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Generic Urbanisation Delhi’s Reality

By: Tejbir Singh Rana
In India, urbanisation is increasing at faster rate than necessary infrastructural development. Cities are populated beyond its capacity. Upgradation of Delhi NCR as a smart city may help in sustainable land-use and development.

Human evolution is followed by developmental activities that assimilate heterogeneous living conditions. During all stages of development and economic activity, the nature of human habitation (settlement) keeps pace with changes in human needs, technology and available resources. In the past as human populations evolved from a nomadic life to cultivation of farmlands and permanent settlements, villages came up in close proximity to cultivated farmlands. The size and nature of every rural settlement was determined by the carrying capacity of farmlands and the application of available technology in keeping with the topography of the respective region.

When the industrial revolution altered the nature of human occupations from primary to manufacturing, mass production altered the intra-village dependency man had hitherto been accustomed to, through large-scale trade, transport and services into inter-state and inter-regional dependency.

The gradual change in the nature of human occupation from agricultural to non-agricultural manufacturing activities also saw urban centres attracting large-scale rural migrations. This resulted in urban populations taking on a polymorphic composition, in keeping with the requirement of skilled and unskilled labour for various industries.

In the developing world, most urban centres have evolved to meet a single specialised function through history; as the following examples of Indian cities will show (Ramachandran, 1991).

  • Religious Cities—Haridwar, Varanasi, Madurai.
  • Trade Cities—Mumbai, Surat, Kandla.
  • Industrial Cities—Jamshedpur, Bongaigaon, Vizag.
  • Recreational Cities—Ooty, Alleppey, Shimla.
  • Strategic Cities—Pathankot, Siliguri, Udhampur.
  • Educational Cities—Aligarh, Kharagpur,
  • Administrative Cities—Itanagar, Chandigarh, Bhubaneshwar.

Categorisation by Urban Geographers

Urban geographers have proposed different stages of urbanisation. To begin with, according to P. Geddes (1938) urbanisation progressed through four stages—eotechnic-stage of primitive technology; palaeotechnic-stage of heavy engineering industries; neotechnic-stage of technology and innovation diffusion; and, biotechnic-stage of biotechnology with focus on nutrition, health and sanitation.

However, according to L. Mumford (1938), there are six stages of urbanisation; the first is, eopolis-evolutionary formation stage; then, polis-urban centre with services, trade and industries; followed by, metropolis-with large hinterland services; and, megalopolis-which is cosmopolitan urbanisation. These are then followed by tyranopolis-a stage of stagnant economic growth and nekropolis-where declining urban population is seen.

According to J. M. Houston, there are three stages of urbanisation, the first being nuclear- evolution of central business district; then formative-expansion of infrastructure; followed by, modern-functional spatial organisation.

Griffith Taylor (1953), postulated seven stages of urbanisation, which can be easily interpreted in the context of prominent Indian cities. The first is the sub-infantile stage, with cities such as Kundli (Delhi-Haryana border), followed by the infantile stage, with cities such as Bhiwadi (Rajasthan) and Tronica city (U.P.); juvenile stage with cities such as Dharuhera and Manesar; adolescent stage, with cities such as Gurgaon and Noida; mature stage, with cities such as Kanpur and Delhi; late-mature stage, with cities such as Kolkata and Varanasi; and senile stage with cities such as Kashi, Kolar (the erstwhile gold mining city).

Concept of Smart Cities

Considering the haphazard and unplanned growth of urban centres in India, the government has initiated the Smart Cities Mission in June 2015 wherein several new cities will be set up in India, and many others retrofitted so that urban infrastructure becomes inclusive and in keeping with every city’s carrying capacity. The major objectives of this Mission are as follows:

  • To increase the functional capacity of cities by maintaining smooth public and private transport flow in the city.
  • To minimise the need for workers’ mobility by establishing workplaces near residential colonies.
  • To develop an urban housing infrastructure in accordance with the needs of the city. Development of low cost houses for low income groups on subsidised rates to control and prevent growth of slums.
  • To implement land use planning as per the requirements of the city. Spaces earmarked for residential colonies will not be used for market or industrial purposes. Spaces have to be used for specified and assigned purposes only.
  • To develop sanitary (liquid and solid) waste disposal provisions at locations distant from the city, so that there are no environmental hazards.
  • To plan warehouses, godowns and refrigerated store houses in accordance with the needs of the city to control the prices of seasonal farm and other perishable and non-perishable products.
  • To develop more central business districts to minimise the mobility of people and goods, and encourage the growth of a competitive market system.
  • To develop a mass rapid transport system for intercity and intra-city movement of people to overcome the pressure on city roads.
  • To make information on public utilities, data, government notifications, auctions, planning and development available through digital technology, so as to reduce the burden of public dealing counters for bill payments, enquiry and procurement of specialised information.

Fused growth urbanisation

In the last few decades, most cities have diversified from mono-functional to multi-functional cities. Mechanisation in the farm sector has also forced unskilled rural labour to flock to urban centres in search of work, resulting in the unorganised expansion of cities. Since urban centres could not meet the housing needs for the workers employed, unplanned housing in the form of slums proliferated. At the same time, urban planning could not keep pace with technology and changing lifestyle (Master Plan of Delhi, 1982). This saw a range of cumulative urban problems and resource crisis which manifested itself in various forms.

  • Road infrastructure could not be improved in keeping with increased demand, resulting in traffic jams.
  • Housing infrastructure could not be developed for low-income rural migrants; resulting in slums and squatters coming up in open spaces all over the city.
  • Limited supplies of water and electricity could not meet the needs of urban residents; shortages saw deterioration in urban living standards.
  • Scarcity of land for expansion saw cities expanding vertically. The increased population density as a result could not be provided with basic needs and amenities.
  • Unplanned expansion of urban centres in the form of illegal colonies over marginal farmlands (by private developers) restricted the future growth of cities.
  • Marketing infrastructures such as central business districts failed to develop in tune with the expansion of cities. This led to acute pressure on limited resources in market areas.
  • A suitable public transport system could not be developed due to a large variety of vehicles and an intricate urban road network.
  • Acute pressure on infrastructure with the increase in number of private vehicles with higher purchasing capacity in the post-liberalisation era.
  • Consequently, public access roads around parks, hospitals, schools, markets and government offices are increasingly occupied by cars and two wheelers in the absence of parking space.
  • The number and capacity of schools and other educational facilities could not be expanded in keeping with the demands of the rising urban population. This led to deterioration in the quality of education, increased costs and the emergence of schools clustered around two major systems—public education system run by the government for the resource poor (have-nots); and, private education system for the resource-rich.
  • The mixed land use system has caused deterioration in urban life. Unplanned industrialisation, factories and markets operating in the vicinity of residential hubs caused air and water pollution, deteriorating the overall environmental parameters of the city.
  • High costs of land have saw most urban land getting converted into markets or residential colonies. Warehouses and godowns have been forced outside the city (far from markets), resulting in increased traffic flow to and from the city centre.
  • Unplanned urban expansion encroached upon water bodies and blocked natural drainage channels. Many water bodies were converted into solid waste dumping grounds, further contaminating groundwater reservoirs and deteriorating water quality.
  • Workplaces and residential colonies are located far from each other, resulting in increased pressure on roads and traffic leading to regular jams.

Urban chaos in Delhi

In keeping with public demand, various initiatives were taken by the authorities from time to time. However, these knee-jerk reactions were at best populist in keeping with demands by various lobbies. Rather than ameliorating the problems, these only served to complicate matters. A few examples of these are enumerated below:

In the mid-1990’s, the BJP led M. L. Khurana government introduced private transporters to help ease the public transport system through Red line and Blue line buses in Delhi, since the government-run Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses were not sufficient for the city. Since the buses could not use DTC bus terminals, halts were scheduled just about anywhere. Passengers remained confused between the DTC bus halts and Red Line roadside halts, resulting in utter mayhem on Delhi roads. Besides, untrained drivers, and the competition for passengers and profits between Red and Blue Line buses saw a steep rise in accidents all over Delhi. Ultimately, faced with rising criticism, the private buses were finally withdrawn from Delhi roads, with an increase in the fleet of the DTC buses.

In the mid-2000s, the Sheila Dixit government passed a ‘mixed land use’ rule in Delhi, wherein residential houses on the main roads were allowed to alter homes into shops or other commercial activities. The Rule was passed to turn over the Delhi High Court judgement that had imposed a complete ban on the change of land use in Delhi. The Sheila Dixit government surrendered to the pressure of trade unions and bypassed the judgement to pass the mixed land use legislation. This saw Delhi roads choked with several fold increase in traffic, since the conversion of residences saw all available spaces around homes occupied by vehicles of shopkeepers and customers. DDA market complexes lay vacant, while residential roads were now full of shops. The problem continues to this day.

The population of Delhi has risen from 17 lakhs in 1951, to 167 lakhs in 2011 and is projected to rise to 175 lakhs in 2016 (Statistical Handbook 2015). A ten–fold increase in population also means a rise in demand for public utility services, such as schools, in the same proportion. But the Sheila Dixit government in Delhi had put a carpet ban on land allotment to schools, almost 15 years ago. This resulted in acute pressure on existing schools. Private schools sprang up on agricultural land, violating the urban planning bye-laws. The ongoing ban on land allotment for schools by DDA has seen a sharp deterioration in quality education in Delhi resulting in a major problem for residents.

Meanwhile, the building bye-laws in the Delhi Master Plan were changed by the Sheila Dixit government to allow construction of the fourth floor in residential homes in colonies. It increased the population density by 25 per cent in all the residential colonies, and resulted in an acute shortage of water, electricity and vehicular parking space, since the existing infrastructure in residential colonies remained grossly inadequate. Finally, the overall quality of urban living standards deteriorated severely, even as one witnessed a rise in value of real estate.

The present AAP Government led by Arvind Kejriwal has allowed a free-hand to street vendors and hawkers. This has seen encroachment on pavements, roads, common utility areas and parks. The traffic flow is no longer smooth, hygiene has deteriorated, and quality of urban life has taken a turn for the worse.

Delhi’s urban plan and its weaknesses  

The urban agglomeration of Delhi evolved on the basis of a demand and supply of resources. Jointly developed by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and private builders it has had inherent weaknesses from the very outset. To begin with, the DDA failed to develop bigger commercial complexes such as the ones developed in Gurgaon and Noida by DLF, Unitech, Ansal and other private builders close to the south Delhi urban area. Large residential colonies in northern and western Delhi such as Rohini, Pitampura, Janakpuri and Shalimar Bagh were developed by DDA without the provision of big commercial centres to generate employment (District Census Handbook of Delhi, 2001).

Further, Gurgaon and Noida have single road connectivity to Delhi, resulting in immense pressure on roads, with traffic jams being a daily routine. Proportional distribution of residences of varied income/economic groups in accordance to population composition, the evolution of slums and squatter settlements is the result of non-availability of low cost houses for the poor people who render varied services to the city.

The limited or insufficient provision of ware houses and godowns in the Delhi Master Plan has led to unplanned conversion of agricultural farmlands into commercial warehouses by private builders or individual landowners. In keeping with its rising population, Delhi requires adequate godowns and warehouses to store perishable and non-perishable products such as vegetables, grains, paper and electronic items which are required in the city on a daily basis. Since the planners and developers failed to provide adequate warehouses at the outset for the city, residential premises continue to be altered into godowns in a haphazard manner, resulting in pollution and traffic jams all over the city.

Lack of areas earmarked for the collection and dumping of solid waste is a major flaw in the city. The DDA has also not made the provisions for public toilets around markets, roads, inside parks and in places of public gathering. Public hygiene is severely impaired due to the lack of toilets in the city. Pavements are often misused as open air toilets, making it difficult for pedestrians, to use them and vehicles alike.

In every city, there ought to be sufficient space for parking of vehicles, particularly around markets, schools, government offices, banks and residential colonies. Parking areas need to be earmarked with the municipal authorities evolving a mechanism wherein parking of vehicles on public utility roads is banned.


The unplanned expansion of Delhi has hit road transport the worst. This sector needs the maximum thrust as it is linked with every other sector of society. The proper flow of traffic can help increase work efficiency, carrying capacity and per capita output of any city and needs to be addressed on a priority basis.


Delhi Development Authority. Policy Modifications: Mixed Land Use. Retrieved from (www.dda.org.in/planning/mixed_land.htm).

Delhi Master Plan-MPD 2021. Statistics: Availability of Urbanisable Land in NCT-Delhi for 2021. Retrieved from www.delhi-masterplan.com/statistics.

Department of Urban Development, Government of India.  (2006). City Development Plan www.jnnurm.nic.in/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/CDP_Delhi.pdf.

Economic Survey of Delhi 2012-2013. Chapter 2: Demographic Profile. Retrieved from www.delhi.gov.in/DoIT/DoIT_Planning/ES2012-13/EN/ES_Chapter%202.pdf.

Government of India. What is a smart city? Retrieved from www.smartcities.gov.in/writereaddata/What%20is%20Smart%20City.pdf.

Ramachandra, R. (1991). Urbanisation and Urban System in India. Delhi: Oxford Publication.

Singh, L.R. (2010). Fundamentals of Human geography. Sharda Publications. 228-229.

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