Event ReportsPublished on Apr 20, 2011
A select group of urban sector professionals in the government and the civil society acknowledge that the problems of inequity observed in almost all Indian towns and cities could be overcome by adopting a balanced and participatory approach to urban development.
Addressing inequities for balanced urban development of Delhi

A select group of urban sector professionals in the government and the civil society acknowledge that the problems of inequity observed in almost all Indian towns and cities could be overcome by adopting a balanced and participatory approach to urban development.a

These thoughts were shared during a seminar on ’Addressing Inequities for Balanced Urban Development of Delhi’, organised by the Observer Research Foundation in collaboration with the Rosa-Luxemburg Stiftung, Berlin, Germany on 20 April 2011. This initiative was part of a larger theme identified by the two institutions for the current year.

’Intra-urban disparities’ is a topic which has not received sufficient attention in India’s recent urban development reform agenda. If one attempts to map the status of important urban development indicators for an Indian city at the ward/zonal-level in the areas of Policy, Planning, Legislation, Shelter, Construction, Informal Sector Activities, Energy and Environment, Governance, Information, Transport, Infrastructure and Service Levels, Land, Leadership, Population, Migration, Security and Sustainability, the imbalances (or intra-urban disparities) would clearly emerge.

Delhi, the National Capital of India, is a case in point where quality of life (or level of development) differs from place to place within the city. For example, in Ballimaran, a locality of old Delhi, infrastructure and basic amenities (health, education, street lighting, water supply, sanitation) are of a very low order; many heritage buildings are in a state of neglect; commercialization of residential buildings is on the rise; number of dilapidated buildings, slums and illegal construction are increasing; numerous cottage industries are losing relevance. Such ward-level problems could be overcome by formulating an appropriate development plan for the walled city of Delhi which incorporates views of the ward residents and elected members of MCD, and by implementing reforms that provide for: a hike in councillors’ fund; greater powers to elected members for setting priorities and deciding on utilization of development funds; and construction of high rise buildings.

Inequities are also observed in planned areas of Delhi such as Dwarka, where citizens are often worried about adequate access to drinking water, sanitation, transport facilities and security. For example, irregular supply of drinking water forces residents to purchase water from private tanker operators that offer expensive services and inferior quality; vacant sites/parks are dumping grounds for garbage; and poor public transport within Dwarka including poor connectivity to Delhi Metro stations makes commuting a Herculean task. Similarly, a large number of constructed flats/buildings remain unoccupied, possibly due to institutional disputes. This is a cause for concern as uninhabited buildings give birth to criminal activities. Policy makers, urban planners, and local political leaders would receive greater appreciation from the local community by creating Dwarka’s image as a national model for urban development.

At times, certain urban development activities are given greater importance, and equally important concerns do not find a place in the list of priorities. This is noted in the case of Mumbai, where the Bandra-Worli Sea Link built at an enormous cost received far more attention than sectors like public transport, sanitation, internet connectivity which are in a pathetic state. Fairness in decision-making is an indicator of good urban governance, and the government’s credibility would improve immensely by adopting a balanced approach that addresses the equity dimension of urban development.

The people engaged in various informal sector activities make an important contribution in the functioning of any city. All households located either in planned areas or in unplanned ones depend on the day-to-day services provided by this group, such as fruits and vegetables, laundry, cycle rickshaws, waste recycling, newspaper, etc. The problem occurs when the government policy for this sector adversely affects the business of this community, and has a significant impact on their daily earnings. Some recent government initiatives/issues are: discouraging street hawking and cycle rickshaws in planned areas, relocation of flower markets to Ghazipur locality, closing down of dobhi ghats from Central and New Delhi areas; and inadequate attention to problems faced by rag pickers and illegal plastic recyclers. These groups would feel secure: if their voices are heard at the time of preparing/amending urban development plans; and the informal sector is effectively integrated in the urban planning process.

Many of the dilemmas of urban development could be overcome by applying and paying attention to the principles of sustainability - management and governance, the built environment per se, heritage conservation, environmentally sustainable transport, and green habitat. The other important pre-requisites are: greater emphasis on regional planning, preparation of strategic performance plan in consultation with stakeholders, implementation of Constitution (Seventy-fourth Amendment) Act, 1992 provisions and reforms envisaged under the JNNURM in totality, enforcement of zoning regulations and bye-laws, and designing city development plans using state of the art technology, such as GIS.

The population size of a city and its distribution pattern is a phenomenon keenly observed by city-level governing entities. The main objective is to provide infrastructure and services to all the city inhabitants. Delhi has observed a stability and saturation in its population size, evident from a decline in growth rates during 2001-11, however, numbers are currently quite high - 16.75 million persons - when compared with other Indian cities, and density has increased to 11,297 persons per sq. km. The demographic profile also indicates decline in number of migrants, and spread of population in satellite cities around NCT of Delhi including districts of Gurgaon and Faridabad in Haryana, and Ghaziabad and Gautambudh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, which are now the real growth centres. The implementation of rural employment guarantee scheme could also be an important reason responsible for reducing the traditional out migration from certain areas to Delhi. A peculiar problem is that many parts within the capital city continue to be designated as ’rural’ despite satisfying the urban definition criteria. The use of a normative definition deprives such rural areas of all the utilities or services that an urban area is entitled for. For the same reason, building bye-laws are not applicable in rural areas thereby leading to haphazard constructions.

The conference was chaired by Sunjoy Joshi, Director of Observer Research Foundation, who said an inclusive approach might be useful wherein various sections of the society are empowered to politically participate in the urban planning process. Carsten Krinn of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung delivered the vote of thanks.

The participants at the seminar included C. Chandramouli , Varsha Joshi (Director, Census Operations, Delhi), J.B. Kshirsagar and Achala Mediratta , S.C. Tripathi , A.K. Gupta , Renuka Gupta , B.V. Rao , Bharati Chaturvedi , M.L. Chotani , Rabidyuti Biswas , D.S. Bhupal .

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