The Lieutenant Governor is the ‘go to’ man in town

The High Court of Delhi pronounced its Judgment on the 4th of August, 2016 in the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Vs Union Of India, that the Lieutenant Governor (LG)was in fact the executive head of Delhi.

That position remains, and while the Delhi Government later moved the Supreme Court against the Judgment, the operation of order of the High Court was not stayed. The Supreme Court has reserved its Judgment in this case.

Simply put, unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise, it is the LG who is Delhi’s executive head and governs it for the President of India.

The Governance model devised for Delhi was a strategy to make a union territory appear as if it were being administered via a local government elected by the people of Delhi and not the Central Government – elected by all of India. It was an attempt to accommodate into a formal legislative structure the large number of local political aspirants who were forever growing in numbers. Similar exercises had been tried in earlier decades. Handing over Delhi under the executive charge of local political representatives made the Union Government very uncomfortable. Indeed the Parliament of India agreed.

The political representatives in the Municipal Corporations as well as in the Legislative Assembly, Mayor and Chief Minister have no real power. The municipal commissioners – who are civil servants – and not the corporators –who are elected- run the Municipal  Corporations. They indulge the mayors but let there be no illusion that it is the commissioners who are in charge.

It is only partly true, that the Delhi model of governance collapses when the political party at the state and the centre are at loggerheads. Clash of personalities and overlapping turfs creates festering conflicts even if the party at the centre and state are the same. Sheila Dikshit faced this constantly but was adept at keeping it under wraps knowing fully well that exposing it would only show her as powerless against the LG and the centre.

When the Congress was in power at the Centre and in Delhi, in 2006 Sheila Dikshit locked horns with the then LG, BL Joshi, over several issues such as changing building laws in unauthorised colonies & over the issue of nominating legislators for foreign trips. There was a similar instance of confrontation with LG, Tejinder Khanna, including one over the construction and length of the Rao Tula Ram flyover.  Another example was in 2011, when Tejinder Khanna confronted the Delhi government’s decision on increasing circle rates for properties. However, in this case, the Union Home Ministry sided with Dikshit. Matters were resolved quietly.

But a camaraderie based model suggesting friendship (or worse cronyism) as a process of governing is disingenuous. Suggesting that an elected government should tip-toe around civil servants and officers to get them to work is silly. Statecraft is important but minus executive/coercive power the Chief Minister is a glorified Non-Government Organisation, an NGO. This is not to absolve Arvind Kejriwal but to only state that it is the centre that is in power in Delhi and should therefore be held accountable for Delhi’s problems. The Chief Minister is actually irrelevant in the scheme of Delhi’s governance.

Since this is not made explicit, there continues to be total confusion in the public on who governs Delhi. For the interested, it is important to go into some detail so bear with me:

In 1998 a Central Government notification said that “The Lieutenant Governor, shall in matters connected with public order, police and services exercise the power and discharge the functions of the Centre, to the extent delegated from time to time to him by the President, in consultation with the Chief Minister, except in cases where, for reasons to be recorded in writing he does not consider it expedient to do so,”.

This did provide the CM with a degree of say in the state’s affairs, but overturning this, the Central Government in a May 21 gazette notification of 2015 said:

‘And whereas it is well established that where there is no legislative power, there is no executive power since executive power is co-extensive with legislative power’.  It then proceeds to expand the powers of the LG to provide that in relation to matters connected with ‘Public Order’, ‘Police’, ‘Land’ and ‘Services’ the LG will exercise the powers and discharge the functions of the Central Government, to the extent delegated to him from time to time by the President, provided he  may, in his discretion, obtain the views of the Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi in regard to the matter of ‘Services’ wherever he deems it appropriate. Services here refers to the civil services (DANIC, DANIPS).

Which, in simple language, leaves it to the LG’s discretion “to obtain the views” of the CM in regard to the matter of “services” wherever he considered it to be appropriate. This notification makes LG the total boss as far as the reserved subjects of public order, police and services are concerned. No consultation is required with the CM.

But if the Chief Minister of a State has absolutely no powers over the officers or the police then he simply cannot govern. Period.

This brings us to the point that it is then the Central Government and the LG that is responsible for the state of Delhi, its waste problem, its choked roads, its filthy river and its foul air.

The Chief Minister of Delhi is only a ‘National Narrative Maker’ for or against the political party that forms the government at the centre. With a national election coming up, the National Narrative Maker’s role will gain in significance.

With the Supreme Court having reserved its Judgement, as things stand now, the elected representatives in Delhi have the limited role of keeping people occupied in political theatre, build public opinion for or against issues, have political personalities retain a pie of Delhi’s GDP (if they like to) but in real terms it is the LG (and, therefore, the Central Government) who governs the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

Thankfully there is a substantial private as well as civil society involvement in Delhi’s functioning. There are large private players in power distribution, water billing and accounting, road construction, retail,  waste management, healthcare and that enables the Delhi that we live in to keep operating.  The Police are independent from the state Govt and Delhi’s RWAs, citizens’ groups and residents contribute by themselves and compensate for absent security and civic amenities. Delhi’s political crisis is never big enough or precipitous enough to bring the city to a halt.

Asking for a total return to UT or grant of full statehood both seem impossible since that would require a constitutional amendment by the Parliament. That seems unlikely bordering on the impossible. Until such time as the Hon’ble Supreme Court announces its decision, your ‘go to’ man is the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. Call him up when you have a problem.

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Karnataka- Again our MLAs cede moral space to Elites and Intellectuals

The process of government formation in Karnataka recently became a major controversy. The role of the Governor, political parties and the court came into much discussion

In the melee a political situation was hijacked by the elites who started to moralize about elected politicians. It’s a trap unfortunately which our political leadership succumbs to time and again. I believe that the positions taken by our intellectuals, thought leaders and journalists reflected their own bias instead of a genuine interest in democracy. There was the usual lampooning of political parties and the comfort in calling all politicians corrupt. The conflict was positioned as one set of politicians on the prowl on a buying spree and another set being saved by being abducted and hidden away to prevent them from being sold. The narrative was one of Venal Vs Venal warlords competing to save democracy. As a sideshow another set of warring journalists and ‘intellectuals’, enslaved by their fixed positions took to their respective sides and attacked each other in this puerile show.

What should be solved through democracy is sought to be saved by institutions, and when it suits them, political high commands strategise to rely on courts on a matter which is really not for courts to solve. The process of Government formation was positioned in this case as one of corrupt MLAs, shorn of any morality or ideology, & being  up for sale. This is insulting to our democracy and it is surprising how legislators would allow such an impression be perpetuated about them. That it was a part of submissions in court that legislators will be bought, and further that legislators themselves allowed themselves to be confined to a hotel/resort in this period is truly disappointing. The position taken was elite politicking more than people’s politics. We are a democracy that routinely shows our politicians in a bad light. This is not good. It takes a lot of courage to get into electoral politics, far more than politics by other means.

We will now have a Government made up of people no one will look up to. Even though each MLA won in his own constituency he would be seen as having united in Government by being restrained from taking bribes. The opposition MLA who also won will be seen as a sullen loser.

It is sad that this will be the impression about them, especially because it will be an incorrect one. A Government so formed will be full of contradictions and will not serve the interests of the State.This weakens democracy and people’s power. This empowers elites and the bureaucracy.

While I do not Know Karnataka politics, I do know that Governments cannot just be formed by buying off legislators. If that were so, the party with the deepest pockets would simply buy off the parliament. If money or inducement/ coercion was so simple then between funds and CBI or ED etc any bill could be made to pass in parliament

Elected leaders have to face people on a daily basis, they also have to face their families, friends, peer groups, and they have to look at their long term political prospects before they take a decision. Even the most turncoat politician is sensitive to his constituency as well as his beliefs. This is not to say that money does not play a role at all in decision making but that money is not the sole consideration. Often money is not the consideration at all

For a stable government in a fractured mandate the solution is not courts interfering to save democracy but legislators resorting to more democracy. What has happened in Karnataka positions elected MLAs in a shameful position and it should not be repeated. It reinforces the belief that the politician who rises from the ground and elected by common people is an immoral person. While the perpetuation of this image suits the elite, it is fallacious and should not be reinforced.

For a stable government, where a pre poll alliance does not exist & requisite majority does not exist for the largest party would it be more democratic if we tried the following?

The Governor will in most cases tend to favour the dispensation that afforded him his position. The counter to that are not courts, but the newly elected legislators themselves. I propose that in such cases a 3 month period should be given and let all political parties resort to   politics. It will be hard to keep many MLA in resorts for that long in isolation. The newly elected MLA will have to get back to their constituency and will Willy nilly get a feedback from voters. In the current scenario, the short period allows them to act only as party representatives subject to party ‘whip’ and not consider how voters feel about their newly considered alignment. But given three months they will come under questioning from their voters and the media. In this time they will start to let their high command know what the pulse on the ground is. One should not forget that the rival candidate who lost the election will also rake up the issue among people. It will not be that easy to just ‘buy’ someone off by creating an unnecessary emergency.

I do not want to quibble on the time period. It may be 45 days or 2 months but the intent is not to hurry the process but to give it sufficient time. All in all, public opinion will pressurize the elected MLAs to take decisions more carefully. In this time all democratic negotiating happens with the political friends and rivals, peer groups, political NGOs and parleying with the media. It is mostly democratic deal making, negotiating, convincing and arguing. That’s part and parcel of our culture.

It is a settled matter that if the largest party is not in a position to form the Government, then the leader of the post poll alliance be called to form the Government. That is fair and should usually be the course taken. However in the Karnataka the leader of JDS, a party with the smallest mandate and one which only won regionally was prompted to head the state. This is perverse. Had it been a Congress CM with JDS support the matter would have been different as the Congress party had the highest vote share. It therefore becomes all the more important that legislators were given a long enough period to navigate through public opinion and negotiate accordingly. The Governor should in such cases exercise his discretion by giving elected more time rather than less.

That is democracy. Three months is not that a long time when a 5 year stable Govt has to be established and it is likely that a lasting government would emerge through this process than a hastily cobbled one.

 

*The Sarkaria Commission recommended that a Chief Minister, unless he is the leader of a party which has absolute majority in the Assembly, should seek a vote of confidence in the Assembly within 30 days of taking over. This is only a recommendation and not a constitutional binding.

Also read – Oligarchy of the Unelected-  https://ashutoshdixitblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/oligarchy-of-the-unelected/

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The Delhi voter’s role in his own disempowerment – Part 2, Scrounging on Property Tax- saving our backs, losing our spine

There is a claim that voters are paying tax by default on every purchase and therefore direct tax such as property tax can be ignored. This is fallacious. There is an advantage to direct tax which is empowering and which is why responsible governments as well as voters rely on it.

Insofar as impacting Governance is concerned;

  1. Indirect taxes load everyone equally and are therefore loaded against poorer sections. Direct taxes can be more equitable
  2. Direct taxes are openly visible and therefore discipline the Government by way of voters being able to question it on accountability

Now look at what we have done

Only 35% of Delhi’s residents pay property tax. So while some are paying higher taxes, on the average a voter pays about Rs 400 per month towards all municipal taxes in the South Delhi Municipal Corporation. Against this is expected 24×7 Municipal sweeping, free parking, park maintenance and waste management and public lighting, storm water drainage, Municipal Schools, Dispensaries and road seeping. This is the level of sense of freeloading and entitlement. PWD, Military, Paramilitary, Government hospital, Police Infrastructure, cost of elections; Government schools etc are not included in the above assumption.

For a self owned three bedroom DDA SFS flat, at its current value the property tax in London and in New York will be about Rs 3, 90,000 instead of about Rs. 2700 that is paid in Delhi. The extensive unauthorised colonies where more than 50% of Delhi lives as well as lal dora area and urban villages pay no residential property tax.

The AAP Government had, in the last Municipal election promised to waive off property tax altogether. Now almost a third of Delhi’s population would have been excluded from this benefit as the percentage of house-owning households in Delhi is less than the national average(2011 Census), a waiver would only benefit landlords and more so those who have bigger houses

The AAP tried to explain it away by using the indirect tax argument. This is precisely as explained earlier, disempowering for the resident. After all how much will you question if you get a scarce resource like water free, electricity subsidized and property tax waived.

The recent issue of sealing of illegal commercial establishments in Delhi would have had the Central Government give in (at least on the face of it) had the Hon’ble Supreme court not intervened.  The number of house owners is many times more than the number of traders. Then why do traders have disproportionate power as compared to residents? The relationship between traders and politicians is one of partners. The Relationship between politicians and voters is one of master and supplicant. The trader pays, and the voter seeks freebies.

The consequences for Delhi are self evident.  Year after year of voting for freebies,  pitting one party against the other for relaxation in bye laws, and seeking freedom from civic discipline the Delhi voter finds herself locked in a mess of her own making. A situation where no tough solutions can be implemented and no easy solution exists.

 

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The Delhi voter’s role in his own dis empowerment – Part 1

As part of my work in URJA it is important that I put out in public all aspects that impact Governance in Delhi. And in this article I intend to move away from the refrain on politicians and the bureaucracy and address public behaviour instead and its impact over the years.

People in public life start to notice this after some years of work. Young politicians are the first to recognise it, then activists and NGO. We all know that our political leaders come from ‘society’. It’s just that we think that ‘society’ is ‘out there’ among other people. But the fact is, we come to realise rather acutely that that ‘society’ is really ‘in here’.

Much of our politics revolves around slogans, entitlement and freebies. We may think that all the subsidies, entitlements, reservations, doles and freebies go to the poor rural farmer/worker, but the truth is that the urban voter too gets massive subsidies that he is now addicted to. Freebies are not as much an economic problem as they are a gateway to bad Governance.

What can be termed as a case of yatha praja, tatha raja, as opposed to the original adage, by seeking all services at the lowest possible price and at the shortest possible distance in flagrant violation of all safety, health and legal norms the citizen of Delhi has used her vote to produce a progressively irresponsible political leadership.

I will take up the issue of parking in the first part

In London a resident has to take a parking permit and pay for it, and the cost, in some areas, goes up progressively every year. In areas of New York the permit cost is as high at Rs 1, 50,000/- per year. They also pay taxes and registration fee. Parking in Sao Paulo in Brazil may cost up to Rs 350/-per hour. On street parking is not allowed in most areas of that city.

Contrary to this, the citizen in Delhi considers being provided free parking endlessly his birthright. A single car in posh South Delhi feels entitled to occupy over Rs.10 Million worth of public land totally free of cost. The Government is unable to enforce any parking charges in residential areas as car owners kick up a fuss. There is no point listing out the troubles that Delhi with almost 1.10 Crore Privately owned vehicles is facing. That is well known.  Municipal revenue is a pittance (as compared to other metropolises of the developed world) as its two major revenue sources, car parking and on street vending have been severely compromised. I will take this up more extensively in the succeeding article

Free parking for residents is demanded by some city based activists who propagate the idea that “the Government should have foreseen a car owning explosion and therefore it is the Government’s duty to provide parking space endlessly”. The first part is correct. The corollary is nonsensical. That it finds resonance among some urban upper middle class activists as well as common residents is bewildering considering that nowhere in the world does such a right or expectation exist. This is a clear cut consequence of an ‘entitlement’ mindset being positioned as a ‘right’.

The other strange notion that came up over parking is that parking charges by Municipal Corporations are only meant for collecting revenue and, as property tax and road tax was paid the corporations should not raise revenue on that account. Property tax, Road tax, Registration and parking charges are totally different issues in all Metropolises of the world. That this is positioned as some sort of some general taxation mix shows the extent of specious argument that can be used to appropriate freebies. Some residents wanted to ascertain penny to penny if revenue collected from parking was being used to give them additional facilities in their local area.

Unless the whole doctrine of taxation changes to balancing local collection and expenditure for each area, the notions being propagated are patently ridiculous. Parking is charged world over as a revenue generation mechanism by Municipalities. But the idea of free use of public space is deeply ingrained and strange arguments are used to defend that position.

Suspicion about Government’s functioning and accounting can be fixed by a proper method of citizens’ participation in local affairs but not by daily inquisitions. Because of wanting more and more service for less and less the voter is now left holding on to empty promises by politicians. It’s a natural consequence of this behaviour.

The Damage to RWAs of this free services mindset is immense as well. They are unable to manage parking within their colonies as conflict arises on a daily basis. Lanes are choked, cars come and go unchecked, but no one will pay a penny to help the RWA regulate this. It is easy to see how the voter is caught in a mess of her own making and now want extrication free of cost. It simply cannot work.

 

Next:

Part -2 – Scrounging on Property Tax, saving our backs, losing our spine

 

 

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Three solutions for Delhi

Implement, Implement & Implement

Vendor policy, Parking policy, Master Plan, Mixed use policy, Waste management policy, Rain water harvesting policy, this policy, that policy and whichever policy. Discuss policies and feel very intelligent, argue endlessly on policy like intellectuals and wallow in filth, traffic jams, overflowing sewers and chaos on a daily basis. Watch a bunch of politicians fight, spew stuff over social media, squabble on TV and watch it as entertainment and a cause for foolish politics, further arguments and discussion.  All discussion and no real administration is how the Government and politicians are passing their time. This also sums up how the citizens of Delhi have lost their way and are endlessly kept occupied by clever people into discussions.

A similar point was made also in an earlier editorial in Hindi (Oct 2017)

Every complaint on inaction of authorities can be subverted by diverting it into a political fight. Try getting a small encroachment removed from public land and before you know it local political activists will be creating a ruckus with the citizen looking askance and eventually getting drawn into idiotic arguments. Finally no officer takes action and we are back to square one, wallowing in the same mess and ready to squabble like fools the next day

Which is why, I urge residents to be very conscious of being drawn too much into policy matters. Not everybody is an expert (much as we may pompously like to believe) and not everybody has the wherewithal for surveys, maps, studies and the background required for making policy. This is not to say that all citizens should shy of commenting on policy, but it would help if most of us ordinary folk shift our focus on asking the local leader and officer this;

Whatever happened to implementation of your policy? When are you going to implement? Keep on harassing and asking. Build a union of voters, and harass the elected representative and officer with these questions;

Why have you not implemented, who is blocking you.

When is SWM2016 going to get implemented?

When is the Vendor Act going to get implemented?

When is the Parking policy getting implemented?

Why are you not towing away illegal vehicles?

Why is plastic all over the place when banned?

Why are you not penalizing defaulters?

How will incompetent official staff be punished?

Don’t waste time with policy. Obsess with its lack of implementation and harass your local MP, MLA, Councillor, and Commissioner and so on and so forth. Flood them with petitions, complaints, Letters, RTI. Do whatever it takes but keep on questioning on implementation alone. A system which has the active participation of RWA should be set up to evaluate and report the functioning of Government departments

Do not let the Government, draw you into a policy discussion. Be the power to demand implementation.

 

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Sealing & FAR: Politicians can see what the media and the older generation have missed

Every now and then I get to one of the much maligned’ commercial’ spaces in Delhi. Currently under attack from some RWA members these commercial spaces could be in CP, GK2, GK1 markets or Khan Market, or on mixed use streets mostly within my radius of regular commute.  I meet up with friends for coffee; I land up to listen to some blues, enjoy some bookshop browsing, savour some new cuisine, or I buy myself some stuff.  I am struck by the preponderance of the young in such places. Cheerful, dressed lightly and laughing they are mostly oblivious to the ‘commercial doom’ being forecast.

I don’t see older people at Delhi’s commercial spaces, simply because they are not designed to be older friendly. Traffic jams, no safe footpaths, being forced to walk on the road along with trucks, unregulated traffic and messy parking all contribute to an unpleasant experience for the older generation

This is perhaps why it is not the young, driven by work, growth and entertainment that are opposing ‘commercialisation’ but the older RWA members who feel sidelined and insecure in the melee.

It is not the commercial spaces that are the problem but the management of the environment around them which irks the elderly. Rightly so. Not only commercial, many other facilities such as metro stations, small nursing homes, eateries, playschools required by the young and aspiration filled population of Delhi are troublesome because of parking problems and traffic jams because the periphery is badly managed or because restaurants put untreated waste into their sewers. The distinction between commercial activity and its fallout(‘externality’) has to be clearly seen to be managed. It has to be taken into account by policy makers, planners and by implementing agencies

This is a point the few older RWA people, fail to get as they attack commercial establishments and traders. This is a point the Media has not considered in it’s otherwise widespread coverage

Does that mean unbridled conversion of residential to commercial? Certainly not.  It’s not a ‘this vs that’, black vs white proposition. Youngsters, older people, women, traders and residents are not separate or disparate entities. They are connected socially, economically and as members within a family.

Changes in population also require corresponding changes in supporting facilities like affordable commercial and office spaces too. As prices for commercial spaces escalate and there are only those many jobs in comparison to the increase in population. The ordinary entrepreneur who seeks to fulfill her ambition finds herself at sea. As businesses move to a greater orientation towards services this middle class ‘start up’ finds no legitimate space available at an affordable price. There are no SFS offices unlike SFS flats. There is a dire shortage of planned office space in virtually all areas of Delhi. Choked and pushed into a corner for survival the entrepreneur seeks to find a place in urban villages, in residential areas, or wherever else she can to create a livelihood. This too escapes the older citizens who can’t seem to empathize with the young and the restless. The politicians know this but it has escaped media attention.

I am not arguing for an unbridled increase in FAR or providing amnesty to those who resort to unauthorized residential and commercial activity. All I am making a case for is to shed the paranoia of increased FAR and shift our attention to a keener, more active regulation and oversight of how residences and commercial establishments conduct themselves in society in relation to waste, untreated effluents, fire safety regulations parking in public spaces and pedestrian movement. Densely populated and successful cities do not trivialize those conditions.

Any planning model has thresholds beyond which known formulae fail. This is precisely what is happening here. The authorities are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people. Add to that, the desire to maximise profit through land has compromised DDA’s ability to plan in public interest. When profit through land is staring an organisation in its face it is very hard to plan for those who can only pay less.

Instead of blindly dismissing the increase in FAR we need to pause and think slowly. This auto-conditioned response to ‘commercialization’ must stop. The needs of the many must be considered before surrendering to the fulminations of a few.

 

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Densification is the way to Decongestion.

The drive initiated by the Supreme Courts’ monitoring committee and the subsequent sealing followed by changes to the Delhi Master plan has kept many of us in URJA engaged in several discussions. The DDA has increased the FAR for commercial units in residential areas and has faced opposition from several public activists in Delhi

Bluntly put, there is no choice but to increase FAR in many areas. Delhi has a booming economy with one of the highest per capita income among all states in India. There is the massive population of Delhi with spending power, fuelling the demand for goods and services. The demand supply dynamics coupled with a burgeoning young population of aspiration filled voters will simply prevail. Over the years the UD ministry has failed to create adequate commercial space which is accessible to the ordinary entrepreneur. Expensive high end mall space just does not do it.

The idea of TOD(Transit Oriented Development) and Densification which planners (including the DDA) have envisaged for Delhi is the need of the hour. But the operational departments of the DDA as well as other Government departments, Police, Municipalities etc. involved in managing the city have failed to achieve this planning objective

There is no ‘elsewhere’

A conversation about exporting our waste, traffic and migration to elsewhere and making exclusive enclaves, returning Delhi to some city of yore is unrealistic.  The original idea of Delhi was based on a planned city where there was an ‘elsewhere’. Buses could be parked far away, sewage could be discharged untreated into the flowing river, Municipal waste could be taken to Landfills, people could live in NOIDA and Gurugram while Delhi’s planned colonies and SFS flats remained pretty enclaves of peace.

It didn’t quite work out like that. Delhi was allowed to metamorphose into a dense cluster of unauthorised colonies deprived of basic amenities, motorized vehicles reached unimaginable numbers, urban villages became vote banks as well as concrete jungles, landfills overflowed & collapsed, the parliament legitimized all past illegal construction and then; outlying rural areas refused to take pampered Delhi’s waste and Haryana started to deposit more and more sewage and draw more water, along with Delhi, into the Yamuna making it into a filthy drain.

Appealing to the rule of law with unclean hands

After having had the law on FAR changed to their own advantage as well as resort to illegal encroachment on public land and build unauthorised dwelling units, it is somewhat disingenuous of a few residents to take a holier than thou attitude towards increased FAR for commercial activity. Residents forget that they are the consumers of the same commercial services that have made their lives ‘convenient’. Residents forget that they park their own cars on footpaths and buy cheap from illegal vendors on footpaths. Civic agencies and the police have been simply incapable of law enforcement or timely implementation of policy. Violations should be punished but moving forward, the city has to plan for itself differently to remain sustainable

Densification for Decongestion; Managing chaos is the way forward for Delhi

Best be rid of the idea of decongestion by offloading our mess onto some other place. There is no scope for it

A municipal ward/assembly constituency cannot remove commercial space from its geography and ask for it to be taken elsewhere. Which other ward will accept it? They have enough troubles of their own!

Now that we have reached this urban crisis the intelligent thing to do is to look at what opportunities we can find here and turn this to our advantage. Economic growth and the availability of a large range of goods and services, which would otherwise not be viable, have now become possible. Cheap radio cabs as an option to owning cars, delivery of a wide variety of services including multiple cuisines, delivery of online retail purchase are some of the services that become viable and accessible only at scales higher densities provide. Properly done, densification appears to bring about economic & lifestyle benefits and vibrant places with amenities close by.  Mixed use areas provide more dwelling diversity & densification comes in many shapes other than just high rise.

There are many options which are beyond the scope of this article but businesses benefit when a diverse, multi-generational population has amenities close to home. Mixed use areas can reduce our dependence on automobiles by building in bike lanes, pedestrian-only streets and easy access to rapid transit. These multi-modal transport elements help to manage traffic congestion and reduce parking issues. These are well known ideas practiced in cities with high population densities. This may require redevelopment or retrofitting and remodeling for change but it does appear to be the best way forward given where we are now. Transforming ageing infrastructure is also an economic growth opportunity.

This is not possible for the authorities to achieve without a public buy in. Just putting out a public notice inviting comments will not do. A time frame should be fixed and a comprehensive plan to engage with the residents through local political leaders, RWAs and Market Associations, religious institutions and public spirited citizens should be carried out to plan for the future management of the city.

It must also be stated very clearly that densification and TOD, in Delhi’s context require finely managed urban spaces. This includes heightened monitoring and intervention by the DDA, Municipalities and the police for compliance. But all this requires up to date and very accurate maps that take into account the truth from the ground with the minutest detail being reflected. Many maps in the master plan are outdated and inaccurate*.

Good urban design with detailed physical planning and design is essential for a better city. It cannot be left to happen on its own.

There is little room left for the authorities to abdicate their responsibilities any longer. Any new plan for Delhi absolutely must have a special provision for penalizing and punishing officers if they are found to have obviously ignored a violation of public spaces and environment laws. Dereliction of duty is no longer an option. Thus far and no further; bureaucratic unaccountability should not be acceptable to the public.

Any violation of  public spaces by citizens too, must be dealt with swiftly.

The resident of Delhi must pull herself out of the rut of old thinking which, unfortunately is being reinforced by a few noisy voices. The citizens have no choice but to be open to change. We cannot keep thinking about the past. Nostalgia is good but the future has to be better.

Note

  • The Residents of Alaknanda found this to their horror when it became evident that some officers in the  DDA had facilitated the sanction of a giant mall in the middle of DDA SFS housing based on traffic movement on a non- existent road as well as by violating the provisions in the MPD.
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The brouhaha over commercialisation in Delhi

Recently there were several news articles in the press citing the views of Delhi RWAs over DDA’s proposal to increase FAR for shops and commercial establishments in residential areas on payment of conversion charges.

At the very outset, it should be pointed out, particularly to press reporters that there is no such thing as a common view of Delhi’s RWAs.  Any person or group claiming to speak for all RWAs is misleading the press as well as the public. Several RWA federations exist, but given Delhi’s diversity, no two RWAs are alike and all have a different view on different matters. Federations usually work by collectively leveraging for common area development even as their members differ on various issues. At times some RWA may express a common opinion but to lay claim to an all encompassing view of all Delhi’s RWA is simply not true

Coming to the issue of this purported denouncement by few individuals from RWAs, of DDA’s proposals to increase FAR, the least that can be said is that their position is morally untenable, politically immature and technically unsound

Demands like providing additional infrastructure before increasing FAR show a lack of understanding of how retrofitting ought to be done when densification is the need of the hour. Delhi’s population density has increased 500% since 1980 and its RWA simply cannot afford to dish out the same stock statements, unchanged, since the 80’s

It is indeed surprising that residents who have over the years resorted to large scale illegal construction in Delhi’s posh colonies and DDA SFS flats, fought and lobbied to have their own FAR enhanced under the grounds of genuine need,  today take a faux moral position on the same need of commercial establishments. RWAs comprise of member  residents who have built builders floors, converted one house into multiple apartments and basements, parked 10 times the cars on pedestrian walkways, occupied the back and front service lanes and made crores by selling and renting their own properties for commercial gain, are now crying wolf over when someone else is seeking to enrich himself commercially!

It is my view that if the tables were turned by the Supreme Court’s Monitoring Committee, the same residents of posh colonies will be running for their lives when bulldozers come looking for illegal construction/encroachment in residential back yards, front/back lanes and roofs or tow away their cars that have ravaged the footpaths forcing pedestrians to risk their lives. Crores worth of public land has been taken over by these worthies. RWAs do not write to the MCD or the Government reporting the illegal acts of its own subscribers (they should, for the sake of our city) but some of them have been rather shrill in denouncing commercial spaces.

Delhi has a shortage of commercial space and excessive illegal and unauthorised residential space, so the position taken by some people in RWAs is untenable. Delhi needs densification, transit oriented development and an increase in FAR. We will need to find ways and means to co-exist with an increased pressure on existing infrastructure through an intense management of spaces, traffic, parking, water and air rather than hope that the problems of high migration, multiplying families, economic boom can have their after effects exported to some far flung area.

Again, on the issue of parking the position taken by some RWA members is sullen and cynical. That does not help. The State simply does not have the wherewithal to chaperone and/or punish a population opposed to the rule of law. RWAs will have to clean up their own act before throwing stones at others from their own house of glass. The demand raised that the Government ought to provide “adequate parking for residents in their vicinity” is disingenuous. It is tantamount to saying that an owner of 10 cars is entitled to be provided parking by the Government. By that logic parents of 10 children are entitled to housing in their neighbourhood and that all shopkeepers are entitled to warehouses for their goods. This kind of ridiculous argument gathers momentum among unthinking people and public pressure through civil society groups produce a master plan based on false precepts. This must be avoided.

It is correct that impelled by greed and pressures of competitive & partisan politics, the city has made a mess of things but moving forward the Resident Welfare Associations and Market Trader Associations will have to sit across the table and very honestly admit to their own complicity in aiding and abetting Delhi’s slide into this catastrophe.

The Government must punish those who have violated the existing law and those who have broken existing rules. But moving forward, laws will have to be changed to accommodate mammoth changes in the city’s migration, politics, demographics and economy

There is no such word as ‘decongestion’ and ‘purely residential’ in a highly populated, extremely dense and politically surcharged city. We will have to organise within this chaos, and there are ways of doing it if resident as well as market bodies stop having double standards and brainstorm to get their act together. Else be prepared to have politicians continue to manipulate and retain their hold over a crumbling city

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The views expressed by the author are personal

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URJA Editorial January 2018- Time To Declare A War On The Plastic ‘Panni’

Readers should try this simple experiment. Search google for images of ‘garbage in Delhi’. You will be presented with mounds of multi-coloured plastic packets, wrappers and tetra packs.

In terms of weight plastic may not constitute much, but in terms of causing trouble, plastic is a significant troublemaker.

When reminded, people usually say that it is a small part of waste and other things add up to more so why focus on plastic?

Catalysts are usually substances that are added to accelerate chemical change. In the case of plastic, removing it will result in acting as a catalyst for waste management

Plastic, particularly the thin ‘panni’ type is compounding the management of solid waste. The same plastic is choking our storm water drains leading to flooding. The same plastic creates a problem when the drains are desilted

This plastic is also being burnt illegally in brick kilns poisoning the air we breathe in.

We must make plastic in waste our enemy number one if we want to manage the waste problem in Delhi. This is not to say that things like E waste are less toxic but plastic is released by households daily poisoning our own lives and making our neighbourhoods ugly

Please become extremely conscious of plastic. Look around and every mound of waste is crowned by layers of plastic.

If every household and RWA decides in right earnest that not a single piece of plastic will go to the dhalao and instead be contained and disposed off separately in a proper manner to be recycled appropriately, much of the ugliness of our garbage can be made to disappear

Think about it. It is not that difficult to do.

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URJA Editorial December 2017-Water Management Reforms—A Crying Need

The issue of water tariff and tariff of utilities raises some questions that must be addressed.  Usually whenever tariff is raised, public opinion is forced to coalesce around rates with political sides taken thoughtlessly and with activists on either side jumping in to buttress a position already taken.

The original idea of a 10% increase annually was flawed and opposed by URJA as it was positioned around the generalized belief that prices should inevitably go up and that is somehow the way of the world. This position if at all justifiable should have been complemented with increased efficiency, conservation, better technology and better sewage treatment also as deliverables.

Taking the first for granted, to raise tariff, and completely ignoring the second makes for monopolistic opportunism and end up in bureaucratic ineptitude and wastage of public funds. Subsidizing through tax revenue to keep tariff low (both in water & Electricity) is nothing but inefficiency. Any Government can do that but it does not augur well for long development. It also signifies a lack of long term political vision from our political leaders who succumb to short term populism for votes without a plan in place to sensibly lead the people to a better understanding on resource management for future times

The freebie centered, povertarian politics in India does not consider an efficiency oriented delivery of major utilities. This is the reason why water and sewage infrastructure in Delhi remains archaic and centered around politics rather than on efficiency

The failure of the Government in ensuring significant development, commensurate with the problem, in Rain water harvesting among Delhi’s colonies and institutions is a telling example. As late as June 2017 the NGT was directing that the Government ensure RWH in All schools.  We are far away from any significant Grey and black water recycling as well as protecting the Yamuna from being flooded by millions of tones of sewage and pollutants daily. Though some Municipal corporations have declared their area open defecation free it is not possible to ascertain how much extra untreated sewage (which was earlier leaching into the ground) will now be dumped into the river.

What cannot be explained is the slow or near absent rate of modernizing the water infrastructure, sewage & replacement of old and crumbling pipes. Equally disappointing is the lack of Government initiative in promoting innovative water recycling for communities and a host of other technologically intelligent and possible community initiatives that will bring residents together to truly enjoy water conservation, recycling and usage, instead of seeing it as a difficulty alone

The record of Delhi Government on water does not show up in a good light. The Government has failed to

  • Ensure Behavioral change in water consumption through regular law enforcement
  • Deliver water directly to overhead tanks and restrain the use of online boosters
  • Penalize wastage and overflow from tanks by surprise checks and on spot fines
  • Aggressively enforce RWH & replenish adequate ground water levels
  • Prevent vote banks from openly thieving/looting water from pipes and regulating the same to provide water supply to impoverished areas under metering
  • Carry out a massive citywide survey to bring all persons drawing water under Government record
  • Have a record on Septic Tanks in unauthorised clusters.

An explainable rise in tariff is simple and does not require much intelligence except ordinary street savvy cleverness. A big leap in thinking on how we will manage water efficiently for the burgeoning population and need of Delhi requires an intelligent big think that the city leadership must bring into its imagination

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