City authorities tell us that over 50% of Delhi’s urban area is regarded as “open” and more than 20% is “green”. Yet, those keeping a keen eye on the city and its development say “we are far from providing universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces”. This is one of the many issues of concern in India’s capital that is sometimes boasted of as being world class — thanks to iconic British era structures, Mogul monuments and the Delhi Metro — and yet very difficult for the average Delhiite to be comfortable in. Will that change? More importantly, can it be changed, and if so, how? Can the Delhi Master Plan 2041 be the harbinger of that change?
The draft Delhi Master Plan 2021-41 (DMP-41), approved by the Delhi Development Authority, was put up in the public domain on June 9th, allowing a 45-day window for citizens to send in objections and suggestions. That deadline expires on July 23rd, after which DMP-41 will be deemed the sacrosanct document, holding within its pages the development of the national capital over the next two decades and the life it provides to those who live here.
Civil society groups are now demanding that this deadline be extended to three months. “Are seven days enough to read 1000 pages of the baseline document?,” tweeted Main Bhi Dilli (MBD) addressing the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) on July 16th. “You took three years to study these documents – why can’t concerned and active citizens get 3 months?”
MBD is a people’s campaign comprising over 40 NGOs and organisations, activists and researchers, and is committed to making planning in Delhi, particularly the finalisation of this new master plan, more representative and inclusive by engaging citizens in the process. The MBD has been actively engaged with the National Institute of Urban Affairs since 2019, when they were told by the DDA that the baseline studies had been completed and were ready to be submitted for approval. But these baseline studies were shared with the public only on July 16th.
- As per some recent figures, the metro area population of Delhi in 2021 is 31,181,000, a 2.94% increase from 2020. There has been no official census in Delhi since the 2011 census. Available figures say Delhi covers an area of around 1,484 square kilometres with a population density of 29,259.12 people per square mile, one of the highest in the world.
- However, the DMP-2041, whose stated vision is “Foster a Sustainable, Liveable and Vibrant Delhi,” projects Delhi’s population in 2041 at 30.9 million, 29.1 million and 27.8 million depending on the high, medium and low growth scenarios respectively. A significant increase is projected in the proportion of persons in the 25-60 age group, indicating the need to create adequate employment opportunities and to harness the potential economic benefits presented by this demographic dividend. It also projects increase in the proportion of persons in the 60+ age group, signalling the need for specific provisions for the elderly.
- According to the Plan document, migrants are expected to contribute 41% to the rise in population over the next 20 years.
The Draft Plan
The twin volume draft document focuses on environment, water, critical resources, mobility, housing, built environment and public spaces, heritage assets, vulnerability (Delhi falls in seismic zone four), and economic potential. It also says a common database needs to be established for monitoring and evaluation.
The Main Bhi Dilli Campaign (MBD) has helped the DDA organise public consultations on these issues. It has also made its views known broadly on most of these issues. Clearly, the Delhi Master Plan 2041 and MBD are not on the same page in most of the issues covered in the draft plan.
After much pressure on DDA by MBD and its members, the baseline documents were put up in the public domain seven days short of the 45-day deadline. Since then, MBD members have been demanding an extension of the deadline for public feedback. Concerned citizens and activists focussing on general various aspects of the master plan have zeroed in on many issues in the draft document which, they feel, need more scrutiny and need to be reviewed and revised on the basis of these baseline studies.
Needed, a livelihood centric approach
While the MBD campaign has reservations about the timing of the release of the draft DMP in the midst of the pandemic, the timing has possibly helped focus on some issues more sharply than may have happened otherwise.
A case in example is livelihood, which was hugely impacted by COVID. Citing figures from the Delhi Economic Survey 2017-18, the activists and NGOs point out that less than 15% of the city’s population are engaged in formal employment, with the vast majority of work happening outside of formal workplaces.
“Urban space and systems like housing, infrastructure and transportation have a direct impact on productivity, security and earnings of the majority of Delhi’s workers,” the MBD campaign highlights. “While these may be separate categories for planners, people’s lives are not bifurcated along these lines and the interconnections between them crucially determine the quality of urban life. We propose a livelihood centric approach towards inclusive economic development, sustainability, resilience and gender equality”.
Housing and resettlement
Housing in the national capital is a citizen’s nightmare, not always spoken about because it cannot be seen but has to be experienced, whatever the socio-economic class of residents. As the MBD points out, where housing is affordable — the jhuggis-jhopdi clusters– there is no secure tenure. And where it is legal and adequate, it is largely unaffordable for most people. It may be legal and affordable in the urban villages, but these lack basic services.
The MBD wants the government to think beyond just providing shelter and moving towards socio-spatial inclusion, improved resettlement, and above all matching housing to livelihoods– linking work to housing in spatial plans.
A few years ago, residents of the much romanticised and extremely videographed Kathputli Colony, which was home to street magicians, dancers, singers, snake charmers, gymnasts, tight rope dancers, acrobats, bandar(monkey) and bhaloo (bear) walas, was shifted to Anand Parbat, about five kilometres away. Work ground to a halt for most of these people. There was no connectivity, no space for their informal rehearsals. “Life is going to be worse in the new settlement being built,” says Ishamuddin Khan, a street magician. Because they are going to be high rise, matchbox type apartments with no space for their props and sets, and absolutely none for their practice.
What the MBD campaign’s call for a “new process of resettlement to make it genuine rehabilitation”, as the basis of a sustainable, practical, convenient and workable solution to issues like the Kathputli Colony.
The MBD suggests linkage of work with housing, and planning of homes and settlements as “productive units”, mixed use of neighbourhood, first and last mile connectivity — basically recognising and protecting work in diverse workplaces.
Draft Delhi Master Plan 2041 highlights:
- The Draft plan estimates total housing stock needed till 2041 at 34 lakhs. There is no break up of the types of houses or affordability, and no basis has been adduced for this calculation
- About 17-20 lakh houses are to come up from land pooling
- The plan also mentions (i) regeneration of planned and unplanned neighbourhoods, (ii) housing reservations in TOP and industrial regeneration, (iii) increase in public and private rental space, particularly small format rentals and (iv) in-situ slum redevelopment
What MBD wants:
- Ensure housing for economically weaker sections (EWS) by city level land reservations for affordable housing
- Make reservations for EWS section in all new private development projects,
- Upgrade housing units, services and infrastructure to support informal work
- Create norms that encourage rental housing
- Reframe norms, including spatial regulation and zoning regulations that hinder expansion of affordable housing
This is something that many people earning a precarious livelihood on Delhi’s streets and pavements, would welcome. For instance, there are foot-over-bridges that lie abandoned, as they are far from the pavements, hutments and informal markets. This is true in many parts of the inner and outer Ring Road, and also congested office spaces like the ITO, where just a few years ago, grotesque looking foot overbridges came up which no one uses. Today, there are more pedestrians on the roads than ever and according to Delhi Traffic Police, over 46% of the 1463 accident deaths in the capital in 2019 were of pedestrians.
Commute in the city
Now, in the run up to acceptance and implementation of DMP-41, the Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Centre has come up with plans to make Hauz Khas, ITO and Lajpat Nagar areas more “walkable”.
These are areas housing institutes like IIT Delhi, Lakshman Public School, government offices including the police headquarters and a market with one of the highest footfalls in the capital. The master plan includes provisioning of pelican crossings near schools and other intersections, signages and other pedestrian infrastructure.
Draft Delhi Master Plan 2041 highlights:
- Improving connectivity and transport infrastructure
- Shifting to shared mobility
- Making Delhi walkable and cyclable
- Managing parking
What MBD emphasises in addition to above:
- Set a 2041 target of 90% peak hour journeys being by foot, cycle and public transport
- Locate all new affordable housing be within five minutes of frequent bus-based public transport system
- Aim for fare-free transport to the whole city across all modes of public transit
The other contentious issue is women’s safety. Years after the horrible Nirbhaya rape case, women are scared to, and often told not to, venture out in the inky darkness. The MBD wants public spaces thought through not just from the prism of housing and livelihood, but linking those with the well being of these public spaces, transport, persons with disability and safety of women.
“Designing green, walkable, well lit, uninterrupted and unpolluted public spaces can positively impact social and environmental health in the city and benefit chldren and elders alike”, say the concerned NGOs and others scrutinising the DMP-41 draft. They emphasise that the pandemic has particularly made the outdoors safer and healthier than being indoors. “Placemaking”, a process of revitalising public spaces, has been tested in different parts of the world and can be intelligently adapted for Delhi’s urban environment, they say, suggesting that public spaces be recognised as the building block of the city.
Some of the strategies listed in the draft Delhi Master Plan 2041:
- Adding streets in the infrastructure category to make them better
- Creating an “active frontage”, meaning taking over the portion of the ground floor of a building which abuts into the street or pavement
- Encouraging public performances
- Involving PPP mode for improvement of public spaces
- Creating spaces to accommodate street vendors
- Specifying night-life circuits to reduce congestion and stagger city activities.
What MBD emphasises
- Treat public spaces as building blocks of a city
- Identify unused public sites and enhance their quality and supply
- Understand what communities want from public spaces
- Prioritise public spaces for the most vulnerable – women, children, senior citizens, the urban poor and minority communities
Then there is what used to be the Yamuna river, but is now a stinking nullah. The view from Delhi Metro’s Yellow Line train, as it nears the Yamuna Bank, tells people how filthy the river is, how lush the wild growth and limited farming on its banks are and how beautiful the Akshar Dham temple is. The MBD campaign argued that riverfront development be integrated with farming and agriculture be notified as a dedicated land use category.
In August 2020, the MBD submitted technical reports to the NIUA on practically all areas of urban development. The 360 degree view and analysis has taken the MBD team through areas of housing, mobility, gender, homeless people, public spaces, street vendors, waste management, home-based work, heritage and social infrastructure.
What the draft Delhi Master Plan 2041 proposes:
- Adaptive Reuse as a key conservation strategy
- setting up of Heritage Cells to work at the local level for better stakeholder participation
- CSR funding for strengthening conversation efforts
- Heritage trails to be integrated with night-life circuits and
- Cultural festivals and Cultural Precincts to be developed as hubs of cultural enterprise
What MBD emphasises:
- Contextual adaptive reuse
- integration of local area plans so that citizens develop a sense of ownership of their local heritage
- encouraging educational institutions to adopt monuments
- resync tourism with heritage sites and have more “living monuments”
Wanted: A more contemplative exercise
At the DDA’s webinar on July 16th, residents could actually be seen holding banners and placards by way of a peaceful protest in support of their demand that the public be given more time to submit their suggestions and objections to the draft plan. “It’s a fair demand to ask for 3-6 months for comments on the 500 page document,” tweeted @safetipinapp. an app campaigning for the creation of urban spaces where everyone, particularly women and other excluded groups, can move around without fear.
The MBD constituents, who have been singularly focussed on contributing to a DMP that will truly improve the quality of life in the capital, are far from happy over the draft. It has been made in haste and is non-participatory, says janpahal.org.in
The collective has made several recommendations on a host of issues that are available on their website.
[The complete draft master plan is available here.]