The much-awaited Master Plan for Delhi-2021 seems a non-starter to correct the many flaws that plague the Indian capital and to realize the dream of making it a world-class city. The plan lacks vision. It neither spells out how to carry forward the historical legacy of this ancient city nor does it put forward a clear outline to make it a modern 21st century metropolis.
The biggest problem in Delhi is of illegal commercial establishments operating in every nook and corner in violation of the norms of the existing Master Plan, a document that defines how the city should be run.
The new Master Plan proposes to legalize the illegal establishments, rather than doing away with them as many want, by changing the rules governing the use of land for residential and commercial purposes. There is no long-term plan to rehabilitate such commercial units, which may want to shift out of residential areas where they now exist in violation of law.
The Master Plan is largely silent on how to tackle effectively the growing number of slums and unauthorized colonies - neighborhoods that come up mostly on government land as well as privately owned farm land. Their promoters then try to use their political and financial clout to get their settlements legalized. More than half of the city's 15 million population lives in such areas, and the number is only likely to grow.
Worse, the city has grown and grown, with just rudimentary planning despite existence of two earlier Master Plans. Today, even so-called and well laid out government colonies are being taken over by slums, their dwellers using the footpaths as open toilets. Huge open drains in many parts of Delhi have become the base for dwelling units, choking a system absolutely vital to prevent flooding in case of torrential downpour.
According to the latest Master Plan, the city's population is expected to reach 23 million by 2021. This would require an estimated 2.4 million additional housing units.
Where will these units come up? According to planners, 40 percent of them would come up in the already habited area and 60 percent in newly identified areas.
It implies an immense increase in pressure on the already strained civic system in residential areas. That would mean more power and water shortages, almost permanently clogged drains, and no one knows where the additional parking space will emerge from for residents.
The Master Plan does not shed much light on how Delhi is to be turned into a 'knowledge city'. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had promised that about eight years ago. While Delhi's adjoining towns - Gurgaon in Haryana and Noida in Uttar Pradesh - have moved much ahead in terms of becoming commercial hubs for IT units, Delhi continues to don the label of a city of "small traders".
It is clear that while Delhi, located strategically in the vast northern belt, serves as a wholesale market for a large number of commodities, it would essentially remain a city of small traders in years to come. The long pending plans of moving these wholesale markets to Delhi's periphery, thus vacating huge chunks of land in the heart of the city for planned development, seem to be permanently grounded.
Those who have made Delhi their home also feel that the city's rich heritage, mainly the countless Mughal monuments small and big, and the age-old small water bodies spread all over the city that succumbed to the onslaught of unplanned development do not figure high on the planners' agenda.
The new Master Plan clearly has nothing to offer in terms of changing the face of Delhi. The aspirations of the growing professional middle class, which pays huge amount of taxes, have been completely ignored.
The Plan will be notified in January 2007. This, perhaps, is a New Year gift, which most Delhiites do not want. But who cares?
(Arun Anand has reported on Delhi affairs for over a decade. The views expressed are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)