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Civic mess in Gurgaon

Gurgaon is not out of the woods, despite reports suggesting that the “Millennium City” is limping back to “normalcy”. On Saturday, continuous downpour slowed vehicular movement on its main roads. The industrial hub witnessed its worst-ever traffic jam on the intervening night of July 28-29 as thousands of motorists were stuck on a stretch of the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway for more than 18 hours. The unprecedented traffic jam, triggered due to heavy rain on Thursday evening and the breach of the Badshahpur drain, brought the city to a standstill. In the past two days, citizens have been witness to long tailbacks in gridlocked roads due to severe waterlogging on National Highway-8 after heavy rains lashed Delhi’s satellite city, leaving thousands of commuters stranded and forcing authorities to clamp prohibitory orders. The damage caused by the unprecedented levels of rainfall to the city’s economy has been serious. The industrial sector pegged the loss due to the jam at over Rs 500 crore. To the uninitiated, Gurgaon is home to some of India’s largest corporations and a large number of affluent white-collar workers. Meanwhile, the ripple-effect of massive gridlock in Gurgaon continues to be felt in the Capital with several areas witnessing crawling traffic in the city.  The city received its highest rainfall in 10 years, making it difficult for motorists. But Delhi has fared relatively better than its satellite city.

Experts contend that the deluge in the “Millennium City” was a crisis waiting to happen. It’s just that the National Capital Region has not been at the receiving end of a good monsoon season since 2010. At a more immediate level, the story of the deluge can be traced to the connivance of the builder mafia with the state government, as reported by Millennium Post. The two together devoured the Sabi River flowing through the district, which was the sole source of natural drainage in the area. In a recent column for a daily news website, Professor Sanjay Srivastava, the author of Entangled Urbanism: Slum, Gated Community and Shopping Mall in Delhi and Gurgaon, writes: “Urban living – where vast numbers are strangers – requires an idea of public good in order to allow for community living beyond our kin, caste and neighbourhood spheres. Proper planning of streets, streetlights, footpaths, sewerage systems, parks and various other public facilities comes about in a situation where we are able to imagine our connections with wider society. What we have in Gurgaon, on the other hand, is a complete break-down of this idea of the city and a primordial retreat to self-interest. In Gurgaon, we concrete over natural waterways, clear forests at will, and allow construction without reference to even minimal requirements of urban planning. Such activities for private benefit arise from the growing sense that this is the most natural way of living our lives.” This attitude is also a reflection of the problems caused by the dearth of local government. Instead of calling for city’s weak and ineffective municipal corporation, commuters went on social media, seeking the chief minister of Haryana to resolve the crisis. It is supposed to be the job of the municipal corporation to secure the city’s drains and other public infrastructure.  Suffice it to say, the crisis or urban governance is not merely limited to Gurgaon. 

Bengaluru was also at the receiving end of heavy rains and flooded roads last week. In Mumbai, the situation isn’t too different. Its local train system faces chronic over-crowding, often to the peril of the average commuter. The state government took six years to merely complete the 11-kilometre first line of the Mumbai metro. But Gurgaon is a perfect illustration of the problems that beset urban governance. Experts contend that the fundamental problem lies with India’s top-heavy and muddled civic governance structure. Civic authorities across cities have limited sources to raise revenue, even though their residents have the capability of raising enough taxes to build better sewers, roads, and trains. Moreover, their ability to implement independent plans is severely restricted. The functioning of a city municipality is impaired as a result of its relationship with the State capital’s power calculus. Municipal governments are effectively under the control of state governments who appoint the commissioners who run the corporations. Entrusting it with creating, maintaining and sustaining the civic infrastructure is a fool’s game. In Gurgaon’s case, more specifically, Srivastava argues that there is a lack of clarity on the responsibilities entrusted to state, civic and private players and the extent of their jurisdiction.  

A city has enormous potential for growth if managed well. It is high time we realised that urban spaces are not the playground for speculators and property dealers. “The resurgence of economic and cultural energies rest on the way we navigate the advantages offered urbanisation,” writes Raj Liberhan, a regular columnist for this newspaper. “Unless sound elements are embedded into the city management profile, urban life will continue its downward spiral.”
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