Delhi’s dual and disparate demands hanker for a place that is both a functioning city and a world-class city all at once. It is like asking a street urchin to be clean and also Harvard-educated. Which should he do first? So the city remains standing in the wings, waiting first to eradicate its slums, gain access to more electricity and water, to adequate sanitation and fuel, and improve its health to begin functioning as an ordinary Third World city. But at the same time its ambition soars and it seeks comparisons to Shanghai and New York. Delhi is a functioning slum for 70 per cent of its population, with isolated pockets of superficial cosmopolitanism — two extremes that effectively deny the other’s right to exist. It is an impossible reconciliation. Without a vision, the reality looks bleak.
No attempt is made to seriously reflect on the city’s problems or offer tangible solutions. Today, Delhi is unofficially a slum. Measured against international and United Nations standards for health, planning, layout and public amenities, the city meets none of the norms of rudimentary survival in urban areas. Thirty five per cent of the city’s land and people are unaccounted for; unofficially, the figure is closer to 70 per cent. With high pollution levels, depleting underground reserves, toxic soil, lack of water and sanitation, depleting tree cover, personal insecurity, disappearing sidewalks and a complete lack of public life, you would think that the BJP would have its work cut out. The vision statement, however, merely cites generalities: unauthorised colonies will be authorised and government services installed, clean water will be provided and potable water made available to every resident, water bills will be reviewed and rationalised. Families Below Poverty Line will get subsidised electricity; the BRT corridor will be scrapped.
Is this the work of a six-year-old writing an essay titled “How I will improve my city”? There is no attempt to explain the logic of the sudden provision in a city of desperate shortages. Where will the utilities come from? How can adequate supply of water, electricity etc. be guaranteed to slums upgraded only in name, when actual supply is diminishing in regular colonies? That the city’s dire health situation requires serious assault on pollution gets little mention in any form of preventive health, limiting industrial growth or reducing the number of vehicles. Instead, the BJP promises ambulances be made available and every citizen buy compulsory health insurance.
In a nutshell, the vision is bleak and explained without irony: if more slums are being created, regularise them; when more vehicles enter the road system, widen the roads; when people fall sick, give them health insurance; if woman feel unsafe, increase policing and CCTV cameras. Where possible, simply accommodate the trend...
Citation source: Gautam Bhatia, "Promises with no meaning: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Vision Document for Delhi makes no attempt to seriously reflect on the city’s problems or offer tangible solutions", Hindustan Times, February 7th, 2015.