ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Delhi: 'Regulating' a City


‘Regulating’ a City

eelampur in north-east Delhi recently witnessed demonstrations against the sealing drive launched by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). The area is typical of others like it, in other Indian cities, caught in the midst of rapid, unregulated urbanisation. Seelampur, once a rural area on Delhi’s fringes, assumed its present crowded proportions over the last few decades and residential properties soon sprouted cheek by jowl with small-scale commercial establishments. It was this unregulated land use pattern that was the target of the MCD’s wrath, following the judiciary’s ruling in February 2006 that such structures were unauthorised and hence to be sealed.

Since March this year, several residential colonies across the National Capital Territory have been found replete with constructions that violate zoning laws, are used evidently for commercial purposes, and provide no civic amenities. The judiciary’s contention that these violate provisions of successive master plans for Delhi were, however, sought to be circumvented by the executive. Parliament in May passed the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act 2006 imposing a year’s moratorium on the apex court’s directive to demolish unauthorised structures on residential premises, and also sought time to frame policies on issues relating to slum planning and hawking zones. In March, the Tejendra Khanna Committee was set up to frame a perspective on the mixed land use pattern in the city. More recently, in early September, the union urban development ministry framed new rules for mixed land use as well as issued a notification to regularise excess construction in certain areas of the city.

The police firing in Seelampur to disperse demonstrators during a traders’ bandh led to the loss of four lives – among those killed were two children, and victims were innocent passers-by. It is this facet that exposes the many faces the confrontation has come to acquire. It is not merely a stand-off between the judiciary and the legislature; the “trader-business lobby” ranged against the civic authorities, or the numerous resident welfare societies arrayed against traders. Individuals’ interests as citizens are now considerably intermeshed and several interests are at stake at the present juncture and also the future developmental directions of the city.

Municipal elections are due in Delhi next year, and the trader lobby that has the clear support of politicians across the spectrum has blamed civic authorities who have never come down heavily on those guilty of violating existing guidelines. The Delhi Development Authority, responsible for planned development of the city, has proved woefully inadequate of the task reposed in it. For instance, it has been able to provide just 16 per cent of the commercial space required by the city so far, a reason cited to condone the misuse of residential areas for commercial motives. A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General some years ago also established that between 68 and 93 per cent of illegal constructions in Delhi ordered to be demolished by the civic authorities during 19952000 in fact remained in place. The ministry’s present moves not only condone this earlier negligence but do not address the trajectory that future development in Delhi must follow.

Delhi in recent years has been at the receiving end of much attention from various stakeholders. Of all Indian cities, it has arguably seen more in-migration over the last decade or so. It has also been the recipient of amenities associated with “world class” cities, for instance, the “metro”, the “clean air” drive and other recent attempts to rename sites that best depict the city’s historicity. But this endeavour has lost sight of the future of several thousand other inhabitants of the city – slum dwellers, hawkers and vendors, and menial labourers, who bear the brunt of any eviction drives. The judicial directives, short-lived moves on the part of the legislature and the recent anti-sealing demonstrations, are of a piece with such attempts to “remake” Delhi. These directives, for instance, would effect small commercial establishments run from residences such as accountancy and law firms. Schools established in several neighbourhoods also risk being closed down; a fact that runs contrary to the state’s much-lauded education policy that advocates a primary school within a radius of one-km from the child’s residence. A new solution that does not make victims of its citizens has to be arrived at. Perhaps too, a new conception of cities needs to be derived. More than mere urban agglomerations, for a sustainable future, a city should provide affordable housing for its poor, and also ensure the existence of agricultural land within urban premises as seen in very many cities of the world already.


Economic and Political Weekly September 30, 2006

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