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DUAC Delhi: Seminar on the Master Plan
Introduction by Romi Khosla

31st March 2007
Well it is a great pleasure to be invited here to this condolence meeting to pay respects to the great role that planners once played in deciding the fate of Delhi. Let us be under no illusions. Neither the DUAC nor any of us here is of the slightest relevance to the future of Delhi. I think with this most recent Master Plan, we can finally admit to ourselves that three is no use pretending that the Government, of for that matter anyone else is interested in our views. We who pride ourselves on our more than average informed skills of city planning. There is no one to blame.

It’s simply that historical circumstances have changed and from now on architect planners like us will not be relevant to the future vision of the city. Four radical changes have, together, changed the historical circumstances that have made us redundant as planners:

1.There has been a dramatic shift in the nature and social responsibilities of Government as well as the relationships of that Government, or to use the more classic word – The State and private money sources.

2.The sources of the money being used to finance the state as a new avatar of social benevolence are now coming from sources that cannot be refused. Not only are those seen fund offers delicious, refusing them would be disastrous.

3.The bureaucracy has lost those social moorings that once Nehru had so influenced in forming and has not turned into a rather enthusiastic club of monsters been on ensuing that only its club members run every state institution so that its newly expanded loyalty to what Professor Prabhat Patnaik aptly terms the ‘neo-liberal state’ is complete and unquestioned.

4.There has been a complete marginalization of the professional planner’s role in the visioning of a city and this role has been usurped by the growing corporate friendly state and its ambitious representative and servants.

Very briefly, I would like to explain this a little more about these changes in historical circumstances. We are at the beginning of a new age, an age in which a very unfamiliar State is becoming very cosey with big businesses, big bucks donor and international loan agencies. This is an unfamiliar state because we have hitherto been accustomed to a rather independent minded state that had a social conscience and some semblance of equality in its behavior towards its citizens especially the poor.

Of course this site does not flaunt its news callous role. On the contrary, it assures the poor that city improvements will benefit the poor and there will be bhagidari, but its real quest is for a new legitimacy, the legitimacy of becoming an international city administration fit enough to host international events. The real issues that concern this unfamiliar state is its state of readiness for the international event through which it will gain a legitimacy to install all sorts of equipments and paraphernalia that international cities have by the way of infrastructure.

Now in this new avatar, I can assure you, that it is in vain that we will expect any mercy for the poor of this city from this state. For the poor live in the middle kingdoms of this city, the cracks and marginal spaces, the spaces that get left over after our architecture is built, and it is from these areas where they now earn a marginal livelihood that they will get dispersed as the Games approach. No liberal state will soil its international reputation by exposing its poor to the eyes
of the world.

One of the necessary characteristics of this new state is to use perceived threat to security and law and order as a means of extending its intervention in citizen lives not only through arbitrary security barriers but through identity cards, demolitions, ridiculous land use policies that justify evictions and the increasing violence of the state against its own citizens. This new state also cannot legitimize its new role without exercising some form of violence against the poor because it no longer has lost its social moorings based on its independent status.

The Master Plan is perhaps the strongest documentary evidence that the state has lost its social moorings because it is a ridiculous document. How can your prepare a master plan of a city when you don’t have a cadastral mapping of the city and have to rely on an Eicher map to view the fullness of the extent of the city’s habitation?

I for one am under no illusion that this city is ever going to become some sort of peaceful paradise with wonderful international amenities. I am absolutely certain that this new state is leading us to a greater and greater polerisation and that the poor and the deprive are going to resist and that the perceived threat from these uprisings will barricade the gated communities with higher walls and more security agencies and more colony barrier gates. Its is not use looking towards the state for remedial actions now. It has already become the greatest enemy of what we at once time called a Master Plan. It is too late to appeal to it because it is the agent of a new liberalization that is anti poor in a city where more than half the city’s population is poor. And it is against these poor that the barricades are being erected, the colony gates manned by private security agencies, closed early at night. It is these poor who are the real threat to the new state’s vision of itself as a legitimate institutional City State.

But of course this vision is an absurd vision. We all know it. How can a compromised corrupted municipal bureaucracy start numbering streets formixed land use? How can a city state be ruled by three agencies in perpetual conflict with each other? How can there be a Master Plan for a city that has no functioning wards or boroughs that represent local citizens? How can you have a system of questionable participation with self-appointed housing association representative who have no legal status? Do we really think that this city state will be ruled by Bhagidari? Not a bit of it.

If we want to make this city a peaceful place then we will have to start in the beginning. We have to remove the fingers of the state apparatus that have got into the planning processes and we have to restore to the planners the legitimacy of planing. City planning is a bit like rocket science. It is best left to those who spend their lives dreaming about cities as rocket scientists spend their time dreaming about the moon
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Posted on 16 Jul 2007 by Admin

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