Monthly Archives: February 2018

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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