Delhi demolitions: Under the cloak of law

Context: The periodic drama of demolitions of illegal construction has become the unfortunate leitmotif of Delhi’s development. The recent demolitions around Tughlaqabad Fort follow the script that has been enacted innumerable times before. The need to demolish is portrayed as a law and order issue, not the failure of urban planning.

Arguments in favour of demolitions

  • These colonies are developed on illegal land
  • They are becoming obstructions in the way of the master plan of Delhi (MPD)
  • They deface the city.
  •  People living there are involved in the criminal activities.

Issues associated with demolition

  • Illegal colonies developed due to the inability of MPD to meet the needs of migrant inflow in the city.
  • This kind of demolition involves only the issue’s legal dimension, leaving the ethical issues unsolved.
  • The spatial norms, development controls, and even the basic planning ideology on which the present Master Plan of Delhi (and other Indian cities) is based are modelled on urban development strategies that evolved in post-war Europe and the US — under entirely different social, economic and cultural circumstances.
  • These were eagerly adopted after Independence by the governing elite (including urban planners) because they neatly aligned with their aspirations for creating modern Indian cities.
  • This model has proved inadequate to handle the complex problems of Indian urbanisation and the nature of indigenous urbanism that underpins the expectations of new migrants.
  • Elitist mentality of urban developers who treated slums as urban malaise which must be eradicated.
  • Demolitions have only shifted the focus from the original source of the problem, the flawed MPD and the lack of imaginative governance, to its victims, the migrants and entrepreneurs, who have immeasurably contributed to India’s success story.

Way forward

  • To begin, 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. For one, the needs and aspirations of one are not more legitimate than those of the other.
  • Second, given the history of urban development of Delhi, aborting the attempts of the have-nots to fulfil their basic needs is not the most efficacious strategy to ensure the success of urban planning.
  • The have-nots have legitimate status and rights to the city. Therefore, their self-help achievements in the face of the hostility they face from society and the government, should not be treated as a cancerous tumour that needs to be excised to protect the planner’s vision.

Mains Practice MCQ

In your opinion what are the issues associated with the demolition of illegal colonies in urban areas of the country? Suggest some measures to deal with this issue of demolition. (150 words, 10 marks)

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