Master Planning the Working Class Out: Making of an Apartheid City

Lalit Batra

“After two years of marriage, my farmer husband and I were on the verge of starvation in Bengal and left for Delhi to find work. My husband used to make murmura, whereas I worked in 5 kothis. We had no money at the time to educate our children, only our older son studied a little in Delhi. However, over the 25 years in Pushta, we were able to save up and make a house with 3 rooms. When finally we were able to afford food and water and a decent life, we were evicted and thrown to the margins of society. Our house was demolished only after a day’s notice! The police notified us just the day before that the demolition would begin at 10 in the morning, which hardly gave us any time to empty our house of all the stuff. We lost our pucca house and belongings, all earned with our sweat and toil of 25 years.” – Haleema, a 45-year old woman living in Bawana resettlement colony

“The city, or what remains of it or what it will become, is better suited than it has ever been for the accumulation of capital; that is, the accumulation, realization, and distribution of surplus value.” – Henry Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution.

Planned Folly

Master Planners by default have a fetish for orderly spaces. They like smooth, homogeneous, straight-lined, geometrically aligned cities devoid of internal contradictions and differentiation. That is why despite their best intentions they end up abhorring, or at best being puzzled by, the actually existing city. They try and push hard to force fit the real urban into their technocratic schema but the pulsating socio-spatial geography of the city repeatedly refuses to follow the drumbeats of the planning machine. Over, under, along with, on the margins of, in the heart of every planned, ‘intended’ city grows an unplanned, or as Joy Sen would put it, an ‘unintended’ city, which is, but the other side of the planned city. In fact it is as much a creation of the master plan as the planned city itself. The unplanned city is never legitimised. There are times when it is tolerated, even informally recognized. At other times, it is viciously maligned, criminalized and systematically attacked. What happens when depends crucially on the conditions for the production and reproduction of social existence and balance of forces between social classes.

Ever since the ascendancy of the neo-liberal ‘reform’ agenda in early 90s, the capital city of Delhi is witnessing a scenario where not only is the unintended city under siege but the city as intended is also undergoing fundamental transformations. The scope, intensity and pace of this change is so overwhelming that somebody who saw Delhi, say, two decades back, would find it difficult to recognize the present city, except perhaps for Lutyen’s grand boulevards! The most visible markers of this transformation are metro, malls, multiplexes, flyovers, expressways, hotels, five-star hospitals, mega religious structures, gated localities etc. From the point of view of the city’s working poor, people like Haleema and her husband, the change has so far entailed losing their geographical and occupational spaces in the city.

It is in this context that we try to analyse the trajectory of changes in the economic structure of the city in general, and employment patterns in particular over the past half a century. Therein, we locate the ‘vision’ of the Draft Master Plan for Delhi (MPD)-2021.

Before the (Master) Planning Began

Delhi has for long been one of the major economic centres of the country. Even before Independence, it was already emerging as an important operational base for mercantile capital in North India, with several British as well as Indian trading firms establishing their businesses. The wholesale trade in North India in the early 20th century was largely based in and around Delhi. Between 1911-37, several small and medium scale industries mushroomed. Increasing employment opportunities in the city coupled with grinding poverty, breakdown of traditional agricultural system and prevalence of severest forms of feudal and colonial oppression in the countryside, ensured a significant increase in the migration to Delhi. With virtually no housing arrangements being made for these poor migrants, now employed as wage workers in trading and industrial establishments or working as construction workers, coolies, load carriers, sweepers etc., they were forced to either rent rooms in dilapidated katras of the Walled City or squat on outskirts of the city. This process gave the city its first taste of what is called the “slum problem”. In 1924, the slum clearance project for Basti Harphool Singh, the first notified slum area in Delhi, was sanctioned to forcibly move the poor to the Western Extension Area. The British undertook some other “decongestion” exercises also to “beautify” the city and “improve” the surroundings.

The 1941 census showed that in 40 years, between 1901-41, the population of the city had more than doubled to around 0.92 million. Then came Independence, and along with it, Partition, which resulted in an almost overnight influx of more than 0.45 million refugees into the city from across the newly created border. However, these migrants were economically better off, politically more articulate and socially more advanced. This fact, coupled with perhaps the buoyancy of the newly gained independence, ensured their quick rehabilitation. However, in this case too, the size of allotted plots and amenities reflected the economic status of the recipients. This massive influx of people had its corollary in further diversification of economic activities, on the one hand, and severe pressure on civic services, on the other. As a result, 700 people died in 1955 due to a jaundice epidemic caused by the contamination of domestic water supply. This created a lot of ‘concern’ in the official circles about ‘haphazard’ and ‘unplanned’ growth of the city.

Delhi Master Plans: 1962 and 2001

Concerned about the problem of unregulated growth in the city, the Indian state in the early 1960s sought to systematically intervene in Delhi’s growth. The Parliament had already constituted the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 1957 in order “to check the haphazard and unplanned growth of Delhi…with its sprawling residential colonies, without proper layouts and without the conveniences of life, and to promote and secure the development of Delhi according to the plan.” Eventually, under the guidance of the Ford Foundation experts, the Town Planning Organisation (TPO) prepared the Master Plan of Delhi (MPD-62), which was notified in 1962 for the next 20 years and the DDA became its implementing agency.

The MPD-62 envisioned the city as a centre of governance, or of residential and communication needs, and did not take into account the possibility of large-scale commercial and industrial activity in the future. On the pattern of modern European cities, separate areas were allocated for housing (43 percent), movement (22), industry (5) and green belt areas (22). For achieving this ‘vision’, the plan aimed at limiting the population to a maximum of 4.6 millions by 1981 which, if unchecked, was projected to go up to 5.6 millions. A complex of strategies were adopted in the plan to achieve this purpose- building a 1.6 km wide green belt around Delhi, diverting the surplus population to seven ring towns in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, decongestion of the Walled City by relocating the population in New Delhi and Civil Lines, prohibiting a number of heavy and polluting industries etc. There were an estimated 8,000 industrial units located in non-conforming areas in 1961. The plan provided for establishing 48 industrial areas spread over 2,300 hectares for accommodating these industries. But no provisions whatsoever were made for the informal sector, which was quite widespread and vibrant even at that time. According to the MPD-62, the DDA was to be the sole developer for the entire future extension of Delhi. The MPD-62 envisaged Delhi’s urban growth to cover 44,718 ha, out of which 19,182 ha were for residential purposes. The Plan mandated the DDA to provide at least 25 percent of dwelling units (DUs) for the poor.

Perhaps the single most progressive contribution of the MPD-62 was the introduction of a socialized urban land policy. Anticipating the rapid growth of Delhi in the future, the state took upon itself the responsibility of acquiring land in bulk and then redistributing it among various classes of people. The main instruments that have been used in the town planning of Delhi to regulate urban growth and check “haphazardness” have been: (1) Large scale acquisition of land, (2) Disposal of land on leasehold, (3) Restrictions in land use, and (4) Urban land Ceiling. The basic social rationale behind employing these instruments was to save the poor from the vagaries of land market and not letting private sector thrive on price speculation. But their achievements have been absolutely contrary to their proclaimed objectives. Thus, while the MPD-62 sought to construct 0.74 million DUs from 1961 to 1981, there were only 0.54 million DUs available in the end. And slums continued to proliferate because of the unavailability of affordable housing.

The MPD-2001 too sought to implicitly establish a link between employment creation, population growth and haphazard development. The focus was to somehow contain population growth within ‘manageable limits’. It continued with the functionally segregated land use system which was proven to be unsustainable and unproductive. Without giving any explanation as to why the industrial areas proposed in the previous plan were not built, it proposed 18 more industrial areas. The informal sector received recognition in the plan but the provisions made were highly inadequate and oblivious of the sector’s economic logic. So far as housing is concerned, the MPD-2001 estimated that 1.62 million new DUs would be required in the period 1981-2001 – 70 percent would be for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and Lower Income Group (LIG). While the DDA could achieve a little more than 60 percent of the target in terms of actually constructing or providing land for housing; the lion’s share of the DUs constructed by the DDA went to the High Income Group (HIG) category. Thus the target for the rich was over-achieved by more than three times, while the shortage of legitimate and affordable housing crowded out the poor even from the EWS and LIG sectors. A 2000 survey by Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) found that the middle and upper-middle income groups occupied 60 percent of the EWS flats and 81 percent of the LIG flats.

Economic Growth, Migration and Population

After Independence, Delhi grew quite rapidly, with its informal sector. Industrialization advanced, commercialisation increased and a great deal of infrastructure building took place in the past 50 years. Delhi’s lower rates of tax and tariff relative to its neighbouring states, with added advantages of better social and physical infrastructure, greatly influenced the decisions with regard to the location of industry and trade. Thus, the industrial investment increased from Rs. 3.88 billions in 1971 to Rs. 63.10 billions in 1996. The number of industrial units rose from 26,000 in 1971 to 1,37,000 in 1999, providing jobs to more than 1.4 million workers. Only 25,000 units are in the conforming industrial zones. The rest are in the non-conforming areas (in 1962, when the first MPD was notified, there were just 8,000 units in these areas).

There has also been a substantial growth in distributive trades. The city today has wholesale markets for 9 types of goods including fruits and vegetables, automotive parts, textiles etc. Apart from being the biggest consumption centre in north India, Delhi with its transportation facilities, lower tax rates, lower Central Sales Tax on re-export of goods, lower wholesales prices etc is a strategic location The area of procurement and distribution extends not only to north India, but for some commodities even to entire India. Thus the number of registered wholesale dealers has increased from 69,469 in 1971 to 0.26 millions and the number of workforce employed in the sector has increased from 0.12 millions in 1951 to 0.67 millions in 1997. Apart from these, construction, transport, communications, and administrative sectors have also expanded quite substantially over the years. Per capita gross state domestic product at current prices rose from Rs. 19,246 in 1993-94 to Rs. 32,407 in 1999-2000, which is more than double the per capita national income.

Along with this tremendous economic growth, the city’s population has also increased dramatically. From a small town of 0.41 million people in 1911, Delhi has today become a giant metropolis of over 13 million people. After 1951 the population of the city has grown by over 50 percent per decade! Migration accounts for much of this growth in population. For example, between 1981-91 migrants contributed almost 50 percent of the population growth. The migrants are mainly from the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh (49.91 percent), Haryana (11.82), Rajasthan (6.17), Punjab (5.43) and far off backward states like Bihar (10.99).

Even the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) admits that the phenomenal growth of Delhi and the underdevelopment outside, or, to be more specific, outside the Delhi Metropolitan Area (consisting of, apart from Delhi, cities like Faridabad, Gurgaon, Sonepat etc. in Haryana and Ghaziabad, Noida etc. in U.P.) is primarily a problem of relationship rather than a problem of scarcity. This outside with its relatively slow growth rate has led to a Metropolis-Satellite duality, with the core extracting the economic surplus from the periphery, while the periphery’s growth if any is mainly responsive to the core’s expanding needs. In other words, the outside regions are essentially drawn into an uneven system tied up by a chain of the ‘Centre-Periphery’ relationship.

Employment Structure

In 2007, Delhi had a workforce of 4.52 millions (32.84 percent of the total population). Out of this 0.57 millions were unemployed. It is significant that between 1992 and 2000 the percentage of unemployed workers shot up from 5.67 percent to 12.73 percent.

The sectoral division of the workforce shows some interesting trends. In 1981, the respective shares in employment of the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors were 3.81, 34.87and 64.72 percent, which by 2001 became 1.74, 28.68 and 69.58 percent. Within the tertiary sector, much of the growth between 1992 and 1999 occurred in the categories, ‘Trade, hotel and restaurant’ (whose share grew from 21.01 percent to 29.05 percent) and ‘Financial and commercial activities’ (from 4.69 percent to 6.40 percent). The percentage of workforce employed in manufacturing, civic administration, health and educational activities has suffered a steep downward trend. The employment in manufacturing declined mainly due to the closure of units from 1996 onwards on the pretext of their being either polluting or operating in the ‘non-conforming’ areas. The number of workers employed in the organized sector rapidly declined, even absolutely – from 0.85 millions in 1994 to 0.84 millions in 2001. On the other hand, the unorganised sector has remained bullish employing 78 percent workers in 1994, which rose to 82 percent in 2001. This clearly shows the direction the city is moving in with regard to its composition.

Housing Situation

Delhi’s population today is about 15 million, out of which about 3 million are living in slum clusters, 4 million in unauthorized colonies, 2.5 million in resettlement colonies and 0.7 million in notified slum areas. Another hundred thousand people are the pavement dwellers. Thus over two-third of the people of Delhi are living in what could be termed as sub-standard settlements. The total area on which the slum clusters are presently established is under 400 hectares. Compare this to the 20,000 hectares and 11,000 hectares set aside by the DDA in the urban and urban extension areas for residential purposes. Instead of coming up with any solution for integrating these 10 million people into the city the government has embarked upon a barbaric drive to rid the city of these people. In the past six years alone over 500,000 people have been uprooted from their habitat and ‘relocated’, if at all, to Delhi’s periphery. In 2004, Yamuna Pushta, the biggest slum cluster of Delhi, was demolished, uprooting over 30,000 families. Only a quarter of those evicted got alternative plots in resettlement colonies of Bawana, Holabi Kalan, Madan Pur Khadar, developed on the outskirts of the city. Apart from causing severe hardships in terms of livelihood, these settlements are devoid of even basic amenities like serviced plots, water, electricity, toilets, schools, health facilities etc.

Moreover the size of the plot allotted to the resettled families too reduced drastically over the years. Initially, in 1956, when the Slum Areas (Clearance and Improvement) Act was passed, the slum dwellers were provided 65 sq. mts. plots with provision for attached toilets, on a hire purchase basis. In 1962, the toilet was removed and leasehold rights were recognized with provision for the leaseholder to access individual facilities. During the Emergency (1975-77), almost 0.9 million people were removed from slum clusters and resettled. This time the plot size came down to 21 sq. mts., and sites and services facilities were provided on a group basis under a hire-purchase regime. At present, the government has a dual scheme for resettlement. Slum dwellers with documents to prove their stay in Delhi before 1990 get 18 sq. mts. and those with documents dated 1990 to 1998 are eligible for 12.5 sq mts. On top of it, the plots are now given on a five to ten years license and slum dwellers have to pay Rs. 7000 for a plot!

Draft MPD-2021

The Draft MPD-2021 aims to make Delhi a “global metropolis and a world class city”. The defining characteristics of this world-class city is discussed at length in the Draft Regional Plan-2021, prepared by the NCPRB in December 2004. Some of the key recommendations of the said plan are as follows:

1. Emphasis on investment for the growth of modern infrastructure and services to make the city eventually an e-governed, e-citizen and e-services city so that Delhi becomes the model e-city of India and a destination of foreign investment.
2. The information revolution is simultaneously transforming many city activities in many ways: changing in some cases non-tradable services into tradable, for example, health, cultural, higher educational services. This necessitates investments in the appropriate sectors.
3. Since retail shopping becomes a key sector relating to the junction and distributional role of cities, to hotels and restaurants and to tourism, strategies to expansion of these facilities, as done in Singapore and Hong Kong should be evolved to make it an important export industry.
4. Development/ delivery of cultural services like museums, histories sites, antiques, theatres, film making, cinemas etc., as part of the activities underpinning tourism and other international travel.
5. Relating to Delhi’s emergence as a leading global city is its role in hosting international conferences and sports events, amongst others, which will necessitate an infrastructure of global standards.
6. Although Delhi may lose manufacturing activity, but will attract services like accountancy, law, advertising, finance, research and development, consultancy etc. for the factories located/relocated in the green field sites in the neighbouring areas.

This is a complete package in itself that lays down in threadbare detail all the ingredients, which would go into the creation of the ‘world class’ city. And the key to building this city would be once again, restriction on employment generation; this time stated much more explicitly than the earlier plans. “No new major economic activities, which may result in the generation of large scale employment (should be permitted in Delhi)”, sternly warns the Master Plan. This is despite the fact that the workforce of Delhi will see an addition of over 2.4 millions in the next 15 years. Add to this over 0.6 million currently unemployed and you have a figure of over 3 million people looking for work and not finding any if the Master Plan turns out to be ‘successful’! Another panacea that has been added this time around is the wholesale privatisation of everything – from land and power generation to health and educational facilities. Thus the task of acquiring and developing land is going to be handed over to the private sector. Over 80 percent of housing, as proposed, will be developed through ‘public-private partnerships’. The entitlements of slum dwellers are being curtailed even further. Though promised 25 sq. mts. of floor space, the dwelling unit is going to be in a multi-storeyed building thus shrinking the land rights of the poor. These limited rights will also be delivered through the agency of ‘public-private partnership’!

All these above mentioned measures suggest a close connection with the ‘opening up’ of the Indian economy. Coupled with the ‘failures’ of the planning process as laid down in the Master Plan, it has created a volatile situation for the working people of Delhi.

Compliance and Violation

If we dig out the ideological underpinnings of Master Planning we find that the modernist vision of the city enshrined in it is completely out of sync with the profound rumblings of the economy, society and polity of a postcolonial Third World country. Thus while the planning sought to fashion Delhi in the image of an orderly bourgeois city with strict spatial segregation of various functions, the exigencies of building a domestic capital base with an emphasis on import substitution ensured that violations of the Plan were not only tolerated but also actively encouraged by the political and administrative elite. Whether it is squatter settlements, unauthorised colonies, small scale industries or informal sector services – the existential necessities of the poor coupled with the requisites of electoral democracy produced an urban space which was, in some senses, a complete subversion of what the Plan stood for. While this process did not guarantee constitutional rights based legal existence for the working class in the city, it nevertheless created a grey zone between legality and illegality where they could, at least as a collective, negotiate their lives in the city.

But in the past two decades the situation has changed. This has a lot to do with the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation initiated in the 1980-90s. The politics of globalisation depends, among other things, on refashioning and ‘re-forming’ cities in order to make them investment-friendly. Major cities of the Third World are thus sought to be de-linked from real domestic priorities and positioned as nodes in the circulation of global finance capital. This puts a heavy strain on urban land and other resources which are increasingly freed from ‘less productive uses’ such as small scale manufacturing or housing for the poor and deployed for high tech modes of accumulation and consumption, whether material or symbolic, of the affluent. The entire urban space, in this process, becomes a market place where distribution and consumption of global brands take place in the form of a series of spectacles.

The change in governmental and administrative priorities has been brought about by pressures from, on the one hand, global finance capital and, on the other, an increasingly vocal and assertive middle class. Both these forces have attacked the affirmative activities of the welfare state as the root cause of corruption, lawlessness and pollution of city life. The argument goes like this: It is the politicians who have over the years actively encouraged the growth of illegal industries and encroachment on public lands by slum clusters in order to create a captive vote bank and a ready source of income. This has resulted in the law-abiding, tax paying citizens being denied their legitimate rights in the city. So the idea of the reclamation of the rights of citizenry has been directly linked to the further dispossession of the already dispossessed. This has serious implications for the rights of the working people for a better life, as the consolidation of the middle classes around the vision of a ‘Clean and Green Delhi’ creates a social force necessary for further delegitimisation of the working class existence in the city. This conflict renders the role of urban planning in shaping the geographical and occupational fabric of the city quite superfluous as every planned intervention by the state ends up reproducing the original ‘problem’ on an expanded scale.

The Draft Master Plan for Delhi-2021 is both a codification as well as legitimisation of the process of securing the city, along with all its resources – be it land or water or power – for the international as well as the domestic elite. It becomes important, in this context, to see the connections between changes in urban configurations – spatial and occupational – and changes in modes of accumulation reflected in newer forms of commodity production, circulation and consumption. Praxis of this nature will go a long way in identifying both the sites of resistance as well as the actors of resistance against the hegemonic neo-liberal project of global capital.

Lalit Batra is a researcher-activist involved in understanding the processes of urban development in India and organizing the urban poor in Delhi. An earlier version of this article was published in Lalit Batra (ed.), Draft Delhi Master Plan 2021: Blueprint for an Apartheid City, Sanchal Foundation, 2005.

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