A Cadence of Solutions: River Yamuna Commercial Centre

[ * This was written in December 2007. It has been posted here only for records. ]

Introduction

The situation today [*] in Delhi requires no prologue. Following the enforcement of Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) 2021, mass sealing was undertaken and existing commercial activity was greatly reduced. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) sealing has been the cause of many an emotional debate, besides, more importantly, changing the lives of a significant populace belonging to the business class. Opinions are fragmented and solutions are highly contested. A segment of the population believes that the sealing will provide Delhi a facelift as well as ensure better space management within the city; however, the other half opines that all it will do is render thousands business-less.

Post sealing facts

Debatably going much beyond its brief, Supreme Court has come down heavily on ‘illegal’ commercial establishments, it has also asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to rehabilitate the commercial spaces. Consequently, DDA has opened tenders for auctioning nearly 700 units of commercial space. Out of these units, 665 are in Dwarka, Kondli and other relatively remote areas, while only the remaining 35 are easily accessible, located as they are in the CR Park area of South Delhi. The locations of these units are not properly planned, apart from their numbers being far less than the required. This figure does not even suffice for the displaced commercial space; let alone the fact that they fall lamentably short of the actual requirement of Delhi’s large population, density of which is 9294 persons/sq. km. And the more it grows, the more complex do problems of land, housing, transportation and management of essential infrastructure and amenities become.

Problem 1

Let us, at this juncture, try and understand this issue at its roots. According to the MPD 2021, planning has been done for 23 District Centers as against the requirement of 46; and 6 whole sale markets are planned when at least 23 are needed. In a recent report by HUDCO, it was quoted – “The DDA has so far managed to provide only 16% of commercial space. Prices of these planned commercial spaces have become unaffordable to a large bulk of population after DDA monopolized the supply and created artificial scarcity to maximize the pricing of planned commercial space by auctioning it.” All this is without mentioning the transportation and infrastructural issues which would arise after locating the employment zones outside the main city.

MPD 2021
Requirement Planned
District centers 46 23
Whole Sale Markets 23 6
Housing (units in lakh) 34 24

Search for a solution

As is obvious, to supplement for such a great demand, Delhi requires a large land resource, which on the looks of it, is unavailable within the city. The primary reason given for locating most of the proposed commercial units outside the prime city area is cited as the lack of space. And we all think it’s true. But wait and think again. Like the saying goes, the eye does not see what the mind does not know. Land IS available: in the form of urban voids. Spaces that lack functions, lack people, lack an aesthetic experience and most of all, lack a difference. These include under-utilized industrial spaces, vacant lands, which are also identified as problems of the city beautification. While on a more positive note, these spaces also have a potential of re-development for economic, social and environmental purposes. Of these voids, the biggest and more accidental one is surely the River Yamuna, which is now symbolic of nothing more than a big city drain. Of the various lands available, Yamuna, the largest urban void and the epitome of negligence in the city, can come to our rescue. It is the largest stretch of continuous land connecting any major points of the city.

Condition of the River: Problem 2

With 18 untreated sewage drains opening into it, a large amount of funding is required to not just initiate a plan but to maintain the river. A number of drains from industries make matters much worse by discharging chemical waste into the river. Add to it the slum dwellers on the flood plains, and one has quite a huge problem in hand. The primary constraint in this case is the inadequacy of finances as not enough resources have been allocated to it. The other problem is the proper implementation of proposed plans owing again to the lack of drive and ‘red tape’ hurdles.

A symbiotic solution

However, the two problems that we have listed thus far can be tackled simultaneously. Interestingly, both lack what the other has in abundance. Thus, the obvious solution is to marry the two together, and thus generate a viable end through the symbiotic relationship. To elaborate, 550 hectares of land is available in the 50 year flood plains (30% permissible Ground Coverage) while 150 hectares is available in the 100 year flood plains (60% permissible Ground Coverage) [This data is only for the floodplain north of the Toll Bridge]. After taking into consideration the limitation of ground coverage as prescribed by DDA, the former provides an area of 165 hectares and the latter an area of 90 hectares, getting the total to over 250 hectares. And as this acreage is calculated within the ecological limits of the flood plains, the land can be used without disturbing the ecological balance.

Proposal

What I therefore propose is the obvious solution that of constructing a high density commercial hub in these floods plains. Instead of many small and relatively inaccessible commercial pockets, I suggest that the Yamuna flood plains be made the single major commercial destination for the people of Delhi. The advantages of this kind of a solution are many. The land in discussion is under the jurisdiction of DDA itself. It is easiest to be developed without hampering the lives of people. Its linearity and the location of the river are such that the flood plains are no more than 6 – 8 km from any major centre of the city, making it highly accessible. A parallel transport Corridor linking it to the city’s existing infrastructure and with enough parking spaces identified, the issue of transportation is tackled. This will in turn reduce the existing volume on the Ring Road itself. The metro lines that are already functioning in this region, help further. The commercial activity can generate enough revenue to start maintaining the river itself. Consider this as the loan paid back to the river. This consolidated land parcel can thus help the city gain back its wasted economy and restore the revenue lost to satellite towns of Gurgaon and Noida.

Vision

What most Urban Planners and Designers would agree upon is that the city today needs an Urban Edge desperately. It needs a new identity, a symbolic gesture. To succeed the historical seven cities and then the new Lutyen’s Delhi, a gesture to at least match their grandeur, has become a glaring requirement. The proposed commercial district will bestow the city with a distinct individuality and we can thus hope to share the table with other world class cities like Shanghai.

[ This was written in collaboration with Shashank Boruah and Ashish Bhalla]

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