Chaotic capital

Print edition : July 04, 2008

A street scene at Vikas Marg in Delhi. A file photograph. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi does not report to the Delhi government, but ultimately roads and traffic and water, power, sanitation and drainage are the responsibility of that government.-SANDEEP SAXENA

The administration of the National Capital Region is an issue that needs a lot more attention than it has been getting.

IN the past 60 years a number of institutions have come up in India that have produced skilled professionals in different fields. The Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management and a number of medical colleges have turned out generations of engineers, managers and doctors who have distinguished themselves not only in India but abroad. Indeed, it is a melancholy fact that a disproportionate number of them have sought and secured employment abroad, where they earn fat salaries and live far more luxurious lives than they would have in India.

But there are many other skills that either are not being taught or are being taught very badly and yet are vital to this countrys needs, given the ambitious growth trajectory that it has envisioned for itself. Among these is the administration of urban metropolitan areas, which is at present run by officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) or by those who were recruited by municipal bodies and who learnt on the job.

India is heading to a time when it will no longer be predominantly agricultural; its image will not be synonymous with the bullock cart and thatched huts. It will inevitably be a predominantly urban country where more than half the population will be living in cities, towns and mostly in gigantic urban metropolitan areas such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.

And the marvel is that, knowing this, the government has done little to alter the structures of governance that the British built to rule a vast rural country in which there were only a few cities and some small towns, which were ruled easily enough by Indian Civil Service officers and their subordinates. This myopia has persisted for decades, and much has been said of the need to change the systems. The panchayati raj institutions have been set up and given funds, but in its essentials the system has not changed when there is a crisis or when some new project has to be taken up, it is still the District Magistrate or the Collector who is ordered to take suitable action.

Leaving aside the polemics of the larger issue, let us for a moment consider the utter chaos that exists in the systems of governance of the capital of the country. No, the reference is not to Delhi or New Delhi, which is officially the capital city, but to the metropolitan region that in actual fact constitutes the capital: what is referred to as the National Capital Region (NCR). This enormous urban sprawl covers the Union Territory (now the State) of Delhi; large areas of the districts of Gurgaon, Faridabad and Sonepat in the State of Haryana; and a large part of what was the district of Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, now split into the districts of Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar.

Even though the urban sprawl is continuous and one cannot tell where one State begins and where one ends, the fact that three different States control these areas, and do so using the antiquated system left behind by the British, would be hugely funny were it not such an appalling mess. State governments do not, by definition, ever have enough money to manage their predominantly rural territories and they are able to do what little they can through the now quaint system of colonial governance to which they have clung, overlaid as it is with the graft and corruption the political class has brought to it.

But to expect such systems to manage modern urban conglomerations is too much. The conglomerations are modern in that builders have responded to the demands of the growing, wealthy corporate class, and the latest buildings, immensely tall, have been set up with every conceivable facility and luxury. This has meant a huge increase in the demand for water, power and wide roads free of the myriad crossings that characterise our towns and cities. It has also meant the systems for the maintenance of law and order needed to keep pace with the exponential growth in the urban sprawls in Gurgaon and Noida.

Recent events have demonstrated just how incredibly incompetent these systems are in coping with modern urban demands. The murder in Noida of a teenaged girl and a servant have had the local police tied up in knots, acting in a manner that would have put the Keystone Cops to shame. The crime scene was not cordoned off and hordes of television cameramen and reporters another modern phenomenon with which the existing systems simply have not been able to come to terms were allowed to enter the house, walk all over the place, talk to everyone directly concerned with the incident, and make statements at frequent intervals on the crime, clearly on the basis of their own imagination as they had no hard evidence of any kind. It was only after the Central Bureau of Investigation took over the case that all this was stopped. Or, more correctly, the CBI made sure that the investigation was taken up on a more professional basis.

The local police are not really to blame. They are part of a system of policing in which the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police decree how and in what manner law and order will be maintained. This may work in a rural district such as Ramnagar but not in Noida, which is really an extension of Delhi.

Nor does the malaise just involve security and policing. These superficially sleek places have terrible water shortages, and the power supply is not only hopelessly inadequate, it is primitive. In many of the houses in these glitzy localities in Gurgaon and Noida switching on an air-conditioner means that the lights in the house will dim or flicker and, like as not, go out slowly, ensuring that the motors of such appliances as refrigerators burn out. Again, this is what one might expect in a mofussil town; not that it is a desirable thing in these towns but that is how it is in the districts as one knows to ones cost. But one cannot expect these dilapidated structures to deliver services to modern metropolitan areas where global institutions have settled in, scenting large pickings by way of profits.

And this is only a small part of the administrative mess. Another is the way that New Delhi is run. No one really knows who does what. The municipal corporation does not report to the Delhi government, but ultimately roads and traffic and water, power, sanitation and drainage are the responsibility of that government. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) reports to the Lt. Governor, who is a functionary of the Central government, and it is, again, to him that the Delhi Police report, and he in turn is responsible for the DDA to the Ministry of Urban Development and for law and order to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

What makes all this even more frightening and comic in a dark sense is that no one in these different parts of the metropolitan capital region is trained to shoulder the problems of a metropolis. IAS and Indian Police Service officers have had their training and early experience in rural areas and in State capitals, which are, except for Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai, relatively minor cities. And, typically, there are no IPS officers from any of these metropolitan cities in the Delhi Police.

There are a host of problems that the Central government has to deal with as everyone knows. But the administration of the NCR is one that needs a lot more attention than it is getting at the moment. A drastic reordering of the system is required, and training for those who have to administer the region is something that cannot be overlooked.

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