Delhi Needs Change. As inhabitants, we demand it. We need to claim our city back and be stakeholders. We live in one of the largest metropolises in the world today but probably have the most limited sphere of engagement with our city compared to anywhere else. Decades of mindless growth have made Delhi a primarily vehicular city. Attempts to provide for pedestrians or cyclists are usually aimed at forcing them to move on the margins of the smoke-spewing traffic, usually on broken or nonexistent pavements. Delhi has nearly 6 million cars today– more than the other 3 metros put together. Yet, the national capital continues to add more than 1,000 cars to its roads every day. In 1985, cyclists were 60% of the traffic flow; today they are just 4%. Nearly 2,000 pedestrians die every year on the roads of Delhi. Most of them are children.
This is why it is time we claimed the neglected, the forgotten and derelict lands of Delhi to create green lungs that would create an alternative, ecologically sustainable Delhi. Typically, these lands are Nullahs, miles of garbage laden embankments, back alleys, setbacks, buffer zones. Paradoxically, Delhi has a big green network of forests and parks and 18 main nullahs with more than 15,000 branches, which were built seven centuries ago by the Tughlaks for irrigation and drainage. These nullahs now lie useless, filled with sewage from illegal colonies. Similarly, Delhi’s embankments have become dumping grounds and breeding sites for disease.
The government’s solution is to cover the Nullah with concrete slabs, chop down the magnificent trees around embankments and install Rs 1500-crore worth of massive sewage treatment plants on the Yamuna river. This means the sewerage still flows in these open drains throughout the city before reaching the river, making the nullahs unusable and a potential hazard for residents. But the ‘Restore Nullahs’ initiative wants to exploit the hidden potential of these supposed waste lands. This is how it could be done:
Restoring nullahs could be the basis for effective and sustainable upgradation of capital’s infrastructure. This eco-sustainable system can provide the means of engagement and the code of emotional ownership. It would automatically be treasured and protected as it will always give more than it will take. This model is applicable not only to Delhi, but also other cities across the country. London, Barcelona, Valencia and some Chinese cities have already adopted this strategy and demonstrated its success.
Delhi needs to wake up and take citizen action. Its residents need to claim and demand what is theirs. The national capital should be a worthy template for the rest of urban India.