan.
Yes, there are protocols. Each time the motorcade of any of our resident VIPs -- the President or the Prime Minister -- passes through, traffic lights are switched off and commuters are made to wait anywhere between five minutes and half an hour. Straying onto the "VIP route" can have gory consequences as Martin Massey found out when he was beaten up brutally for one such violation in 1995. In 2010, East Delhi resident Anil Jain died on way to hospital because the ambulance carrying him was caught in a jam caused by the PM's movement. It only gets worse when the city hosts foreign dignitaries or big-ticket international conferences.
In a stinging letter to the police commissioner two years back, Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve said that preventing people from commuting violated the right to liberty and the right to free movement and, therefore, violated Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. A parliamentary panel asked Delhi Police to streamline traffic, recommending predetermined routes for VIP movements and use of FM radio and electronic display boards to warn people about possible congestions. But can police alone be held responsible when all they do is follow the Blue Book listing regulations for the movement VIPs?
For a start, government should consider creation of helipads wherever possible to reduce road travel by VIPs. World over, VIPs are taking to the skies to free up the city roads. Last year, Russian president Vladimir Putin decided to commute by helicopter from his country residence just outside Moscow to his office at Kremlin. The move came after growing public criticism of the presidential motorcade disrupting Moscow's already heavy traffic.
There is no shortage of clean, flat land in Delhi's VIP enclaves to build heliports. Building one at Rajghat -- a must on any VIP itinerary -- would require some investment. But that is nothing compared to the recurrent loss of man-hours on choked arterial roads such as the Ring Road.
Shifting international summits outside the city will also help reduce pressure on regular traffic. PM Narendra Modi is said to be in favour of this idea and has reportedly decided to hold big-ticket bilateral, multi-lateral and Centre-state meetings outside the capital. We hope the PM walks the talk. After all, it is not fair to keep making unreasonable demands on naturally hospitable Delhiites.
(The views expressed are personal. You can reach the writer at