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Delhiites should become narcissists

Many Delhiites who avidly follow Corporate developments must have noticed a news insert that NBCC is re-developing, amongst other areas, in the national capital, Nauroji Nagar. The complete story behind this innocuous news item is interesting.
This is the very same area in South Delhi (Nauroji Nagar) which a few years back, made headlines, albeit for an entirely different reason.
There had been resistance from some quarters including environmentalists. They felt that the area, if developed for residential/commercial purposes may have an adverse impact on the surroundings.
In this context, many may recall, in correspondence with the National Green Tribunal, it had been said that nearly 186378 trees and plants would be destroyed during the redevelopment. Tree felling was a major cause of global warming in India. NBCC’s argument of cultivating more trees was incorrect as it would take another 40-50 years for the trees to mature. It was also alleged in a complaint that the demolition of residential colonies – Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Kasturba Nagar, Thyagaraj Nagar, Srinivaspuri and Mohammadpur was being done in haste and in violation of environmental norms.
In Oct 2016 notices had been issued to the Environment Ministry, Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) and state-owned construction firm National Buildings Construction (NBCC) Limited in the matter. Cut to August 2020, it was reported that the Delhi High Court had vacated the order which stalled the development of the area Nauroji Nagar in South Delhi. Of course, this was after much meandering back and forth. Public memory being short, the latest news item in the context of NBCC revisiting development’ at Nauroji Nagar may not have come as a big surprise to most Delhiites. Like many similar ‘efforts’ of NBCC the matter has turned a full circle and caught most commentators napping.

Citizens of India are fully aware that if the advisors and partners of the Government are determined to see an issue in one particular light they will move heaven and earth to have their way. Vox Populi vox Dei, in any case, is only for a few days after losing an election.
NBCC has not shared much, in their last release, referred to above, about the detailed plans for redevelopment of the area. They seem to be in a celebratory mood for having got their way.
A low-hanging project, easily amortizable is just what the financial pundits would advise for a healthy book of accounts. But do the citizens of Delhi also have a reason to cheer? Those who are familiar with the area know that it used to be just another government housing colony with a somewhat limited capacity. In its earlier avatar, as a government housing colony, it lived in its own microcosm.
The government in those days had a sizeable workforce and felt obliged to give housing to the employees. The houses were much in demand and had a quaint, laid-back, almost lazy visage. Those were relatively easy days which did not have the frantic pace which Delhi, especially South Delhi, has today. Nevertheless, the area even then had a great strategic importance.
Today however, it stands alongside extremely busy and important thoroughfares which give access to vital Commercial Areas, Two Airports, Diplomatic Missions, Delhi Cantonment, Five Star Hotels, Cinema Houses, Bazaars, Institutions, Government Hospitals & Teaching Institutes, Sports Arenas etc. Needless to say, this piece of real estate is the primest of the prime. It would get most developers salivating.

But many citizens residing near Nauroji Nagar or using the Ring Road and Outer Ring Road would prefer that it be made into some sort of a unique landmark, rather than in the name of redevelopment, making of another concrete jungle. Most such places which are re-developed often with token and exotic flora generally turn out to be showpieces rather than being of any essential value. Modern city planning needs to looking for sustainability. Many Masdar, UAE-like cities need to bloom irrespective of the long gestation periods. Nauroji Nagar in Delhi is a typical opportunity which should not go a-begging. Especially in view of the fact that East Kidwai Nagar has also been re-developed recently, with mixed results.
In fact, a mere opinion survey would bring out the wishes of the common man. But certainly, we cannot expect NBCC to listen to such reasoning because it may well be moved by corporate necessities and bottom lines. All know, it takes huge efforts to bring disruptive and unique elements into buildings or town planning. Mere aping the west or other metropolises does not always suffice. Translatable Vision is what counts!

Many believe that architects and town planners need to be narcissists to bring out their best. Le Corbusie’s Chandigarh or Louis Kahn’s IIM Ahmedabad or even Charles Correa’ s Kolkata City Centre 1 would not be what they are but for the self-indulgence of these architects. Delhiiwallahs should also turn narcissistic and more demanding for their beloved city. They have so many edifices from Purana Qila, Tughlagabad, Lal Quila, Jama Masjid, Birla Temple, Bahai Temple, Jantar Mantar, Connaught Place, Central Vista, Rastrapati Bhavan, India Habitat Centre et al to be inspired from. A mere Art District at Lodhi Colony will certainly not suffice. Delhiites should move on from singularly hanging on to Choley Bhatura as their city symbol. They need to stand up and have a say on how an important piece of real estate in South Delhi should become a world landmark. Delhiwallahs are a bit like the Texans.
They always look for big, bold and beautiful. Most know that the city is standing at the crossroads. It’s time Delhiites stand up and be counted.

Coming to more practicalities, Nauroji Nagar should be developed as a ‘lung’ for South Delhi, period. Much like the Hyde Park in London. Especially when it has so many multi-storied buildings nearby. It should become a working model for negative carbon emission, water generation, solid waste to energy conversion projects, renewable/alternate energy research centre, the world centre for ecology and sustainability, Elite study table/foundation for the future of the planet, City Control and Shelter Centres, 3D Printing Studio, AI Lab, Children Park & Teaching Centre. A city within a city which is future-proof. It should be able to be resilient and survive in time of turbulence. It needs to have AI-driven human sustainability, total cyber security, harness power of community through engagement, be financially independent, have a smart health community system, be digitally innovative, have intelligent mobility, environment surveillance, be the epicentre of cultural and social exchange with the comity of nations; the list is endless. Singapore is a city-state, its vision has been unfolding over several years and look at where it stands today. It’s vastly different from the Dubai model. The short span in which they have made impressive development is an example Delhi can also follow.

Singapore. Pic Courtesy Internet

It’s time for Delhiites to realize that they can be at the cusp of creating history. A history which the coming generations are entitled to and already demanding. Let us not fail them or else we shall never be able to forgive ourselves. Jerry Rice, the great American footballer had once said – “ Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”  – By Sidhartha Mukherjee

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