Statehood Vs Smart Administration for Delhi – a note For RWA

The Chief Minister of Delhi has come out with the State of Delhi Bill, 2016. This 18-page document places the Police, the Municipalities and the DDA under the Government of the State of Delhi. The Chief Minister promises a sea change in Delhi through its application. Similar demands have been made by other Chief Ministers of Delhi in the past

There are also demands that Delhi is best served by reverting to its Union territory status and placed under the charge of the Lt. Governor, who will represent the overwhelming power of the Government of India. There will be no significant elected representatives and the LG will be free to act through his officers.

On the other hand, there is a belief that Delhi (Barring the NDMC area & The Cantonment) being placed fully under a state Government of elected representatives in charge of PWD, Police, MCD, water & other services will be more effective. This would be like Governments in, U.P, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Tamil Nadu, Punjab etc.

Besides this there are believers that status quo be maintained.

In the meantime, no one in Delhi is clear which officer or department is responsible for preventing encroachments on roads, illegal construction, broken footpaths, vending zones, & solid waste management in colonies.  People are unclear as to who to complain to if sewers mix with storm water drains, the Police does not lodge FIRs, Ambulances do not reach in time, Stray dogs bite children, or what to do if trees are creeping into residences, open defecation and lack of public toilets.

Our entire discourse and debate is centered on politics.  People enjoy these mudslinging debates even as they themselves suffer and the city of Delhi reaches a tipping point from where no return would be possible.

 In this piece I argue that we have sufficient democratic representation, participation & accountability in politics but have an underdeveloped administrative system which is obsolete, unaccountable and inefficient. It will not be able to deliver the promises made by any Government

Democratic State and Administration

India and its states are governed and administrated by a permanent bureaucracy, police, and tax, military and judicial administration that a political party temporarily presides upon. It has to be understood that a Democracy, a Dictatorship, a Theocracy or a Communist country can all be different ways in which people are collectively organised as a ‘State’ but it’s ‘administration’ is an altogether different matter

 Delhi has a democratically elected State government which presides upon some administrative functions; it has a democratically elected Municipality; And a democratically elected Political party at the Centre which presides upon the Police and parts of the state’s administration through the Lt. Governor

Delhi’s problem however, stem from the absence of a responsive, honest and efficient administration, not less democracy in its political structure.

Delhi’s citizen needs to know the Government department responsible for each service and wants to know which officer is to be held responsible for dereliction of duty and the compensation to the citizen for deficiency in services. The city does not care if the Police or MCD is under the charge of the LG or the CM as long as they do their job in an efficient, responsible and honest manner.

Why have Governments failed to deliver on promises; Explaining administration & Multiplicity of Authorities

India and Delhi is administered through its Bureaucracy, Police and Judicial administration which was originally established by the British colonial Rulers to serve the ends of an imperial colonising power. This colonial construct of the bureaucracy continues to this day. Citizens approach officers with servility, sycophancy and salaam. This is openly visible in any office.

There will be several different departments that are required to undertake tasks and deliver on the Political mandate of the ruling party  or address the needs of Citizens. The State therefore will operate through multiple authorities.

The problem however is not the ‘multiplicity of authority’ but the ‘opacity’, ‘un-accountability’ and ‘obsolescence’ with which each authority functions.

And that The members of civil service serve at the pleasure of the President of India and Article 311 of the constitution protects them in such a manner that their removal from services is very difficult. The Government of India Act 1935 profoundly affected the constitution in terms of the civil Services which were virtually maintained as a continuation of the British colonial administration. The underpinnings of the bureaucracy remain remains anonymity, permanency and constitutional protection.

Each department can escape its responsibility since

  1. The duties assigned to each officer and each department is not known to the public and cannot be known at all even if it wanted. Anonymity is built into the scheme of things as it were.
  2. The responsibilities are divided over many officers and departments so no one in particular is responsible. This allows the officials to put the citizen in a ‘back and forth’ trap where he will go from one department to the other and back to the same or into a ‘circular trap’ where he will be sent off to one department after the other. Since there is no punishment for delay or misleading the citizen, this can go on till he is forced to compromise and submit to this system. A complaint against the officer is of little use as the system is designed to protect each other. The chance of a grievance being rectified is very low. Moving the court does not help much as the judicial administration is archaic and slow.

What has to be understood very clearly without any confusion is that it is the Department in the Government that is meant to address your problems and it is the officers serving there on salaries and perks that are expected to perform these duties to deliver the service to you.

Instead Indians have been falsely made to believe that it is your elected representative who is responsible. This is delusional, and causes voters to repeatedly direct their anger at the elected representative while the real culprit goes stock free and continues to get his paycheck, perks and will get a pension too. Every election we change our representative to rule over the same inefficient mechanism.

Your elected representatives face the same problem so why have elected leaders and the parliament not changed the bureaucracy?

The Nature of bureaucracy demands a degree of permanency of jobs or tenured positions for Government officials. This is a worldwide phenomenon and with good reason and intent. However other countries have managed to change whereby, officers as well as their efficiency is better placed as compared to India which retains its colonial and feudal ruling ethos. As a result a political party, once it comes to power, uses the same instruments to ride roughshod over and manipulate the people as the preceding one did.

The courts too belong to the same archaic system and have not helped in clearing the air.

Take for instance this Judgment of the Hon’ble High court of Delhi in -MANUSHI SANGATHAN, DELHI Petitioner, versus GOVT OF DELHI & ORS. Respondents CM APPL.9308/2015 in W.P. (C) 4572/2007

The matter pertains to the municipal corporation being asked to remove encroachments and their plea that the Municipality was not responsible for clearing encroachments

……….‘The application seeks modification of the order of 30th April, 2015 by which certain encroachments in the main Chandni Chowk carriage way were directed to be removed in a time bound manner. North Delhi Municipal Corporation relies upon orders of the Principal Secretary (Urban Development) of the GNCTD dated 10.01.2012 and 24.02.2012 to say that the title in the roads now vests with the GNCTD. In terms of Section 298 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, the title in all public streets and roads vests with the concerned Municipal Corporation. In the circumstances, the relief claimed cannot be granted. However, all authorities including the GNCTD are directed to cooperate in the execution of order dated 30th April, 2015. A compliance report shall be filed within two months…………”

 The Hon’ble Court, after clarifying, that it is indeed the municipality that is the owner of all roads and streets proceeds to direct all departments to cooperate. This leaves things unclear. It is not clarified if a particular department is meant to carry out clear orders or not meant to carry them out. How will the person responsible be identified in the midst of this collective responsibility of half a dozen departments assigned the same job? How will cooperation be measured? Who will be penalized on failure? No wonder that illegal encroachments remain unchecked in Delhi. The honorable courts have lectured much &passed many judgments but have not penalized any Government department or officer for illegal occupation of public spaces by unscrupulous elements.

Politics has reached its peak levels and can deliver nothing more to take us to the next level of efficient Governance

 The current CM of Delhi will not be in a better position than the CM of U.P, Bihar or West Bengal. Whether or not Delhi has full statehood does not make any difference

We are facing an administrative crisis; what should be done?

We have been busy focusing on democratic processes without paying adequate attention to administrative mechanisms. We have enjoyed changing politicians, got youth to vote and taken voting percentages to some of the highest in the world. We are replacing one driver after another for a damaged car in the hope of reaching our destination. Representative democracy has limits to the purpose it can serve in governance. Enhancing representation and participation alone will serve no purpose if the administrative arms are rickety & in a perennial state of uncertainty about their role. We remain burdened with a predominantly unreformed Bureaucracy of Administrators, Police, UDCs, LDCs, Constables and peons. The Administrative mechanism is archaic. That is the problem and not statehood or UT.

The RWA must understand this. As critical elements of Last Mile Governance the RWA should escalate the demand for the implementation of bureaucratic and police reforms. The RWA should focus their attention on the quality of administration and not the politics of it.

 The RWA should

  1. Demand the implementation Administrative reforms commission- Reference  ARC 12th report on Citizen Centric Governance*
  2. Demand the implementation of the Supreme courts directives on Police reforms*
  3. Demand that the Results Framework document of the PMD, Cabinet Secretariat (RFD) be modified and extended to all government departments in Delhi and amend it to ensure that it is not manipulated by officers such to shrug off responsibility for their actions. In its current form the RFD is not worthwhile.
  4. Demand that the Lt. Governor and the Chief Minister of Delhi Publicly clarify the role of each government department in Delhi and identify to the public the officer punishable for dereliction of duty.

Refrences & further reading


Directive One: Constitute a State Security Commission (SSC) to: (i) Ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police (ii) Lay down broad policy guideline and (iii) Evaluate the performance of the state police

 Directive Two: Ensure that the DGP is appointed through merit based transparent process and secure a minimum tenure of two years

Directive Three: Ensure that other police officers on operational duties (including Superintendents of Police in-charge of a district and Station House Officers in-charge of a police station) are also provided a minimum tenure of two years

Directive Four: Separate the investigation and law and order functions of the police

Directive Five: Set up a Police Establishment Board (PEB) to decide transfers, postings, promotions and other service related matters of police officers of and below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and make recommendations on postings and transfers above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police

Directive Six: Set up a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) at state level to inquire into public complaints against police officers of and above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police in cases of serious misconduct, including custodial death, grievous hurt, or rape in police custody and at district levels to inquire into public complaints against the police personnel below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police in cases of serious misconduct

Directive Seven: Set up a National Security Commission (NSC) at the union level to prepare a panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of the Central Police Organisations (CPO) with a minimum tenure of two years.

(Extract CHRI-

STATE OF POLICING AND LAW & ORDER IN Delhi- Citizen Centric Administration






There is this article going around on social media, with the picture of a woman airline staffer, an injured and obviously traumatized victim of a terrorist suicide bomb attack in Brussels. The correctness of putting up the photograph and questions of whether it is right or wrong are doing the rounds, with each click showing her picture and with people offering several views.

Never mind the hapless victim.

This question would not have arisen if this picture was of a mother breast feeding her child or tribal women in their natural attire. I am sure, this question has not arisen because a woman is injured but people are confused if a picture of her exposed in public, needs to be ‘talked about.

The writer in the article laments “yet we wear that responsibility lightly, clicking and sharing promiscuously’. This writer is also confused.

My point to the confused– And this includes the random ‘clickers’ on social media, who are sharing their confusion or commenting on such posts thereby knowingly or unknowingly spreading them.

If you are so confused, f*****d up and far from home in your head, do not put that picture up or share it, while you rely on the ‘freedom of confusion’. Wait till you get some clarity.

And if you are sure that it is correct, then have the balls to say so, and be thereby open to legal action that the victim may choose to take against you for your ‘freedom of expression’.



Politicise public mobility to save Delhi


Highlighting the traffic mayhem that Delhi finds itself in is now almost daily fare in the print media. A multiplicity of reasons are cited which include bad road design, encroachments and an absence of law enforcement. That the motor vehicles act is a weak piece of legislation is of no help.


Recently the Minister for road transport has suggested that incentives be given to people for scrapping old vehicles. This is done in many other countries, with the difference that the flip side of such schemes is also enforced. In Delhi incentives for scrapping is likely to spawn a business in acquiring a scrapping certificate while actually selling the car. This will make everybody, except the environment happy.

In this piece I would like to draw the reader’s attention to a largely ignored facet of car use and some possible solutions which will be equitable as compared to incentives alone


The occupation of footpaths and public spaces in Delhi by cars parked illegally has many ramifications. Most of them go unnoticed. The right to park in public places is perceived as a natural consequence stemming from the desire to own a car. This idea would have lead to disastrous repercussions if it were extended to owning and building houses.


The occupation of public spaces by vehicles has damaged the city in ways that we do not even consider. This is in my view an important reason why Delhi will never ever be a world class city till this scourge is addressed and dealt with.


The much maligned urban poor living in unauthorized colonies have paid for land and construction. They pay for water and electricity. And they pay heavily for all these facilities. The slum dweller accused of occupying or squatting on land pays for services such as water, electricity and has to shell out money in one way or the other for occupying this piece of land


The self righteous car owner on the other hand, for a paltry sum called night parking charges during vehicle registration, virtually acquires the right to park on any public space, and stake claim and ownership. Added to this, the cleaning, lighting and maintenance of this public space also come free of cost for the car owner.


In the absence of any regulation or restriction, on usage of public space for parking, it is only competitive brawn that decides how much, of which the driver does not own, can be occupied for his potential use.


But there are other problems that escape us. The fact is that car manufacturers can profit from selling their products in a city where there is no cost of storing them.

Consumers consider stocking charges before they buy foodstuff for example refrigeration cost and the square foot cost of placing it.


On the other hand cars can be parked free of cost on land that belongs to the public. This public land could be a footpath or parts of a motorized carriageway. Parks within some residential areas have been occupied for parking cars. There is a massive and excessive subsidy being provided therefore to car buyers.


To state an example, as per MPD 2021 standards, a car may occupy about 23 sq meters (about 250sq.ft.) of land when parked at its home base. This would include the actual parking space and a part of the driveway space. A similar amount of space would be occupied at its destination like the office. So the car effectively occupies or needs about 46sq.metres or about 500sq.ft of space, to be useful.


Assuming the approx. cost of land in South Delhi at a conservative 6 lakhs per square meter, this would mean a cost of about 276 lakhs (2.76 crore). This is provided either free or at nominal charges like Rs.20 for eight hours of parking.


Similarly three bedroom ground floor flat in a south Delhi DDA SFS flat may occupy about 1500 sq.ft. Two such flats with a common staircase of 200sq.ft area between them may occupy about 3200 sq.ft.


If the blocks have ground plus three floors of flats, that would be 8 flats on a ground footprint area of 3200 sq.ft. (about 300 sq.metres). If the cost of this land is taken at Rs. 6 lakhs per square meter, then the cost of this would be about 18 crores, or a share per flat of about 2.25crores per flat.


If each flat has two cars, which they usually do, the value of the land occupied by these cars would be 5.5crores per flat. So a flat which occupies a ground area of value of approx. 2.25crores, is given land worth almost 2.5 times its cost for keeping the cars!


Car owners occupy thousands of Crores worth of footpath & sidewalk to park cars in Delhi. That too, land that has been freely usurped, forcing the pedestrian to walk on the motorway risking life and limb.


House owners who have reconstructed their houses (builder flats), have converted the mandatory stilt parking into additional space for other uses and occupied the footpath or carriageway outside their boundaries for parking their cars free of cost

In other areas parks and greens have been invaded and occupied as cars owners nibble at the edges of all boundaries and eat into the periphery slowly swallowing the whole open space


In a recent study by the CSE on an 800 meter stretch of road in Alaknanda, illegally parked cars could generate annual revenue of Rs 1.2 crores annually. So while parking on roads and other open spaces is ostensibly illegal and therefore remains outside the ambit of legitimate state revenue, freely indulging in it is quite the norm.

This unhindered availability of public land, parks and roads for stocking cars free of cost is sufficient reason why the city has failed to bring public transport infrastructure up to speed. 


To assume that all officers within the government do not worry about this state of affairs or damage to the environment will be untrue since they are intelligent enough to realize that a collapsing city and poisonous air is also damaging them and their family’s health

Transport experts and urban planners in Delhi know that the entire cost of retrofitting Delhi’s roads can be recovered through parking charges alone only if the officers in the government so decide.


The report of the High powered committee on how to decongest Delhi states thus:

‘Parking Pricing and Management (PPnM

PPnM is the key measure for travel demand management. The supply of free/ inexpensive parking at the final destination is a key decision factor for people choosing to drive a personal vehicle, rather than taking a bus, Metro, IPT, NMT, walk or carpool. It is suggested that the following pricing strategies be employed to manage and bring down public parking space demand:


But this will not be easy given that our society habitually disregards civic laws unless repeated coercive methods are used. It is not possible for officers, who themselves are product of the same cultural and social norms to enforce a law that requires large scale, consistent policing with a degree of severity that has hitherto never been in practice. Civil society groups too will virulently oppose tough police and law enforcement action


Politicians will obviously not take kindly to recommending any step, regardless of its long term benefit if it appears to annoy the public by asking them to change their habits and this is the reason why parking charges and an enforcement regime is absent in our culture


What is possible is to rely on inducement. Currency, therefore is the only currency in such a situation


We know that the city can only survive with an efficient public transport system (Metro, Buses and Taxis) and pedestrian spaces and we know that car ownership should be discouraged for those who do not own the space to park them

What is possible is to monetize travelling in public transport in favour of its user by recovering it from car parking.


Consider this: Once it is declared that a voter will get credit in cash or redeemable tokens if he uses public transport he will see sufficient inducement to do so. But more than that; it will become imperative for the politicians to ensure that heavy parking charges for cars are levied and collected since their voter has to be paid bonus for travelling in buses or in the metro.


While the details of such a plan can be worked out by economists, by a simple calculation I can tell you that if only cars parked illegally on the Alaknanda road (South Delhi Prime) were to be charged Rs 50/- per day parking charges, the recovery is enough to help 1300 domestic workers travel to and fro in public buses from their home to workplace free of cost. That is about the entire part time domestic help that comes to work in Alaknanda. Considering that the employers do not provide any facilities to domestic workers at their place of work like crèches, clean toilets, and canteens or medical insurance this is perhaps a simple thing to do.


Alternatively it could fund the entire rainwater harvesting in the area or at least 10 solid waste composting plants could be set up or kitchen water recycling units established.


This is not meant to be a long term plan as free public transport based on more and more cars will be self defeating but I am making the assumption that over a period of time the monetary advantage provided to the public transport user will generate a larger demand for it. This may result in creating the politics of public mobility. Public habits (both car owners and otherwise) would change sufficiently, forcing the government to develop a world class mobility infrastructure.

Ashutosh Dikshit August 2015



Governance in Delhi requires an urban lexicon

The other day I was struck by a news item about a Member of Parliament in Delhi suggesting that Resident Welfare Association (RWA) can work with him through a RWA ‘chaupal’

Why use the word chaupal, which means a meeting place in a village. Delhi is not a village.  It’s not the M.P in question alone, other urban organisations too opt for such expressions; often using words like panchayat for meetings or gatherings which are purely urban community affairs. Take the word mohalla sabha – which has come to be the phrase being used for meetings held by MLAs in their constituencies, it suffers from similar deficiencies owing to the impression they create.

Examine the verbiage in an FIR used by the Police. The Persian words, Moharrir, insdaad jarayam, deeda danishta, aarinda, translated as the following: records in charge, prevention of crime, knowingly, reporting person respectively, make an FIR seem like a parchment from a medieval Iranian alley. Surprisingly, the Police training school still instructs the common beat constable in these words. There is no other way he could have acquired this vocabulary. I tried to find Persian – English translations for the 130 odd words the police use in their FIRs only to find the mystery deepen.  I have learnt that a lawyer has now filed a PIL questioning the use of such words in the high court of Delhi.

A FIR (First Information report) should be intelligible, relevant and contextual for the citizen. We are a country of diverse languages and it is very important that the language used for basic urban governance, assists in the complete understanding of a situation rather than impede.

The other terms to junk are Camp, and Junta durbar

It is unthinkable that the Capital of one of the largest economies in the world organizes property tax camps or police grievance camps. The idea that a Government department needs to compensate for its lack of accessibility by categorizing the citizen as a refugee or a prisoner of war or some variant of a destitute is inappropriate in what is meant to be a genuine outreach programme. Using the word durbar for handling public grievances in a republic is avoidable

Once again it is not something the department does deliberately. It is a colonial term that we continue to use. These terms inadvertently reinforce how the leadership and the Government view the voter. Worse, this communication ensues, back and forth thereby solidifying an idea that is both unworkable and unwelcome in a modern city

Delhi is burgeoning with migrants who have left their villages because the politics there dissuades modernization. This city is brimming with a young population that is not looking for a chaupal or panchayat. It wants to be a part of something different from what a mohalla signifies and it certainly does not want the urban marketplace to look like a village haat. It wants a responsive police which registers her complaint in an intelligible format.

Delhi may be classified as urban but it is not urbane. Delhi is a megalopolis and there is a need to evoke a sense of urban usage of space, time and mobility which is recognizably different from a village or small town.

We require a fresh prototype for dealing with the load on civic infrastructure. The use of an urban dictionary for identifying public spaces, mobility, architecture, and social communication can be a beginning. There is a need to contemporize and consciously work towards change, rather than expect a purely organic evolution which will not serve the ends of modern governance.

Cities, unlike villages, have to develop models that can allow strangers to go about their business depending upon systems that do not require a friend. Rural verbiage seeks to suggest an altogether different construct that is unviable for a sustainable city.

Generation after generation we are only acting out of what has become a habit in our cities, to somehow romanticize urban governance by using simplistic rural terms.

I absolutely support the idea of RWA interacting with the elected representatives. As a matter of fact the erstwhile undivided Municipal Corporation of Delhi had initiated a scheme called Resident ward committee (R.W.C). The scheme failed precisely because of the rural mindset of the Municipal councilors who see themselves as feudal gram pradhans and the Municipal ward as a village.

Delhi has many villages which influence its politics. The demographics have changed with migrants renting houses and population within urban villages and unauthorized colonies has grown manifold. Delhi’s politics has been & will continue to be deeply influenced by this voter. It is therefore even more important that communication related to governance depicts modernity & equality by helping to foster an atmosphere that promotes thinking for the future. Rural terminology, I’m afraid, will not help at all.

This is all the more important because, the idea that Delhi can be a collection of chaupals, mohallas, panchayats locally, but collectively metamorphose into a modern city, is romantic but irrational.

If urban dwellers were so taken up by rural imagery they would migrate to a village.

I am not speaking about exclusively using Hindi or English or Urdu; I know that language can be easily politicized and a gullible public totally misled into questioning the motives of policy makers instead of questioning the urban disarray the citizen lives in. It would be intelligent that urban civic vocabulary relies on common parlance.

It is not my view that these chaupals or panchayats, mohalla sabha, or haats should be given English names, or the Persian names turned into pure Hindi or Sanskrit.  I would suggest nomenclature that reflects an urban character to effectively communicate what is relevant and useful insofar as government schemes and public work is concerned. Private projects can be named after sub Saharan Africa or Luxembourg

As an example the mohalla sabhas in Delhi could preferably have been called   nagrik sabha. The first evokes a sense of medieval insularity the latter perhaps signifies something more urban. Instead of RWA Chaupal it could be a RWA Baithak or RWA Committee or RWA Samiti

I am not making the point that that only changing the language helps. However, in the development and expression of ideas, language and imagery play a vital role. It is of strategic importance for us to draft new words through which we can communicate effectively among ourselves towards building a modern city.

Ashutosh Dikshit- August 2015              


Good Governance?

Good Governance (GG) is a popular word. In the Citizen’s imagination it seems to signify some sort of benevolent hand holding and endless conveniences provided to citizens. It is ignored that good governance is a byproduct of the implementation of the rule of law.

GG will provide security and safety as much as it will ensure conviction for criminals. GG will provide clean public spaces but will demolish illegal structures built by citizens

Smooth traffic, low pollution, safe and accessible public spaces, sanitation can all be provided through GG but its travelling companion is punishment for indiscipline, severe penalties for polluting industries and cars, punishment and penalties for littering and dirtying and demolition of structures and jail for encroaching upon public spaces.

It is apparent that the residents, even in the most up market areas of Delhi resist the implementation of the rule of law. Any attempt to regulate traffic, remove cars from footpaths, stop illegal construction, prevent dumping of construction waste into rain water drains, prevent  private occupation of front and back service lanes,  restrain from stuffing plastic into sewers, penalize for  letting oil and grease out of restaurants into drains,  enforce proper parking  and other illegal activity meets  very stiff and persistent resistance.

At this point Good governance is not possible at all by soft pedaling and running awareness programmes on what people are aware of anyway. It will only be possible if Govt. agencies get very tough.

One would imagine that the Govt at the Centre, elected with a huge mandate and the Delhi Govt too, elected with a massive mandate would summon some courage in the long term interest of the city of Delhi. Clearly that is not happening and the situation on the ground will remain pretty much the same. I suspect the Political leadership of both parties would rather leave people to their own devices.




Public Spaces- A thing of value must be valued.


A public space is a social space that is generally open and accessible to people. Roads (including the pavement), public squaresparks and beaches are typically considered public space. To a limited extent, government buildings which are open to the public, such as public libraries are public spaces, although they tend to have restricted areas and greater limits upon use. Although not considered public space, privately owned buildings or property visible from sidewalks and public thoroughfares may affect the public visual landscape, for example, by outdoor advertising. Recently, the concept of Shared space has been advanced to enhance the experience of pedestrians in public space jointly used by automobiles and other vehicles.

Public space has also become something of a touchstone for critical theory in relation to philosophy, (urban) geographyvisual artcultural studiessocial studies and urban design. The term ‘public space’ is also often misconstrued to mean other things such as ‘gathering place‘, which is an element of the larger concept of social space. – Wikipedia


The common refrain is that the Govt. and politicians are responsible for lack of pavements and playgrounds and that civil society groups are unable to influence an effective change in policy because of politicians and vested interests

My experience over the years and insights gathered from direct experience has brought me to the conclusion that the reality is very different from this assertion and that civic objectives cannot be achieved directly by lofty political will or by NGO moralizing and lobbying

I take up the matter of pavements and playgrounds

Pavements:  There are several claimants to this public space and they include house owners, hawkers, trees, shops, municipal utilities and lastly walkers. Of these Hawkers and Trees are protected through legislation. Except for trees all possible claimants can be walkers too. The question to ask is; who is really interested in walking?. There are those who like to walk and those who have to walk. In the first case I do not think people like to walk in Delhi’s climate and those who have to walk would rather not. In an aspiration filled society walking is passé. Never mind the cardio fitness or sport bike enthusiast.

The demand for walking is weak as compared for the demand for hawkers, parking, guard rooms, wayside convenience stores and decorative plants.  This is pure demand and supply.

Ask any homemaker if she wants the nearest rehri wala or shop removed so that she can walk far in Delhi summer, winter or humidity and you will face a barrage of protests.  The nearest mechanic is next door to provide instant service for small repairs.

For the working class, the driver, construction worker, office worker, plumber, electrician who come in for daily work, hawkers provide an economical lunch and a social gathering place to exchange views

There is a massive demand for vehicles and for parking. On the same plot there are many apartments or commercial spaces as compared to the one house earlier and therefore many more cars.

People are now fighting violently, even shooting at each other over ownership of parking spaces that do not belong to them in the first place. Are people fighting for the right to walk?  Clearly No

Vested interests are not few but all encompassing. The, educated,  socially aware resident who buys vegetables or services off a mechanic is a ‘vested interest’ as he is getting an unauthorized convenience for free and at the cost of a shopkeeper who is finding it hard to survive in an authorized market place

The desire, demand and the right for parking and convenient shopping and services is manifestly far more acute and pressing as compared to something as simple and benign as walking

The usage of pavements and parks is a representation of what our people want from their public space.  

The RWAs know this, the local municipal councilor knows, the MLA and MP know this.  They are elected and know the ‘real stuff’ as compared to the’ postured stuff. ’Privately all elected representatives say that they can do nothing about this as it will annoy their constituents. Privately bureaucrats tell me that the local politicians and RWA oppose any attempt to clear these spaces as this is what people really want.

If at all people want pavements, I would like to come up with a few solutions but first some observations.

  • There is a demand for a strong implementation of the rule of law. Let me assure you it will fail.
  • Walking is a fundamental right even if very few exercise it, and to begin with we must give precedence to those who have to walk and cycle, as compared to those who want to walk or cycle.
  • Comparisons with the west should be totally avoided. It is not helpful at all
  • For a society diverse in its language, caste, religion, ethnicity, political belief and ethics, an effective common currency for communicating is currency itself.
  • There is no respect for something that is free and can be used freely. That to which a value cannot be assigned and measured is of no value at all.
  • India has the highest retail density per capita in the world. So shops are not in short supply.
  • Parking is in short supply
  • Public transport is inadequate and last mile connectivity to the Metro is absent
  • The economic need of vendors cannot be exploited to provide free convenience to residents

 Objective:  recover walking and cycling spaces and promote public transport

Assign a value to the pavement equal to the commercial value of land prevailing in an area

At this point in time the state is subsidising the car owner, the luxury car owner, the multiple luxury car owner and the usurper of pavement. The state is subsiding the wealthy by providing crores worth of land free of cost. This is land which has been taken away from the pedestrian.

A simple calculation will show that each car owner parked on public land occupies land worth 50 Lakhs to 4 Crores in Delhi. This is the figure for 1 car.

I suggest that massive rentals should be charged from people who are parking on pavements and used in turn to subsidise those who need pavements the most. The last mile walker. Like carbon credits money should compensate and enrich the ‘environment helper‘ at the cost of the ‘environment damager’

The details have to be worked out and are matter of basic math, computer Algorithms and RFID technology.

For hawkers/mechanics and vendors charges should be fixed keeping in mind the commercial value of land and the nature of hawking. This will ensure that residents looking for ease and convenience pay much more to a hawker as they would to a shopkeeper in the vicinity who bought his shop legally and is subject to municipal, state and central taxes. The Hawker is really vending convenience to the consumer. The consumer who is again being freely subsidised through the pedestrians land should be made to pay. This too is possible

Would people agree ? Of course not. But since this will become a matter concerning state revenue, officers will deal with it far more seriously as compared to ignoring encroachments over land that has no revenue implications.


The situation in Delhi is that municipal lands are in control of Senior citizens. The RWA are in control of senior citizens, the voters in an RWA are senior citizens and the Municipal councilor works mostly with senior citizens as municipal elections draw few voters and senior citizens are critical to the survival of the councilors. In their local area kids do not stand a chance. Parents do not have the stomach for a conflict and themselves prefer academics to sport.

Now I believe that when kids and teenagers play together they acquire skills that go beyond their immediate school and academic life.  Apart from fitness and motor coordination, kids who play have much better management skills; they deal with people better and are healthier in later life. However a social lecture on this will not work simply because the bedrock of our school and college education is ‘marks’. The media has in the past carried out many campaigns but at the basic level nothing has changed.

I suggest the following:

Ensure that municipal guidelines statutorily earmark 30% of total parks for play in such a manner that the biggest single piece is first allocated for football, cricket, kabaddi etc, the next 30% for Tennis, badminton, basketball and the remaining for senior citizens.

A full 100 marks for sports and fitness up to class 10th board exams as an option vis-a vis languages. This may prod parents to become more accepting of sports as ‘marks’ come into play. Add to this ‘play’ homework where video reports of regular neighbourhood play is submitted to school. This will be the most important sport promoting measure.

Stop LAD fund deployment in a colony which does not follow this guideline and the RWA will be encouraged to see things in a ‘progressive’ manner.



Enforce the Law

The tragic death of a union cabinet minister has once again brought into focus the state of road safety in India

Hundreds of families are devastated day after day as road accidents bring many emotional trauma, physical strain, and financial burdens. Sometimes the families are already impoverished; some others become so on account of fatalities and disabilities resulting from road accidents.

 On Indian roads -where there already is no margin for error – Pedestrians and cyclists are seen negotiating a common mobility corridor with motorists and other heavy vehicles. In such a situation, the plight of the cyclist and the person on foot is worse than ever. They clearly stand little chance of avoiding an injury when pitted against a mechanized four wheeler in the event of a collision.

Over the years several sensitization and awareness programs undertaken by NGOs and the government have failed to deliver adequate results on the ground. Several think tanks and seminars have delivered studies and papers on the subject, yet people continue to face the brunt of a terrible road safety situation in India. Pedestrians and cyclist continue to risk their lives.

As a citizens’ collective, we have been grappling with this situation and carrying out community based discussions and ‘pavement walks’. We have invited the executive engineer of the PWD, we have invited the area MLA for these initiatives and we have made several representations to the Government to this effect. Not a single request, made on the basis of protecting the rights of walkers, walking as a healthier alternative, and reducing vehicular emission load etc has been heard, either by the authorities or by the occupiers of footpaths

I do not know of any neighbourhood in Delhi (the Lutyens building zone, excluded) which has free to walk footpaths – and this, despite several plans proffered by NGOs, architects, the DUAC and bodies like the UTTIPEC.

In my view a paradigm shift in thinking is required to deal with this issue. It has to move from an awareness based initiative to a strict law enforcement based system.  Illegal Occupation of public land is a criminal offense and should be dealt with as such.

When citizens are made to face the legal consequences of illegal activity they may prefer not to occupy the footpaths for personal use.

The expectation that  vehicle owners and potential car buyers will drop the idea of parking on footpaths out of the goodness of their heart,  concern for the environment and respect for the rights of pedestrians, has failed to the best of my knowledge and belief.  It has failed to deter buyers and it will fail in preventing the occupation of footpaths for parking.  Further the other instincts that cause people to occupy footpaths will also not stop through moral imperatives. The proclivity to grab public land for extending a room or a green patch is endemic in our society.  In our South Delhi neighbourhood, car mechanics, building material suppliers and the ‘very wealthy’ of Greater Kailash 2 have all occupied the footpath

The only way to stop this menace is a strict and persistent enforcement of the rule of law. When people realize that they cannot park at all on a footpath or in a no parking zone they will begin to consider other methods of transportation. When the strong arm of the law ensures that walking, cycling or taking public transport is an alternative to trampling over pedestrians or occupying footpaths, other means of mobility may begin to carry greater appeal.

As a citizens’ collective we know the daily harassment a walker or cyclist faces in our area, as footpaths have been occupied illegally.

The police are of the view that, given the number of cars, it is only natural that footpaths will be used for parking. It appears that the natural requirement of a resident to walk on the footpath is not seen to be quite as natural as the instinct to grab public land.

Needless to say society is complicit in this and the urge to occupy common spaces continues unabated.





Let the Children Play

The space provided for kids to play in Municipal parks in Delhi is less than 0.009% of the total park space available.

In what can only be called callous, inhuman, and utterly stupid, our planners have shown a total lack of foresight in this area. Land is expensive and the greedy have commercialized it.

In their absurd fixation of making more and more parks ornamental -which is to say that you can walk and relax there but playing is prohibited – they are forcing more and more children to take to online and digital gaming.

Not only that, in their thoughtless obsession to make all parks ornamental, the elderly and those in power have made sure that out of a total of 14000 municipal parks, there are only 126 parks for the young; unthinkable !

Common sense would indicate that large grounds should be lit up, fenced or netted to walk and jog on the perimeter and the ground itself is left for free play. For kids to run across, playing football, cricket, Frisbee, kabaddi etc. Logically smaller ones be earmarked and beautified/landscaped etc for people to sit on benches to socialize. Our planners have reversed that. Old people have large parks to sit and young people have small corners to play in!

What is worrisome is the current set of young parents who are completely oblivious of the natural requirement of growing children for informal and regular play. Running, jostling, pushing, falling, dusting themselves and standing up to run again, provides motor skill, resilience and muscular stability like no fancy gymnasium, or tennis coaching can. It also teaches socialization and negotiating skills like no air-conditioned, ‘human development,’ workshop can.

There is something very special about informal & unstructured play, full of screaming, sweating and laughter.

It is indeed disappointing that the current generation of parents have made no serious attempt to challenge the establishment in any significant way, to demand the right to play for their own kids.

The odd protest does not constitute a significant and persistent demand.

Whimpers don’t change entrenched inequities.

No amount of lip service to tree plantation, greening and ‘holistic growth’ will make any sense if our society is made up of young people who grow up without an affinity for the outdoors, and are forced to spending their time peering into screens; children who don’t go, “out to play.” India may be a signatory to the right of the Child to Play, but parents of teenagers have clearly abdicated a major part of their responsibility.

There is absolutely no argument that can justify stifling the adolescents, the teenagers and the young and grabbing open spaces for ornamental parks and exotic gardens.

There is every moral and logical argument to agitate for the return & restoration of open areas to the young for playing and sport.

Children are suffering a serious deficit of play.

100% unmitigated righteousness is on the side of the right to play.



Pavement, where art thou?

As I drove across GK2, Alaknanda and CR Park, I could not help noticing that all men, women, children and the elderly were walking on the road.

All pedestrians had to negotiate through moving traffic, sidestepping parked cars and other impediments; on some stretches, even forced to walking close to the center of the road.

There is no pavement to walk on. Vast stretches of pavements have been completely occupied for parking, ramps, flower beds and shrubs. They have been occupied by hawkers, mechanics, odd structures, cigarette vendors, fruit and vegetable sellers and make shift shops.  At places open drains and manholes, alongside the pavement, present a serious challenge to life and limb.

I noticed old ladies carrying bags laden with groceries looking hither and thither, over their shoulder and craning their necks to get a view across the parked cars. This is no doubt an impulse created out of self preservation against accidents.

I saw children, so young and often reckless, screech to a stop while walking or cycling.

Clearly we have learnt to live like this. We are adept at navigating through the chaos and the risk presented constantly.

The entire area of Greater Kailash II and Chittaranjan Park were originally laid out with proper sidewalks along all the major and minor roads. Infrastructure services like water supply, sewage, storm water drainage, etc., were laid below the footpaths, and trees were planted at intervals. The sidewalks were generally raised 6” to 7” above the road level. I am not sure whether similar sidewalks were provided along the roads in the SFS Housing and NRI Housing areas. However, with the increase in the number of cars in recent years these footpaths have either disappeared or been extensively encroached upon.  In most areas cars are parked all along the outside boundary of the house plots at right angles to the road. The level difference defining the sidewalks has disappeared. There is therefore no option, other than to walk in the middle of the road. With the steady increase of traffic and considering the fact that some roads have become major thoroughfares, this is a situation that has to be addressed and cannot just be ignored. It is true that attempts to resolve this will put the backs up of many people, but in the interest of long-term safety something has to be done. Solutions will not be easy to find but an attempt needs to be made.

As for land, we have devised a peculiar concept of use. Personal land is for personal use, Govt. Land is for Government use but public spaces are to be ‘misused’ by all.

We are oblivious to these issues, habituated as we have become in accepting that the roads and pavements are chaotic in nature.

There may be solutions to all such issues. The solutions must have a cultural fit. Importing western solutions will simply not work.  We will need to work out our own local indigenous solution.

The Background

Our proclivity for convenience and having everything next door does get in the way. parking, mechanics, provisions, retail, cineplex, stationary, grocery, fruits and vegetables must all be within, ‘walking distance.’ Funnily, there is no provision for walking easily!

The emotional idea of convenience is overpowering in our culture. Pitted against the strategic idea of planning and discipline, hankering for convenience has resulted in our city becoming inconvenient.

This matter, needless to say, is as highly political as it is cultural. The planned part of the city is western (only though in its basis of planning) and the unplanned part is a rural setting trans-located on to the urban landscape.

Despite Urban planners and environmentalists raising concerns, virtually nothing has been achieved in clearing the pavements for people to walk.

It is a pity that in all recent urban development we have largely adopted the Western planning approach and not looked at any of our traditional examples. Our traditional bazaars were all pedestrian oriented and planned around a system of moving on foot. Chandni Chowk and its attached framework of by lanes, were based on a pedestrian safety system. It is a pity that over the course of time, cars were allowed into this area and that has now resulted in total chaos. In such a situation, it is worthwhile to take a look at the market at Sarojini Nagar. Perhaps it was not consciously conceived as such, but today it is an absolute pedestrian space with all cars outside the periphery. Teeming with people and abuzz with activity, it is in many ways an amazing space. Unfortunately we do not emulate such examples, nor do we develop new concepts based on this kind of approach.

And here are the challenges:

The option of having a designated area for vendors and hawkers, with strict rules on their being responsible for cleanliness and waste disposal, can be met with resistance from many residents, who would, actually, want them close by!

All such activities need to be properly planned for. If space is properly organized with proper provision for movement, servicing, functional and suitably located toilets, proper garbage disposal arrangements, perhaps some landscaping, it would transform such spaces, and positively overcome resistance from residents.

The option of asking house owners to stop using the illegal occupation of pavements for car parking, construction of ramps and personal verandahs, and the planting of shrubs and flowers, will be met with howls of protest and severe resistance. There is a sense of ownership that has developed over years. There are problems regarding the parking of cars. Multiple flats on singular plots simply do not have parking spaces for all owners who own multiple cars.

Cars could be parked alongside kerbs but with multiple apartments to a plot, the decision on slots will result in ego based conflicts.

Parking is an issue that needs to be effectively addressed and systematically organized. This needs detailed planning area by area – there is no standard solution for all situations. In new developments parking should be part of the proposal within each site. The current solution in the form of a stilted floor for parking at ground level needs proper enforcement, with a clear check on the number of parking spaces sanctioned, and as actually put to effective car parking use. Currently stilt areas are being used for other utilities and cars remain parked outside

Not all existing constructions on pavements can be removed.

Kiosks have spilled onto the pavements; any regulations against those, will get the small trader seriously upset.

Any attempt at law enforcement will fail since a significant number is now trapped in a tradition of land misuse.

Very little history of community self regulation exists in urban settings, but this needs to change. Perhaps we need to begin by effectively organizing and cleaning up a small area and slowly extend it outwards to larger spaces. This could be one of the objectives of community groups and RWA.

Under these circumstances some very creative solutions will need to be devised bringing all stakeholders including the usurpers on board in a community initiative. That seems to be the only possibility under the circumstances.


A Sense of Contract


A ‘sense of contract’ is absent from our polity, and in the conduct of our society. At best, negotiated settlements driven by desperation – An absence of the enforcement of ‘rule of law’ are norm.

The jugaad and the ‘manage it’ construct become the overriding operative principles.

In the absence of any committed deliverables, and the impossibility of finding compensation or recompense in their absence, the citizen is forced to resort to this idiom.

Unrealized credit in business, vitiated contracts, non delivery of civic and private services, no punishment for crime, non settlement of civil conflicts for years on end, failure to deliver justice via courts, no punishment and compensation for dereliction of duty are the norm and we have learnt to live with it.

The laws that are made are practiced more in the breach than to safeguard. Perhaps they are designed to be transgressed and then ‘settled.’

IAC’s Vision Document, well meaning as it is, will not change this. High on one public sentiment versus the other; it’s an emotionally powerful document that will, if realized, leave us where we are.

Will courts begin to deliver justice swiftly? Will bounced cheques be dealt with appropriately? Will payments in business be realized? And if defaulted be dealt with, will non delivery of civic services come under Torts jurisprudence? Will a non- corrupt inefficient and callous public servant or private service provider, be made to compensate for your time and money? Will ‘call drops’ be compensated for if you suffer losses? Will endless running to government offices be resolved even if no corruption is involved? The laws relating to conduct rules of civil servants, tendering process etc which exemplify delays in our public utilities remain unchanged.  Laziness, lack of commitment, callousness and inefficiency cannot be taken to the LOKPAL. A colonial bureaucracy and a feudal political order will retain its ground, simply because they can remain callous even if they are not corrupt.

But these are the bedrock of corruption in our country, whose Constitution is derived from western democracies that value commitment and enforcing the rule of law, and not dealing with its absence by ‘managing it.’

Half our energies go into battling stupidity, callousness, and inefficiency, only to be told ‘let it be, that is the way it is.’

The conduct of our affairs remain in the realm of the crony, friendly, religious, caste, social and tribal orders. Not a great way to be!

This vision document and existing manifestos will keep us where we are, wasting our time on dealing with daily inefficiency, till we can simply instill in our polity a ‘sense of contract.’


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