12 men died in a fire in a building in Vishwas Nagar. The building
in which they had been locked by their employer for the night was
an 'illegal' garments factory. Vishwas Nagar is crowded to bursting
point with such illegal industries and their presence is common
knowledge to all. These warren holes are severe fire and health
hazards, yet their existence has come close to being legalised.
Following on the heels of this tragedy, a week later, was an explosion
in a spray painting unit. The unit was located in a building which
also houses a school, in South Delhi's Madanpur Khadar village.
Two workers died in the blast. The Industries Minister's callous
response to these deaths was, "This is nature. The tsunami
also happened, who could have prevented it"?
than a reflection of the gentlemans general lack of sensitivity,
the statement inadvertently provides an adequate metaphor for the
conditions that prevail within these areas, which could some day
unleash a catastrophe of enormous proportions. These pockets of
illegal industries are not unique to Delhi alone, but are to be
found in cities across the country. As we grapple today with the
pressing issue of 'urbanisation' how do we fit in such anomalies
as 'illegal colonies', 'illegal industries', 'urban villages' and
'Lal Dora' into the context of planned development?
half of the chaos that is the Indian city has been caused by the
presence of such categories on the urban map. It takes a severe
stretching of common sense to believe that we can even be close
to building liveable and healthy cities, when such structures are
allowed to proliferate with gay abandon.
just take the 'Lal Dora' as a case in point. Meaning, literally,
'red thread', the term was used to demarcate the jurisdiction of
a village. Today, it is the territory of a village within which
the norms and controls of a municipality or urban development authority
are not applicable. Armed with this immunity, the Lal Dora has assumed
qualities of a hydra-headed monster. Once far removed from the city,
these concentrations have now been surrounded by the urban rampage,
converted abruptly into prime real estate, with the original inhabitants
struggling to hold out against unbelievable deals for their small
holdings. Delhi has witnessed the transformation of numerous such
'urban villages', with their traditional architecture transmogrified
into teetering towers of concrete, steel and glass.
enterprises flock to these 'villages' in order to reap the benefits
of loopholes in archaic laws. Interestingly, in many of these Lal
Dora areas, shops and establishments have been set up by 'upmarket'
and wealthy entrepreneurs, who exploit these lacunae in order to
escape paying the price for properties which they can well afford.
Take a look at Delhi's MG road. Spoken of in bated breath by shoppers,
"MG Road 1" has today been transformed into a hangout
for the well-heeled 'fashion set' who flock to the many 'designer
labels' housed in this complex. These enterprises continue their
businesses even though the building is 'illegal' and under notice
- currently contested in Court - of demolition. Such notices and
the lacklustre efforts by the administration to take action long
after these buildings have been constructed and occupied, deter
no one, and several other buildings are already up and running next
to MG Road 1, also pushing for 'regularisation'.
out beyond Delhi, a recent study conducted by the Centre for Research
in Rural and Industrial Development revealed that, of a 196 acres
of Panchayat land in the Chandigarh UT, 33.5 acres was under
encroachments. In the Raipur Khurd Village along the Chandigarh-Ambala
Highway, out of a total of 95 acres of Panchayat land, at
least 25 acres in prime locations had been encroached upon, in most
cases by speculators and businesses seeking to exploit the tax cuts
these areas enjoy.
in one case was an attempt made to exploit these villages commercially
without disturbing the architectural consonance of the area, or
directly harming the interests of the original owners. The Hauz
Khas Village experiment started out well enough and the intent was
laudable. Situated near the historic monuments of Hauz Khas, the
village provided a picturesque backdrop for the location of boutiques
and restaurants, but with the proviso that no building or gali would
be altered or broken or replaced with a modern structure - a sharp
contrast to the developments along MG Road.
experiments, intended at once to protect the original social and
architectural forms and the interests of the residents, have been
tried in the West and have proven to be major successes. Such arrangement
brought the wealth of the surrounding and dynamic urban concentrations
into these depleted rural oases, at once integrating them into the
new economy, even as the original character of the village remaining
unaltered. Such 'villages', today, are major tourist attractions
across cities and towns in Europe.
effort to import this concept into India started with a lone initiative
at Hauz Khas Village, with the establishment of an up-market boutique,
but it was soon followed by a rash of imitators. Unfortunately,
within a short while, instead of a rejuvenated 'heritage village'
there was an untidy mess of shops, with cars choking the village
entry, and shoppers negotiating dirt tracks sodden with the weight
of mounds of cow dung, gawking at elderly gentlemen enjoying their
afternoon siesta or a leisurely smoke on the hookah. As the market
took off, every corner turned into a shop or restaurant, and soon
the idea collapsed under the weight of this unrestrained commercialization.
The area has, today, gone significantly to seed, though some quality
establishments continue to do business there.
idea failed in the Indian context because no effort was made to
assess the carrying-capacity of the village - and also because,
as the only experiment of its kind, it attracted far too many enterprises
seeking to cash in on the success of the first few boutiques. Worse,
the success of the original enterprise saw no real efforts to replicate
the essentials of the experiment in other villages - rather, it
led to a discovery by developers and unscrupulous entrepreneurs
that there were large gaps in the laws governing these Lal Dora
areas, and that there was money to be made in exploiting these.
urban villages are nothing but a complete mess of rapid, lawless
and chaotic growth. It has been argued that they bring in wealth
to the economically backward inhabitants, but such gains are limited
and a one-time windfall, as properties change hands. Seldom have
such transactions resulted in any building of independent capacities
for productive employment among those who are divested of such properties
- and the monies are often squandered within a generation, leaving
successors in penury. At the same time, these urban villages turn
into shambolic blots on the urban landscape, choking up crucial
transport lifelines, mocking every effort to impose some order through
patterns of the planned development of the city. Unless we can figure
out ways to work out a plan that marries the peculiarities of urban
villages with the dictates and necessities of an ordered and planned
city, we will continue to see and create urban areas with but a
few tiny pockets of superior habitation in the midst of a burgeoning,
Published in The Pioneer, December