New Delhi: It's a city that has risen and fallen over and over again. For centuries, Delhi has been India's most politically significant city. And now the country's Capital is going through another transformation. It is seeing a quiet, yet a dramatic makeover ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
But questions like how much of that change will last and how it will affect those living in this metropolis continue to surround Delhi's redevelopment.
A hundred and fifty lakh people live and work in Delhi. And they are now seeing what could be the world's biggest city rebuilding project ever undertaken — with a world-class airport, brand new flyovers and transport corridors, and ultra-modern stadiums.
Over Rs 65,000 crore is being spent to redefine the image of the Capital, and make it a city fit to host the Commonwealth Games.
AIMING FOR THE SKIES
In Mahipalpur — an area near Delhi —25,000 people are working day and night to build the world's second largest airport terminal in record time.
By October 2010, landing at Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport will be an experience in itself.
"All the services are below the ground so passengers will not see any services. The lighting system, air conditioning are automatically monitored for energy consumption," CEO, Airport Development, I P Rao says.
With state-of-the-art technology, connectivity to the Delhi's most-prized-possession Metro Rail, multilevel parking lots and more, Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport is set to be India's biggest terminal.
This world-class terminal will cater to 37 million domestic and international passengers every year, starting 2010.
Local transport within the city is changing too.
Sixty of the state-of-the-art Metro trains zip around and under Delhi's streets for 16 hours every day, carrying about 5 lakh passengers.
By 2010, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation expects the figure will rise to 22 lakh - a sixth of the Capital's population. And with special offers like tourist cards for visitors, the government says the Metro will ensure that Delhi's traffic doesn't grind to a halt during the Games.
The city's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is all praises for the Metro as she says, "Metro of course will be double the mileage, that it has today, by 2010. So I think we will have about 172 km of Metro running round Delhi. It has already eased the traffic wherever it is going and it is very comfortable. It's supposed to be one of the best."
THE TOUGH ROAD
Delhi's redevelopment plan is not going unchallenged. Criticism has come from many quarters including planners, environmentalists, and — inevitably in an election year — from other political parties.
On October 19, a section of a Metro bridge under construction collapsed, killing two people. The BJP claimed that the government had been negligent.
"The government in the race to meet the Commonwealth Games deadlines is actually neglecting quality," BJP's chief ministerial candidate V K Malhotra alleges.
Some even say the Metro will never solve Delhi's traffic problems.
"If you take a linear city like Bombay or Calcutta which are long in their configuration, it is very easy to have long linear public transport network which can cater to a large network of people. But when it comes to a radial city like Delhi you require a network system by which the Metro can become one of the provisions and the rest of the areas will have to be anyway catered to by bus transport," Chairman, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, K T Ravindran says.
One of the government's most controversial new plans is the Bus Rapid Transport Corridor (BRT). The 5.6-km stretch — which cost Rs 215 crore to build — aims at streamlining traffic and giving priority to public transport.
Cars and two wheelers drive in one lane, while buses, cyclists and pedestrians have their own lanes. The Congress plans to build six such corridors in the city before the Commonwealth Games. However, those stuck in the slow lane aren't too happy.
"It's a big problem" says a car commuter who isn't very happy with the BRT.
Though urban planners say the BRT is a positive and forward-looking plan.
"The private car as a mode of transport is out as it has no future. It is part of the problem that we have to deal with and a prospect. So any provision that is being made with public transport is the only future we have. Hence the BRT corridor is a move in that direction," says Ravindran.
But the BJP plans to make the BRT an issue in the elections.
"We'll scrap it as it has no business to be there. They're citing the examples of other places like Athens. But their population is hardly 5 or 10 lakh and the roads are about 100-200 feet wide where they can have a BRT. But now the saturation point has come on the roads and if you have a BRT it totally remains unoccupied and on the other side there are traffic jams. It's not a scientific way of doing things," explains Malhotra.
Its not just the BJP that is unhappy with Delhi's redevelopment, environmentalist and photographer Ravi Agarwal — who has been tracking Delhi's environment for the last two decades — says there is lack of planning in the city's long-term infrastructure projects.
"Well I daresay that the way our urban planning is constructed both from the planning perspective and those who plan, they don't think about the environmental issues or things like trees or water and sewage from the environment perspective are of any importance. They see infrastructure development as completely isolated from the general environment per se and so the project is really imposed upon the existing landscape," says Agarwal.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Meanwhile, city planners say the new and improved Delhi will have more flyovers, wider roads, and aesthetically appealing public fixtures.
The Tees January Marg — where the Gandhi Smriti stands — is to get a facelift, with improved lighting and artistic new street furniture. But critics say the government has its priorities wrong.
"There's a lot of talk of changing street furniture so that we have smarter bus stops or we have smarter street signs or lights, But what we need is an upgradation that is far more thoroughgoing. We need a transformation of the city's roads and drainage and there's not enough attention being paid to that," says sociologist Amita Baviskar.
"Major flyovers, spaghetti intersections and race roads that we are planning are in the long term damages to environment. And the huge parking provisions which the city is trying to do in many places is hugely damaging to the environment," further explains Ravindran.
As Delhi undergoes a significant makeover and as the elections come closer, the voices for and against Delhi's new image are getting louder.