Delhi demolitions: Under the cloak of law

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Source– The post is based on the article “Delhi demolitions: Under the cloak of law” published in “The Indian Express” on 6th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS1- Urbanisation

Relevance– Issues related to urban planning

News– The periodic drama of demolitions of illegal construction has become the unfortunate event of Delhi’s development.

What are issues with demolition drives in Delhi?

The need to demolish is portrayed as a law and order issue, not the failure of urban planning.

The judiciary has emerged as the arbiter in the field because the demolition is presented as the illegal use of land defined by the Master Plan of Delhi.

This hides the inadequacies of MPD. It is unable to meet the needs of all the residents. These inadequacies of MPD need to be analysed by the creators of MPD, and not the judiciary.

All over the world, urban planners have shown pragmatic creativity to resolve problems related to the management of their cities. They have not used the police powers of the state. This is not the case with Delhi.

For example, the development of slums, mushrooming commercial, retail and industrial activities, are all evidence of a robustly developing political economy.

Urban planners of Delhi have not mediated this process by modifying the MPD in subsequent revisions. They have treated it as an urban malaise that needs to be eradicated.

As a result, the city today is not so much the product of the original vision of MPD. It is the product of the contest between the haves and the have-nots.

Those facing the police have naturally appealed to politicians for relief. They have used corrupt means to “regularise” their initiatives to survive under hostile circumstances.

As per some analysts, the process has been so pervasive that 70% of the city has been regularised. It cast doubts on the efficacy of demolition as an urban planning strategy. Demolitions have only shifted the focus from the original source of the problem, that is flawed MPD.

What are issues with urban planning in India?

The spatial norms, development controls, and even the basic planning ideology that are the basis of the Master Plan of Indian cities are modelled on urban development strategies of Europe and the US. They have different social, economic and cultural circumstances.

These were adopted after Independence by the governing elite because they matched with their aspirations for creating modern Indian cities.

This model has proved inadequate to handle the complex problems of Indian urbanisation. It is unable to deal with the nature of indigenous urbanism that fulfils the expectations of new migrants:

What is the way forward for urban planning in India?

The mindset of urban planners, civic authorities and the police must change. They must understand that they are dealing with an ethical, not legal issue.

The success of urban planning should not be contingent on the outcome of the contest between the haves and the have-nots.

Aborting the attempts of the have-nots to fulfil their basic needs is not the efficacious strategy to ensure the success of urban planning. The have-nots have a legitimate status and rights to the city.

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