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A dirge for Delhi?

If a planned process of urban renewal is not set in motion in Delhi, the city's fate will be sealed by unregulated developers, writes Aruna P Sharma.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2006 00:40 IST

Delhi’s traders are moaning. They are going on and on about how the sealings and demolitions ordered by the Supreme Court will seal their fate. Then there are the other complainants. Adamant planners and administrators insist that not implementing the court’s order will seal the city’s fate, nullifying all ‘planned’ development.

Caught in the middle of this seven-month-long battle between the courts and the government are puzzled citizens who do not like the idea of lakhs of people being rendered jobless and taking to the streets — as hundreds did last week, culminating in a clash with the police at Seelampur. Also, they do not want all those nice little neighbourhood stationery stores, bakeries, tailoring units and eateries that make their daily lives so much easier to be closed down either. At the same time though, they are hassled by the generators, encroached pavements and the dangerously dangling cables that more and more shops bring with them in every residential area. Those who could afford it, have sold their houses in these areas and moved to Gurgaon or Noida. Residents’ fear that the whole city will become like Khari Baoli in Chandni Chowk, a bustling marketplace during the day and a silent graveyard at night, is legitimate.

Legitimate too are the grievances of traders and professionals who accuse the government, more particularly the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), of having failed to provide them with legal commercial space at affordable prices. As per figures furnished by the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (Hudco), the DDA has been able to provide only 16 per cent of the required commercial space in Delhi. And what is available is prohibitively expensive. So, if you are an aspiring mid-level professional looking for legitimate space in a designated commercial area, you will have to shell out at least Rs 100 per square foot as monthly rental. That means Rs 1 lakh a month as just rent for a small 1,000 sq ft space! Small entrepreneurs have nowhere to go. Even a paanwallah cannot start off in a legitimate space and ultimately ends up greasing palms to start a small ‘unauthorised’ kiosk.

There seems to be no way out of this civic mess that has compounded manifold in the last two decades due to the lack of enforcement and the failure of the government planners to come to grips with the emerging reality of a fast changing, constantly evolving and dynamic city. It may be noted that it is the 80 per cent that comprises ‘unauthorised’ shops and commercial establishments that contribute to Delhi having the fastest economic growth and the highest per capita income in the country.

The Tejendra Khanna Committee, headed by a former Lt. Governor of Delhi, offered a way out of the situation. “Penalise and regularise; bring planning in tune with reality; make people-friendly laws and then strictly enforce the new laws.” The Union Urban Development Ministry brought out a notification that set out the new relaxed guidelines for mixed land use and getting a street or road declared ‘commercial’. But the follow-up action by the municipal corporation in hastily notifying 2,183 streets without the back-up of detailed economic and sociological surveys has complicated the situation further. Does it mean that we have to ready ourselves for another round of regularisation without requisite infrastructure?

To avoid cutting a sorry figure during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, it is important that the government, after relaxing land-use norms, follows up on the other recommendations of Khanna Committee report. These include a vision statement for Delhi by engaging professional experts from different fields, regulating builders and property dealers, recovering penalties and using this amount to augment infrastructure and strictly enforce the laws and regulations.

Professional urban designers and planners should be engaged to come out with detailed plans for each part of the city in consultation with the residents and stakeholders. If one were to take the example of South Extension, the experts would be able to suggest how the residential area can be protected by creating a buffer area. The commercial plots can then be amalgamated and redistributed with integrated parking, common civic amenities and safe pedestrian walkways. Singapore, Malaysia, New York and Dubai have all gone through this process of redevelopment. But this redevelopment was conducted by a process of considered planning.

Improving the conditions of the ‘poor localities’ of Delhi by ensuring basic civic amenities needs to be prioritised. They could be given special representation so that their requirements can be properly articulated and included in the area plan.

If this planned process of urban renewal is not set in motion in Delhi now, the city’s fate will be sealed by bad planning, unregulated developers and megalomaniac administrators who have plenty of vision for themselves but nothing for the city.

First Published: Sep 28, 2006 00:40 IST