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Metro Matters: Not Master Plans, it’s the authorities that messed up Delhi

The three Master Plans gave broad direction for planned growth in Delhi, but the civic authorities and the government failed to complete the cycle by drawing up local, zonal plans and operational strategies.

columns Updated: Feb 19, 2018 13:21 IST
Hindustan Times
Delhi Master Plan,Metro Matters,Shivani SIngh
Traffic chaos in Shahjahanabad at Fatehpuri in New Delhi.(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Put on the back foot by the revival of the Supreme Court-monitored committee on sealing and demolition, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is yet again seeking to sidestep the crisis through the regularisation route by tweaking the Delhi Master Plan. While the Authority is yet to justify such attempts before the Apex court, the expiry of the current Master Plan in 2021 gives it an opportunity to hasten the redrafting exercise.

The changing realities of Delhi may indeed require updating the Master Plan, but the current crisis was not caused by any lack of vision in planning. Instead, it is the persistent failure of the authorities to implement successive Master Plans since the 1960s that have created the urban mess in Delhi.

Drawn up 56 years ago, the first Master Plan identified the need for developing ‘ring towns’ around Delhi to absorb the future growth. Prescribing only a “modest growth” for Gurgaon “which was handicapped for want of good water sources,” the planners asked for the development of Delhi Metropolitan area to include Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Bahadurgarh, Ballabhgarh and Loni.

Narela was singled out for its potential with adequate water, a wholesale food market and manufacturing units. By the time the urbanisation of Delhi was to reach its optimum limit in 1981, the planners recommended that the Narela Township would be “an ideal place for suburban living”.

While Gurgaon became a boom town, the DDA’s township in Narela failed even to take off. Thanks to population pressure and unabated construction of high-rises, Gurgaon’s groundwater levels have plummeted dangerously low and its citizens are living on borrowed water. The Narela township remains a ghost town, rejected by buyers in the absence of transport connectivity.

The planners also mandated setting up of “urban villages to “strengthen the rural economy” and recommended “comprehensive master plan for the villages indicating various kinds of land uses.” More than five decades later, Delhi’s 135 urban villages are still missing on the civic map. With most buildings built in violation of municipal norms, these are also the city’s worst death traps.

While pollution had not made it to the parlance of planning, the first master plan did call for stopping sewage overflows into the Yamuna. It also underlined the importance of keeping residential areas free from “smoke, noise, odour and other nuisances.”

The plan also mandated shifting hazardous industries and redeveloping vacant plots or dilapidated structures as community facilities in the walled city and its extension areas such as Sadar Bazar, Paharganj, and Karol Bagh. To decongest the roads, it floated ideas such as staggered work hours to distribute peak traffic load over the day. None of these recommendations were adequately implemented.

If the first master plan failed to provide for the conservation of Delhi’s physical heritage, safeguarding against the ecological threat and allowing mixed land-use, the next two prescribed course correction and prioritised all three.

The present master plan has identified six heritage zones and designated three archaeological parks for protection. But Shahjahanbad, one of the largest designated heritage zones, witnessed a civic collapse. Without any sanctioned plans, floors have been added to dilapidated heritage buildings and warehouses were built to stock dangerous chemicals.

The present master plan also notified 2,183 roads for mixed land use. But in the absence of local planning and enforcement to ensure that the properties switching to commercial use were provisioning for parking, not encroaching on public land or violating building norms, these stretches are some of the most congested commercial spaces in the city today.

While the master plan gives a broad direction, it is the responsibility of the DDA to subsequently draw up zonal plans. The MCD has to follow up with local area plans or operational strategies based on ground realities, and the Delhi government has to ensure that services are delivered. Much of Delhi’s urban mess is the result of the failure of authorities to complete this chain.

In 1962, Delhi required a master plan — to quote from the opening line of the document — “to check the haphazard and unplanned growth… following the partition.” After more than half a century, the master plan faces the same challenge.

This time, the authorities have only themselves to blame.

First Published: Feb 19, 2018 12:02 IST