Tuesday, October 31, 2006


In Animal farm, the Pigs used the Sheep as propaganda tools to change the accepted viewpoint. I think propaganda has always been used to change perspectives. Common consciousness has short memory that can easily be influenced by events of immediate past. Anyway, in a world where the cognizant lack the courage and the courageous are devoid of the critical eye, the muscled (politically or monetarily) will always be able to use propaganda to their advantage.

A dyed-in-the-wool propagandist drama is being staged in Delhi these days. Well, some people would of the opinion that the city is always the center of all propagandist noise in the country, but the nautanki that has some relationship with the title irks me a lot these days. For the uninitiated, let me give some background. Delhi had a master plan. A master plan for a city divides it into zones where residential, commercial and industrial activities can be conducted. This division is natural because the infrastructural needs of the three are very different. For e.g., a residential area would need schools, parks, playgrounds and an industrial area would need different power distribution set-up etc. Government has a differential tariff card for amenities like water, electricity etc. depending on the approved usage. You get the picture, this is to ensure that a city grows in a controlled manner and life remains comfortable for the citizens.

The First master plan of Delhi was the Delhi master plan, 1962. It had prominent architects on the team and a team from the Ford Foundation assisted on the same. It served the city well for a while. It was to be re-visited as and when the needs of the city changed. What happened after this was a classic case of perverse incentives bringing down the house!

Delhi grew. Immigrant population soared. There was a need for new residential and commercial areas. The earmarked commercial complexes outlived their utility. The highly entrepreneurial Punjabi-Sindhi-Marwari Lala used this opportunity to set-up shops in residential areas. Local population was happy because their needs were being served. Traders were happy as the initiative paid-off. The babus in DDA, L&DO etc.[1] were happy because this created a strong stream of under-the-table income. Thus, the haphazard growth continued. Meanwhile Malhotra commission re-viewed the situation and released a report. The Delhi master plan 2001 was also created. However, they fell well short of what the city required. Soon, we had a situation where the major markets in Delhi were in residential areas (Lajpat nagar, GK, South-Extension). Many houses doubled up as offices/shops/showrooms. Almost every Delhi house in North Delhi has a 3rd Floor which is illegal or the plot coverage area exceeds the legal limit set by DDA. But who cares? As long as the right pockets were being warmed, everything continued unabated.

But the Judiciary had a view-point on this. Oft criticized judicial activism has had a very positive role to play as far as Delhi is concerned (CNG, Re-location of Polluting units). So sometime last year, Supreme court ordered sealing/demolition of un-authorized construction within the city limits. It was all pandemonium in Delhi after this. The isuue-strapped BJP setup started crucifying Sheela Dixit’s government. Soon Congress joined the bleating exercise denouncing the apex court’s decision. After a lot of fragmented protests and bullying the MCD officials in-charge of sealing, the Delhi trader’s association decalred a bandh in September. This show of solidarity had the tacit support of the youth wings of the Congress and the BJP. Protests turned especially ugly in Seelampur where four people were killed and 78 others were injured. Stone pelting, arson and other disruptions were also carried out successfully at various other locations by the traders. Supreme Court put a stay on all sealing till Oct 31st. But just when the sealing was to be resumed, another bandh was declared. This time the political establishment was very vocal in the support. There were threats of burning down the entire city! All this arranged courtesy some poor helpless traders! Thus, this hand-in-glove propagandist nexus of trader-politicians almost had us believing that the present unorganized state is the possible optimal solution to the problem.

But why am I feeling bad? So many traders would rejoice if their encroachments are legalized! Who am I to point fingers? I do not even live in Delhi anymore. I used to live in Delhi and realized the pain that the city faces everyday due to this thoughtless usage of its space. Common man does get affected. Every residential area is infested with shops. The roads in the residential areas are narrower because of the encroachments by the traders. There is an acute problem of electricity theft and power outage. The residential transmission lines were never capacitized for commercial usage. Noise and pollution levels are high. Delhi citizens contract the most exotic of diseases. The in-the-face Delhi aggression of Delhi has been accentuated by these factors. The common man of Delhi does feel constrained for space. He would be glad to get rid of the immense nuisance value created by years of mismanagement of Delhi’s space. But the poor guy lacks the voice, forum and wherewithal to bring this up anywhere. After all, all this is nice to have and the Delhites have become used to their existence.

But after the disruption of the recent bandh, the pressing need, I presume, is to just get going with their lives. Work, shop and eat as usual. I agree that DDA never implemented the master plans. Even the 1962 master plan envisioned 75 large scale commercial centers in Delhi. Till date, DDA has managed 9! But resorting to populism is surely not the correct answer. Sound policies and bad implementation, a story oft repeated in our country. Here’s hoping that someone will have the sense to look beyond the short-term and we would have a capital befitting an emerging superpower!

[1] DDA: Delhi Development Authority
L&DO: Land and Development Organization

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