Brahma Chellaney thinks I’m smart
At a recent conference held on India’s Energy security, Brahma Chellaney took a break and went for a walk with a friend of mine. He was questioning why we Indians revere everything done by the British, and how, in his view, we should level Rashtrapati Bhavan and all of the New Delhi Area. On hearing this ‘radical’ opinion, my friend was reminded of me, and she told Professor Chellaney – “I have a friend who feels exactly the same way” to which Prof. Chellaney is said to have responded: “Your friend is a smart guy.”
*pats self on back*
Of course…. this is all hearsay, and completely unconfirmable, so don’t sue anybody over it….
I am a great fan of yours, so allow me to express shock and disbelief at this opinion. To imply that Delhi’s infrastructure is the best because of the British is complete and utter Nonsense.
For starters, Delhi is _not_ a well planned city. It depends which part of Delhi we are talking about. Old Delhi (whose original name is back in fashion these days – “Shahjahanabad”) is not well planned and is a fire disaster waiting to happen.
“New Delhi” which refers specifically to an area built to the south of Old Delhi, designed by British architects and built by Sikh refugees to the City, is extremely “well planned”, and also completely useless for 21st century city dwellers. Nice and wide roads, 3 lanes one way, trees and huge bungalows are eating up space which could be utilised to build skyscrapers, art galleries, theatres, commercial space and residential space which would bring the ridiculous cost of land within Delhi tumbling down. But, that said, it all does look very Pretty. If I could level all of New Delhi, I would do it in a flash. We don’t need a bloody “Presidential Palace”, we don’t old high-roofed White House look-a-like bungalows which require a staff of 15 servants. In fact, there is no real reason at all WHY Delhi should be the capital of the country, other than the fact that is has always been the capital of something for the past 2000+ years. In my view, level the damn place, make a museum out of Parliament house, and send the bloody Central Government packing to most crime-ridden flea-infested part of Madhya Pradesh/ Bihar, and have them build a new Capital from scratch. A new capital, for a New India. And watch how that becomes a new center of economic activity. THAT would wonders for our GDP and economic growth. Fuck the British, and their so-called love of infrastructure.
Now Outside of 600-year-old Shahjahanabad, and 100-year-old New Delhi, the rest of Delhi is just absolute chaos. But this has nothing to do with lack of Britishness. After partition, wave after wave of refugees made Delhi their home. You try setting up an orderly city in those circumstances. Places like GK-1 & GK-2 built by DLF, when they were considered the edge of Delhi, sometime in the 1960s are literally creaking at the seams, with what used be single houses in big plots being converted to 4 storey-8 apartments blocks with equivalent numbers of cars unable to fit into those alleys.
The power cuts in the city used to be extremely frequent up until about a year ago, by which time Tata Power and BSES Rajdhani/Reliance Energy have finally managed to reduce power theft, upgrade billing, metering and fix a few of the centuries old transformers. If the British were so good, how come they couldn’t plan for future power stations? Do you think their broad avenues, bungalows and Presidential Palace with its still waterways consume less energy than anything produced by Indians? In terms of upkeep, water and power? Good infrastructure my left foot!
There has been no water to be had for years. I could blame this on the British too. Which idiot plans on settling next to the Rajasthani desert and have hot winds blowing in during the middle of June with the temperature at a mild 47 degrees celcius? Vasant Kunj is still a dry desert dependent on rusted, leaking Delhi Jal Board trucks. Water pipes from the new treatment plant at Sonia Vihar were completed only 2 years ago, and we are still begging-dependent on UP & Haryana to release some water to us to keep things going. There may be working water pipes under British-built New Delhi, but they are maintained at the expense and cost of that section of the local population that has no water whatsoever.
And I haven’t even begun to talk about North Delhi, West Delhi or East Delhi yet…
With due respect, the British are NOT responsible for the only city with barely passable infrastructure in – dare-I-say-it South Asia.
Delhi embarked on a clean-up plan when a few things happened in recent times:
- Economic Liberalisation in 1991. And this is the capital of the country in which the liberalisation occured, i.e. a Centre of Power.
- There was a software boom (amongst other various booms, which are still very much n progress), and there was lots of empty land outside Delhi that was being developed because there was no land to be had inside the city. Thus we have Gurgaon, and NOIDA (which stands for New Okhla Industrial Development Area, btw – Okhla being an industrial area of Delhi)
- The Congress (I HATE the Congress, as do most Delhi-ites, BUT, many of us respect Sheila Dikshit a lot, who is viewed as not being very corrupt – despite all the clout her son carries in Delhi) came to power with a huge majority.
- Delhi bid for the Commonwealth Games and won. This means our city will have to be at a certain level before it can even consider hosting such an event – note that this is a precursor to bidding for the Olympics – and all of this is the VISION of some of the current politicians who rule Delhi. Of course, the fact that we are part of the Commonwealth is because of the British, so yes, maybe it all is because of them.
- Being a Union Territory, and not subservient to the requirements of any rural state, coupled with The BJP’s push for Statehood allowed Delhi to have an independence in the running of affairs that no other city gets to have in all of India.
There may be other factors, but these are the ones that come to mind. Sheila Dikshit, or whoever advises her has been the only person approaching a leader that I have seen in recent times. She has lived in Delhi, and is part of what one might call the Urban Elite – and therefore knows exactly what is required in a mostly _urban_ environment by urban dwellers. No other Urban area in India has this luxury – why? Because every large urban agglomeration in India also happens to be the State Capital. Bangalore for Karnataka, Hyderabad for Andhra, and of course Bombay for Maharashtra (or as arrogant Bombay people would like to claim – Bombay for all India). This means that you have
goondaspoliticians coming in from their agrarian/rural base, and governing from an urban capital. So – loot the urban financial centres to feed the farmers with free rice and electricity. Result: Power cuts in the cities, no roads, and lots of cows. Welcome to modern day India.
In USA – NO Big City is the capital of the state that it is in – New York state is governed from Albany. California is governed from Sacramento, and on and on. This allows the Urban centres to focus on their priorities which are strikingly different from the rural ones.
There are a lot of other factors as well, but I am at work currently so can’t answer you fully.
But I would like to strenuously deny that the British built city of New Delhi is the cause of what resembles passable infrastructure. All this is recent phenomena caused by the luck of having a semi-decent politician in power, and some of the other factors mentioned above. She privatised the electricity distribution. She’s privatised the Waste Management (garbage) which is now managed by the DWM (Delhi Waste Management). She wanted to privatise water distribution but that was shot down due to ‘concerns’. She wanted to liberalise the liquor policy because she was quoted as saying “I do not feel it is the government’s business to sell alcohol” but was also shot down by public protest. She managed to push through a half-attempt. Large ‘kirana’ stores can stock beer and wine. She attempted to allow shops to remain open for 24 hours, and I think that still holds, but most stores don’t do it, claiming issues with the police.
She wanted to revise farcical privatisation of Blueline buses done in Delhi by the BJP (One bus to one owner!~#$##!#!$) and revise that with a system resembling the telecom industry – allow 3/4 corporates to run bus services in Delhi. Again, this proposal was struck down by her own party members, and various other vested interests.
Now I don’t want to sound like a Sheila Dikshit fan, but which other politician in this whole country has their head screwed on this straight?
Prior to Sheila Dikshit running Delhi, it was exactly what Bombay people still perceive it to be – a sarkari village without a nightlife and where everybody knows someone in the government. (Nowadways everybody knows someone who owns a pub and can get you free entry).
Note – the Delhi Metro is success not because of anything the British did, but because of a man called E Sreedharan, and also because of Sheila Dikshit – who COULD have obstructed its construction, but instead got straight out of the way, and let them acquire the land they wanted to acquire, let them compensate the people freely and fairly, and basically gave them Support. (Having a friendly government at the Centre helped this as well).
To conclude I’d like to say a few things:
- The British contributed nothing to improve the infrastructure of Delhi. Wide roads, and a presidential palace with a memorial arch and a canopy which used hold a statue of King George do not make life easier for a city of 14 million people (and growing)
- I am NOT a supporter of Congress, and I hate everything they have done to this country. I am not a lover of Sheila Dikshit either, but again, looking at the alternatives, I would vote for her again if she runs or gets a ticket from her party (which she won’t because she actually accomplished something)
- This post is messy, disorganised, and doesn’t say all i wanted it to because I am at work and have to go for lunch now. But I would love to debate this further with you.
- I know this post sounds like a “Let’s blame it all on the British” diatribe, but that is not my intent. But let’s be clear. India was a colony. A big colony, run initially by a multinational company. They needed to get those resources extracted as efficiently as possible. Thusly, a nationwide railroad, developed ports (Bombay & Calcutta), a decentralised administration (building a local elite) and all the support services that go along with it. If the British, with their apparent love of infratructure are so good, how come the United Provinces (British ruled) and now known as UP are in such bad shape. Why do you only mention those 3/4 specific cities?
- I will concede one thing – Bombay – IS semi-decent because of the British. But then in my view the whole city was built by the British anyway. They reclaimed the land to make it one city, so rightly they should get the credit for that. But sorry, the same does not apply to Delhi.