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Making of the ‘Eight’ Delhi

Director, Joint Assistance Centre, New Delhi

With three metropolitan towns – Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta among the world’s twenty most populated cities and each one exceeding one crore and a large floating population , if urgent action is not taken to stem the rot, the future, not surprisingly is dark.

Historically we believe there were seven Dillies. Are we on the verge of creating the eight? A few years back Joint Assistance Centre brought out a collection of critical essays, “On the Archaeology of Development.” Today we face multiple hazards, each one capable of destroying major areas of the metropolis. Like drought, the environmental hazards are slowly reducing, at least health wise, our capabilities to cope with any emergency.

The development process is leading into a mad rush of creating industries, some of them lethal. Bhopal tragedy is not yet a history and is too recent to be forgotten. Peace in South Asia is in peril. Abductions, sabotage, terrorism are on the rise. In such a scenario should the citizens of Delhi and indeed the national Capital region, remain oblivious to the gravity. Nuclear, biological, and chemical emergencies are visible, though obliquely.

Following 1965 Indo-Pak War, and subsequently the 1971 Bangladesh liberation struggle, the Civil Defense received proper attention. A plan was also developed but is secret for obvious reasons of national security. Even in Gurgaon, there is a plan with the police department that plans for the sensitive locations.

At the national level, there is a contingency plan to deal with disaster but again it is a secret. Plans have been made off Delhi at least by two consultants, in the wake of a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court. The experts have rejected these despite some government notifications. Most recently, the Police Commissioner of Delhi had made a presentation to the Lieutenant Governor on the Delhi Disaster Plan.

During the 1980s India had four Mobile Civil Emergency Forces, one located in Delhi, Equipped and trained to handle emergencies of all types. However, they were unceremoniously dumped, since there was , neither a political will nor a public opinion, the burial was unsung.

A system has been in place, to deal with emergencies. Successive Finance Commissions have addressed to the task of relief, quantum and manner of its dispensation. Even the Eleventh Finance Commission has not fully addressed to the needs. Government of India’s various departments tend to act in insulated chambers and presents an example of administrative inefficiency and “I do not care” attitude.

Ministry of Agriculture has decided to observe second Wednesday of October as National Day for Disaster Reduction and Ministry of Environment and Forests observes December 4 as Chemical Disaster Preparedness Day. Ministry of Home Affairs observes April 14 as Fire Services Day and December 6 as Civil Defense Raising Day.

There is a National Civil Defense College and a National Fire Service College at Nagpur. Neglect of these institutions is to be seen to be believed. Now the Cabinet secretariat has decided to set up two Rapid Action Disaster Response Teams in Delhi and Nagpur.

There has been the spate of Faculties of Disaster Management. Overnight we have host of Professors in DM Where are they located? Not in Rural Development, Home or Police or even Defense or Environment or Agriculture!

Cutting the long story short, it can be concluded that the ‘political will’ in preparing for future disasters is equally lacking, as in case of a system of relief administration, if not more.

A strong public opinion needs to be created. The two-day workshop on “Is Delhi Prepared” is a landmark event. However, “the System” does not ever take note of the recommendations ever. For at least a decade, serious efforts have been made and report submitted. A quick glance will reveal submitted. A quick glance will reveal all pervading common concern. Yet, most tended to be one time initiative.

This workshop in September “Is Delhi Prepared” promises to be different. I wish to quote here noted film Director Mahesh Bhatt, who in his introduction to the documentary, “The calamity That Was” – a story of recent Orissa Super Cyclone said, “Time has now come when together we should answer some serious questions that are raised in this documentary. Making a secure future for everyone is a responsibility that we will have to share. After all it is our vested interest also.”

As trustees of the people’s trust we have a duty to perform and be answerable. Like the freedom struggle, some sacrifice is called for. In the days of the freedom struggle, parents hoped that a Bhagat Singh would be born in their house. Today, sadly, the attitude appears to be “Bhagat Singhs are honorable, but let him be born in my neighbor’s house, not mine.”   

This Place runs itself
Delhi the New Boom Town , has emerged as the most sought after place for opportunity seekers all over the world. With the highest income per capita in India, it attracts the largest foreign investment and is the largest consumer market. Between 1991 to 1999, Delhi’s population has swelled by 43%. It boasts of a population of 14 million today; With 4 million today cars/scooters/ trucks, half a million generators; with 1,50,000 industries Delhi can boast of being an industrial city, a centre for Trade and Commerce and a Tourist spot- half of all the MNCs in the country are Head Quartered in Delhi.

Behind the façade however, Delhi holds in its womb 600,000 Jhuggis Jhoparis. 1/3rd of its populations lives in slums and another 1/3rd in unauthorized unplanned , or non-regularized colonies in non-conforming areas. 80% of its industries (120,000 out of 150,000) are located in non-conforming areas.

The Civil services are stretched to an alarming situation. There are galloping shortages in Water and Power, causing water and power riots as a common daily occurrence. In an affidavit the MCD has declared that its Trunk Sewers (180 KM) are close to collapse.

Table A   Demand Availability
Water 1991 (Mid) (Mid)
  2001 5144 (MW) 2736 (MW)
Power 1991 2600 2355
  2002 3500 2600
Table B Total Men Women
(50% variation from 1981)
94,20,644 51,55,512 42,65,132
(43% variation)
140,00,000 77,00,000 63,00,000

There is yet another phenomena not being taken notice of. Just examine the census of 1991, presented in Table B. Delhi’s shortfall of women against men is 14 lakhs. The effect of this can be seen in a booming sex trade and sex crimes of indescribable nature, abduction, rape, sodomy and finally the HIV/AIDS invasion. Delhi has been looted umpteen times. People have been massacred but never been destroyed by external forces. Delhi has a built in destructive mechanism. It simply destroys itself. Described as a ‘Dirty City’ by the Queen of England on her visit to India, Delhi has harbored plague, dropsy, malaria, tuberculosis and respiratory disease galore. It has the largest generation of garbage, untreated sewerage and runs the largest chemical factory (Sulphuric Acid and Nitric Acid) in its atmosphere.

The distance from Boom to Doom could not be very far, for there often appears to be nothing right in this Boom Town.

We the citizens of Delhi are strange. We first create the ground for disaster and let it grow in front of our eyes and then one day the balloon will go up and like in the past Delhi will go to sleep.

It is quite pertinent to ask how Delhi is governed. Looking at the character of the town with all the features present in a capital, like embassies/ high commissions of all the countries, all the united Nation agencies and the offices of Aid agencies and a very large population of foreign students in Delhi’s numerous universities and academic and professional institutions. Apart from this , large numbers of foreigners come to Delhi for health care in Delhi’s Five Star hospitals. Over and above Delhi is unique. Apart from that, it is the only capital that has two seats of power. Two Governments- The Central Government and the Government of the National Capital Territory. The Governance of Delhi therefore is highly and not the least chaotic.

Law and order in Delhi is not as simple as elsewhere. 60 days in the year Delhi is on red alert. Due to terrorist threat which otherwise is there around the year, protest and rallies at an average of 10 per day bring the traffic to a grounding halt.