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.
- 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.