Originally Published 2010-07-17 00:00:00 Published on Jul 17, 2010
The Commonwealth Games was planned to showcase a modern India. But it has actually set back India's urban modernisation plans through disproportionate focus.
Games delay India's aspiration of building sustainable cities
Major preparations are underway for the conduct of the 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the adjoining region.  Apart from development of the Games village and several competition/training venues, a large number of infrastructure projects have been undertaken to ensure the successful conduct of the events. CWG is described as an initiative that has the ability of not only giving the much needed thrust to Indian sports in particular and to the country’s economy, but also to bring about a marked transformation in the social, economic and physical character of Delhi.

An important point that needs to be examined in this context is the decision to host the Games at a time when the country is lagging behind in numerous development parameters. For instance, the current state of urban development in India is a well-known story. The impact of planned efforts to improve the condition of towns and cities is not sufficiently visible and the quality of life in urban areas is worsening by the day. Important urban infrastructure and services including housing, public transport, electricity, water supply, drainage and sanitation are in a critical state, and the situation is miserable at most places.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns were launched by the Indian government in December 2005 to improve living conditions in urban areas. Substantial funds have been arranged for the development of infrastructure and services, as well as the implementation of a series of reforms to strengthen urban governance. A number of projects have been completed in various parts of the country and several others are in various stages of implementation. The progress under the Mission is, however, severely affected by the non-availability of sufficient funds. At a time when higher Central and State sector outlays are required for urban renewal across the country, the allocation of more than a billion rupees for CWG does seem disproportionate. It would have the effect of crippling the overall national agenda of balanced urban development.

If one critically reviews the nature of arrangements being made for the October games other than the Games village and the sports venues, select parts/corridors of the city are being improved for the smooth conduct of Games. While such development is absolutely necessary considering the significance of the event, this should in no way be carried out at the cost of other far more important priorities. In this respect, one would like to ask: By when would the problems faced daily by the citizens be given due attention?

Some of the salient problems are common to almost all urban areas. Chaotic conditions prevail on roads, railways stations and bus stands. Inadequate public transport systems, the poor quality of public transport vehicles and the proliferation of private vehicles have all made congestion and traffic jams a daily affair at peak hours. Intensifying the problems are the poor quality of roads, the infrastructure and poor traffic management. The dire shortage of housing has led to the skyrocketing of land and rental costs and the mushrooming of unplanned/unauthorised constructions and slum settlements. Huge quantities of solid waste have piled up over the generations due to the sheer neglect of waste management and pollution and environmental degradation have become the themes of the day. Urban infrastructure and service levels have long been on the decline and there is, of course, the rising rate of crime that is concomitant to endemic poverty.

Specifically, in the case of Delhi, it is observed that the number of slums is growing and living conditions of slum dwellers is pathetic. Such conditions have serious health implications. There is an immediate need of alternative modes of mass public transport such as trams to reduce the chaos on the streets since it is a given that the Delhi Metro would ultimately cover only select corridors.

Water supply suffers from numerous problems including intermittent supply, inadequacy, inequity and poor quality. The condition of drainage deteriorates considerably during the rainy season and water pools are quite a common phenomenon. And the management of solid waste is abysmally poor especially in the peripheral parts of Delhi.

The significance of the CWG has been examined by many. According to some, such events are likely to create severe financial problems for the national government. This has been noted in the case of cities such as Athens, Montreal, and Munich, which were caught in a debt trap. The impact is invariably passed on to the ordinary citizens since they are asked to pay higher taxes. Yet another adverse impact noted by analysts is the eviction of more than 1 lakh families from their homes to clear space for the provision of facilities, which is regarded as a clear violation of human rights against the homeless. It would have been fair on the part of the stakeholders to address such grey areas at the stage of planning the event.

It may be worthwhile for the nation to benefit from novel technologies and expertise being used in the development of numerous Games-related projects especially on functional bio-diverse landscaping, energy and water conservation, rainwater harvesting, superior drinking water quality, waste water treatment and re-use. There is immense need for the implementation of innovative measures to address urban problems across the country, and such initiatives may be widely undertaken at the same pace as is being done at present.

(Dr. Rumi Aijaz is a Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Pioneer, dated 17 July 2010.

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