Transforming Cities: Story of Two Roads in Delhi

Delhi Post 15 October 2021

Sara Varughese

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s advertisement says, “How will Delhi’s streets become like those of Europe.” This was a full-page advertisement by the Delhi government for a workshop on transforming Delhi’s streets. The advertisement had a background picture of the newly renovated Chandni Chowk. With brutal honesty and reality, in the foreground of the picture lay an adult helping his child to ease himself on the roadside.

A visit to Chandni Chowk in mid-August showed sturdy bollards and attractive sandstone paving harmonious with the architecture of Red Fort. Chandni Chowk was its usual chaotic self, tamed slightly by the curb on cars. Rickshaws had taken over and no longer felt obliged to ply on the left side of the road. Besides the traffic, there was garbage in plenty on the roads. In addition to being a busy shopping center, Chandni Chowk is famous for its food. Dustbins were scarce and unused; waste food, plates, glasses, and packaging were discarded too.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées Paris or Portobello Road in London are many light-years away from our present condition. Yet, we can surely aspire to have conditions like our neighboring Sri Lanka or Thailand. A characteristic of those countries is that the roadsides are clean and completely free of garbage, unlike the garbage littered in the Indian streets. Waste is disposed of in closed bins, which are collected in the most inconspicuous manner – not in the open roadside “Dalos” of Delhi, outside which garbage is usually dumped as they are overflowing, and further disseminated by street dogs and cows rummaging through them.

What needs to happen beyond renovation, beyond employing a larger number of cleaners? How do we instill a sense of pride and ownership in our joint spaces and maintain these investments? Without these, the best plans and renovations will rapidly degenerate. Japanese schoolchildren are taught to personally clean their schools. If one generation of children is taught civic responsibility and environmental responsibility, would our cities change? Alongside the “deshbakhti” curriculum, can civic sense and proper road usage be taught in Delhi schools by doing and not as academic lessons?

Barely a kilometer from the redeveloped Chandni Chowk is another road, which lies between ISBT and the old Yamuna Bridge: Lohekapul. This road goes past ISBT and Hanuman Mandir, under the Ring Road flyover. It is used mostly by rickshaws and two-wheelers and seems unseen by all development and redevelopment planners who drive over the flyover. Garbage appears never ever to have been removed and decays where it lies. Along with the decaying garbage, the un-swept dust is converted by monsoon rain to stinking mud, in the middle of which live some of the homeless of Delhi: sheltering from the rain, sleeping, or sitting on the verges or even in the muck. The lucky few among them eke out meager livelihoods selling cheap goods while others exist on handouts from those who come to the Mandir. Is this road also for the renovation? How can this happen without opportunities for those forced to live there?

Delhi needs to be renovated, beautified, and its streets must be transformed. The first priority has to be to provide basic human dignity and living conditions for all its citizens.