Gurgaon’s millennial magic is fading fast. But we can stop that
Gurgaon’s meteoric success over two decades has been made possible by a remarkable economic vibrancy, attracting investment and growth to rapidly outshine rival extensions of Delhi — Faridabad, Noida, and Ghaziabad.
This gold-rush of blue-chip companies has been spurred by Gurgaon’s strategic spatial advantages, right along the Delhi-Mumbai National Highway 8, against the Northern Railways line, and in closest proximity to Delhi’s International Airport.
Unfortunately, the investments have been largely lopsided, NH8 becoming the purab-paschim line that divides Gurgaon spatially, economically, culturally and administratively. The consequence has been the rise of private gates and public ghettos. The asymmetry in investment extends to the provision of public services: Private borewells for water, gensets for power, guards for security, the first private fire station in the country, even the first privately-funded metro in the world.
Such self-serving investments are short-sighted: Beyond the gates of private paradises, the city forces all residents to confront a common nightmare of traffic congestion, potholed roads, high pollution, monsoon flooding, overflowing sewage and piles of garbage. Gurgaon’s millennial magic is fast melting into misery. From being hailed as a success model, Gurgaon is now a case study of a failing city on the brink.
I believe that all is not lost.
Global cities such as New York and London have experienced many such challenges. It is in the crucibles of crisis that urgent and innovative responses have emerged, with partnerships of cooperative federalism forged across tiers of government, and deep engagement with external stakeholders.
At the heart of Gurgaon’s failure is its masterplan. The Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) has used its sweeping power to accelerate plan approvals and building sanctions, manipulating the masterplan to maximise profit — laissez-faire economic forces conspiring with a laissez-faire State.
The irony is that the masterplan (i.e. a well-designed one) is, in fact, the crux of the answer, the primary blueprint around which all solutions should be designed and implemented. An enlightened revision to the 2031 masterplan is, therefore, the need of the hour.
Of highest priority is ensuring that the problems of Gurgaon are not compounded. The Gurgaon planning area is 466 sqkm, of which developed land occupies 375 sqkm. Before HUDA’s machete slices up and distributes the remaining 100 sqkm, the state government must re-assess the merits of the current masterplan.
A revised masterplan must frame the key networked infrastructure requirements — connected hierarchy of road networks, metro and bus transport routes, water supply, drainage, sewerage — along with land reserves for civic infrastructure such as power stations, treatment plants, landfill sites, etc. Only upon clear articulation of such a spatial framework can progressive zoning be detailed, for the conservation of land, transit-oriented development, mixed-use, affordable housing, parks, police stations, and playgrounds.
What will well-planned infrastructure based on such a masterplan cost?
Rough estimates suggest Rs 50,000 crore of investment over the next 10 years. This seems staggeringly large, until one considers that Gurgaon could account for close to 1% of India’s GDP (Delhi’s is 4%), or about Rs 1,25,000 crore per annum. The revised masterplan can also contribute towards public infrastructure financing in two ways: By facilitating careful unlocking of land values; and providing credible and concrete goals to harness private capital with transparent instruments, for example, a local municipal bond with tax benefits. Corporates with large investments in Gurgaon could be given an opportunity to invest in such bonds, as can the residents of Gurgaon — the greater such local participation, the greater the accountability of such funds when they are deployed. The structure of such instruments will need to be coordinated with both state and central governments.
Pulling Gurgaon back from the brink requires state leadership, resources and technical competencies. The exit of HUDA and the developers at this juncture smacks of desertion in the aftermath of a disaster. The Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon is simply not equipped to set right the wrongs of the plan. Addressing the technical and institutional gaps will require the Haryana government to play the leadership role — if for no other reason than to atone for the sins of omission and commission that have created Gurgaon’s woes in the first place.
The masterplan is not an overnight panacea for all of Gurgaon’s woes. However, for those who care about Gurgaon, it can be the spark of hope for a seemingly doomed city.
Swati Ramanathan is chairperson, Jana Urban Space Foundation, and co-founder of Jana Group
The views expressed are personal