Skip to main content

In a severely congested 'smart' city, what are PSUs, Western Railways, BSF doing in Delhi?

By Mohan Guruswamy* 
One of the early text books I read on political economy started with a scenario set in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city with huge traffic problems in the 1970s and 1980s, with a traffic jam at a major crossing on a hot summers day, that turns into a gridlock, and then leads to people abandoning their cars unable to bear the severe heat, only aggravating the problems.
This then leads to outbreaks of road rage, fistfights and soon into a welter of riots and inflicting a severe breakdown of law and order, that then spreads to others parts of Brazil. Brazil tackled the problem with its characteristic simple out of the box thinking. Sao Paulo still functions. I think India is now a better candidate to revolution coming out of a traffic jam.
Most capital cities have a concentration of government offices of various tiers and responsibilities crowded in as close as possible to the real and imagined corridors of power. In India apart from the ministries, departments and agencies, we also have a concentration of public sector undertakings (PSU) corporate offices in New Delhi. Many of these actually need not be here.
Lets take a few to illustrate this. Why is the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) required to be in New Delhi? Why must the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) be in the capital? 
It goes just as well for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Sashasta Seema Bal (SSB), Border Security Force (BSF), Indian Coastal Guard (ICG), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), and so many others who make for a crowded alphabet soup in New Delhi.
Delhi also has a Delhi government, several municipal corporations to add to the overcrowding. Then we must ask as to why the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) has to be on Sansad Marg, and the Delhi High Court sitting almost next door to the Supreme Court? Apparently there is a magnetism that draws almost every other national organization to be as close as possible to that small part of India where the national leadership lives and works.
Shifting many of these out of New Delhi will not in anyway impair their abilities. DGCA can operate just as well from Bhiwadi, SAIL from Ranchi, IMD from Pune, BHEL from Bhopal, ITBP from Dehra Dun or Chandigarh, SSB from Lucknow and so on.
And why should the Western Air Command of the Indian Air Force (IAF) be situated in the capital when it can do its job equally well from, say, Saharanpur? No other military command is located even in the National Capital Region (NCR), let alone New Delhi. In these days of near instant communication means, proximity is no longer a criterion to effectiveness.
There are very few places in India from where one cannot communicate with a person in another part instantly either by cellular phone, telephone, email, fax and Skype on the internet. So why should everybody be cheek by jowl?
In fact shifting their head offices out of New Delhi will only unfetter them from their administrative ministries and all those little joint secretaries who lord over them. The further these departments and organizations get away from New Delhi the more effective they will get. This will curb the temptation to pass the buck upwards or sideways to the next tier next door.
Delhi is now easily the most traffic-congested city in the world. Its stop and crawl traffic is responsible most for its abysmal air quality
Delhi is now easily the most traffic-congested city in the world. Its stop and crawl traffic is responsible most for its abysmal air quality and the millions of man-hours wasted in traffic crawls and jams. The disastrous consequences of not doing anything about the ever-worsening traffic are now well known.
But all the solutions that are proposed is to further modernize it will even bigger and faster mass transit systems, more civic amenities and efforts entailing more construction. These attempts to make the national capital better paradoxically only attract more people to it, thereby adding to its problems rather than removing them.
Then there are some things that are only possible by flattening the old. How can we ever modernize the overcrowded inner areas of many of our cities without reducing the number of people in them? Our inability to protect our rivers and air are testimony to this.
Dispersing offices across the nation will not only decongest Delhi, but will also become economic drivers that will modernize smaller towns and result in far more dispersed urbanization. Imagine what a SAIL head office in Ranchi will do to decongest Lodhi Road and to the economy of Jharkhand? Or the Western Air Command in Saharanpur will do to relieve traffic around Dhaula Kuan and to modernizing Saharanpur and the economy of western Uttar Pradesh?
In fact, one can make the same argument for all our major cities. The Western Naval Command can be shifted to a new location on the west coast and not only become a more effective fulcrum of India’s Indian Ocean Region (IOR) domination, but also the fulcrum of economic growth in a virgin area, say Ratnagiri.
In fact, one can make an argument for moving the state capitals out of hopelessly over crowded cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Patna and Lucknow. This will give a much-needed impetus to the construction sector, which for the foreseeable future will be India’s main economic growth driver.
Construction also has the potential to absorb tens of millions of the rural workforce, and also create demand for industrial goods. Construction will create huge demands for not just steel and cement, but also for construction equipment, transit systems, infrastructure essentials like power and water distribution, and sewage treatment and disposal systems among others that will then drive the industrialization of India.
And let us not for a moment forget that India needs to create one million new jobs every month to absorb the world’s fastest growing labour market and soon to be the world’s largest work force. India will need to create meaningful employment for almost 800 million people by 2050. Not taking people away from agriculture will only result in a rural labor over supply but also increased fragmentation of farm holdings.
Already the average farm size is just 0.63 hectares. We see overcrowding of some economic sectors as well. Retail employs over sixty million now, and the modernization of the retail sector is held back because it involves so many low productivity jobs.
China has decided to tackle the over congestion of Beijing, now second to New Delhi in terms of air and water pollution, to shift out government offices to outside Beijing. Beijing’s municipal government, which employs tens of thousands, is now being relocated to a satellite town, Tongzhou. The Chinese plan is to create a gigantic urban cluster of 130 million people called Jing-Jin-Ji, with Jing being for Beijing, Jin for the port city and convention center of Tianjin, and Ji, which is the traditional name of Hebel province, where much of this growth will take place.
Some other countries have tried to decongest their capital cities by leaving behind the economic capital and taking out the political capital. Malaysia’s political capital is located at Putrajaya, a brand new city astraddle the highway to the international airport.
The government clearly needs to think big again and also think of how to make dreams realities
The BJP in its 2014 manifesto had spoken of creating a hundred new cities to propel India’s economic and social transformation. Since coming to power it has been scaling down that vision and the government now has the “smart” cities program whereby selected towns and cities will be made “smart”, which means nothing more than providing high speed Wi-Fi networks there. That is if one goes by the money provided for urban development. The government clearly needs to think big again and also think of how to make dreams realities.
Many of these government departments and organizations can become anchors for new urbanization and dispersing them will only enhance their independence and effectiveness. Our government suffers from too much micro-management of the routine and often mundane and a severe under management of the macro scenario. This is as much an opportunity to save our existing cities and also to build a new and better India.
---
*Policy expert. Source: The author’s Facebook timeline. Contact: mohanguru@gmail.com

Comments

Anonymous said…
These establishments are in Delhi probably even before you were born. You are the one who crowded Delhi, not these organisations. Since all the ministries are in Delhi only, the organisations need to be in Delhi. But, why are you required in Delhi? Why can't you move elsewhere?

TRENDING

India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations, on verge of 'losing' democracy status

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam*
RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Gujarat link of controversial US doctor who 'forced' WHO quiz Trump's wonder drug

By Rajiv Shah
A top American doctor, Sapan Sharankishor Desai, born and raised in the “affluent” North Shore (Chicago) region of Illinois by Indian parents, at one point of time involved in NGO activity through  dedicated to “improving” the lives of the impoverished in Gujarat, is in the eyes of a major international storm following his paper (retracted) in a “Lancet” questioning Donald Trump-promoted drug hydroxychloroquine.

Border conflict? RBI nod India's 'brotherly' help to China internationalise its currency

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
In the middle of a global pandemic, China started an unprovoked border conflict with India. It unraveled trust deficit and ties between the two neighbours. As thousands of Chinese troops tried occupying Indian territory, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government directs the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to allow the Bank of China to start regular banking services in India. The Bank of China will now operate in India like any other commercial banks.

Dalits in India, Blacks in US suffer 'similar' humiliation: Macwan drafts letter to Trump

Counterview Desk
Well-known human rights activist Martin Macwan, recipient of the prestigious Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2000, has drafted an open letter to US President Donald Trump following the disturbing turn of events with the murder of George Floyd, leading to widespread protests in the US. He has sought signatures of concerned citizens before sending it to Trump.

RSS supremo Deoras 'supported' Emergency, but Indira, Sanjay Gandhi 'didn't respond'

By Shamsul Islam*
National Emergency was imposed on the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, and it lasted for 19 months. This period is considered as ''dark times' for Indian democratic polity. Indira Gandhi claimed that due to Jaiprakash Narayan's call to the armed forces to disobey the 'illegal' orders of Congress rulers had created a situation of anarchy and there was danger to the existence of Indian Republic so there was no alternative but to impose Emergency under article 352 of the Constitution.

Clean chit to British rulers, Muslim League? Karnataka to have Veer Savarkar flyovers

By Shamsul Islam*
The BJP government of Karnataka led by BS Yediyurappa is going to honour Hindutva icon VD Savarkar by naming two of the newly built major flyovers in Bangalore and Mangalore after him. There was a huge uproar against this decision of the RSS-BJP government as many pro-Kannada organisations with opposition parties and liberal-secular organizations questioned the logic to ignore so many freedom fighters, social reformers and others from within the state.

Hurried nod to Western Ghat projects: 16 lakh Goans' water security 'jeopardised'

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to "virtual clearances" to eco-sensitive projects in the Western Ghats, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in a statement has said urged for a review of the four-lane highway, 400 KV transmission line and double tracking of the railway line through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa.

Disturbing signal? Reliance 'shifting focus' away from Indian petrochemical sector

By NS Venkataraman*
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a large Indian company, has expanded and grown in a spectacular manner during the last few decades, like of which no industrial group in India has performed before. RIL is now involved in multi various activities relating to petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, coal bed methane, life sciences, retail business, communication network, (Jio platform) media/entertainment etc.