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Window Seat: Un-crowd the Cities

11/07/2020 at 8:14 PM

Across the country the cities are expanding area-wise and more so in population. Many cities have become urban management nightmares as the infrastructure is not keeping pace with the influx of population. Slums are increasing even as the open spaces are decreasing.

Over a third of the metros are slums or near slums with very high densities of population. Northeast Delhi has a density of over 70000 a square mile. Dharavi in Bombay has an astounding 733,000 a square mile. Besides the metros, smaller cities like Guwahati, Bhubaneswar, Ranchi, Raipur are also expanding far beyond its carrying capacity.   

People from rural areas are migrating to towns and cities, mostly to the capital cities. Consider this: Mizoram has a population of about 12 lakhs; out of which 3 lakhs- quarter of the entire population live in its capital city of Aizwal. In Sikkim out of the total population of little over 6 lakhs over 1 Lakh live in its capital city of Gangtok. There are several reasons, mostly psycho-social, aspirational and livelihood-related, for people from rural areas migrating to towns and cities. However, the over-crowding of cities are creating myriad problems.

The focused spread of Covid-19 in large cities, particularly in Bombay and Delhi, is one example of the problems of over-crowding. This is a good moment in time to consider un-crowding our metros and cities.

As social commentator Mohan Guruswamy writes, “Most capital cities have a concentration of government offices of various tiers and responsibilities crowded in as close as possible to the real and imagined corridors of power.” That could be shifted out of the capital city to less crowded towns. For example, apart from the ministries, departments and agencies, we also have a concentration of PSU corporate offices in New Delhi. Many of these actually need not be here.  Why is the Indian Meteorological Department required to be in New Delhi? Why must the Director General of Civil Aviation be in the capital? It goes just as well for the ITBP, CISF, SSB, BSF, ICG, ICAR, ICMR, ICHR, SAIL, BHEL, COPES and so many others.

The same situation is there in almost all capital cities of the states.  The more offices and institutions are concentrated in one city- it attracts more people and more pressure on infrastructure.

Consider the case of Bengaluru, which is now easily one of the most traffic-congested city in the world. Its stop and crawl traffic is responsible most for its deteriorating air quality and the millions of man-hours wasted in traffic crawls and jams. The disastrous consequences of not doing anything about the ever-worsening traffic are now well known. 

But all the solutions that are proposed is to further modernize it will even bigger and faster mass transit systems, more civic amenities and efforts entailing more construction. These attempts to make the cities ‘better’ paradoxically only attract more people to it, thereby adding to its problems rather than removing them.

Dispersing offices across the nation/state will not only decongest Delhi/other big capital cities, but will also become economic drivers that will modernize smaller towns and result in far more dispersed urbanization.

In fact one can make an argument for moving the state capitals out of hopelessly over crowded cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Patna and Lucknow. This will give a much-needed impetus to the construction sector, which for the foreseeable future will be India’s main economic growth driver. Construction also has the potential to absorb tens of millions of the rural workforce, and also create demand for industrial goods. Construction will create huge demands for not just steel and cement, but also for construction equipment, transit systems, infrastructure essentials like power and water distribution, and sewage treatment and disposal systems among others that will then drive the industrialization of India. 

Tailpiece: ‘C’

Did you notice that the alphabet “C” has shot to prominence in this Covid-19 era? No one expected that the alphabet “C” would play an verwhelming  role compared with any of the other alphabets.

Cough (C)

Cold (C)

Corona virus (C) 

Covid-19 (C) 

Case (C) 

Confirmed (C) 

Confinement (C)  

Contamination (C) 

Containment (C)

Curfew (C) 

Two most serious ‘C’s are: Cemetery and Cremation.

Also note that Cleanliness is the remedy. 

Tailpiece: Lucky

Anil and Sunil both were in love with Sunita and wanted to marry her. 

She is confused. She goes to an astrologer, asks:

“Anil and Sunil are both in love with me, please tell me who will be the lucky one?”

Astrologer:

“Anil will be the Lucky One….!!

Sunil will marry you ….. !”

(Courtesy: Social Media)

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee a journalist turned media academician teaches at the Eastern India campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, located at Dhenkanal, Odisha. He also writes fiction and translates poetry. An anthology of poetry that he translated has been published last month.

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