//Delhi could be the world’s most populous city by 2028. But is it really prepared?

Delhi could be the world’s most populous city by 2028. But is it really prepared?

Politics and, now, pollution keep Delhi forever in the news, but a third P has gone missing from the discourse on the capital: population growth, which has soared during the last two decades, and its disastrous fallout.

Already, India’s capital city is the world’s second most populous urban agglomeration. The future is even more frightening: a United Nations report released in mid-2018 says Delhi could be the world’s most populous city by 2028 with 37.2 million people. That is eight million more in just 10 years.

According to the report called World Urbanisation Prospects 2018 by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the population of Delhi and its immediate neighbourhood is now estimated to be 29 million, second only to Tokyo with 37 million people. But Delhi will zoom past Tokyo, whose population is projected to decline to 36.8 million by 2028.

Will Delhi be worth living in? Can the city state of Delhi escape the pressures put on it by an ever expanding National Capital Region (NCR), which touches as far as Alwar now? Are we prepared at all for this population explosion?

In a small office in Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, a group of urban planners — all belonging to the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) — have just started collecting baseline data on land, housing, transport, environment, heritage, water, among others, for Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) 2041. “Our deadline for preparing the master plan is 2021. But unlike its earlier editions, it won’t be a flat 20-year plan. This one will be divided into various achievables, say, for every five years,” says Nilesh Rajadhyaksha, lead coordinator of MPD and urban specialist in NIUA.

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The NIUA — an autonomous research and advisory body that comes under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs — has been roped in by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to undertake this colossal strategy plan for Delhi 2041. The current master plan, MPD-2021, which was notified in 2007 and was prepared by an in-house team of the DDA, would expire in 2021. (For the record, the first master plan for Delhi was undertaken in 1962, followed by the one released in 1990 for the year 2001.)

The concern is that a sense of urgency to fix Delhi is missing. Many crucial elements of MPD-2021 still remain on paper, with just two years left for the plan to expire. AK Jain, former commissioner-planning in DDA and key architect of MPD-2021, gives a long list of what have not been implemented. The master plan talks about brownfield redevelopment of rehabilitation colonies such as Lajpat Nagar, Old Rajendra Nagar and Mukherjee Nagar, which were originally meant for Partition refugees.

Nothing has been done on that front so far. Nor for the redevelopment of 45 resettlement colonies such as Ambedkar Nagar and Trilokpuri, which were developed during Emergency to rehabilitate slum dwellers. The rejuvenation of the Yamuna is also on the plan, but the river remains severely polluted in the Delhi stretch.

Will Delhi be liveable? Jain is not very hopeful. He says Delhi won’t be a highly liveable city even if the master plan is implemented in its entirety. “Delhi is part of the National Capital Region (NCR). So, Delhi’s development can’t happen in isolation,” he explains.

This is where we need to distinguish between Delhi and NCR. Delhi, the city state now ruled by Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party, has an area of 1,483 sq km and is officially named the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi. In Census 2011, it had a population of 16.8 million, up from 13.8 million a decade ago. The MPD-2021 estimates that NCT of Delhi will have a population of 23 million by 2021.

While the Central National Capital Region of 3,483 sq km includes Delhi’s immediate neighbourhoods such as Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Bahadurgarh and Sonepat-Kundli, the NCR spreads across a vast area of 55,098 sq km. It will be wrong to use NCR as synonymous with Delhi because the NCR now includes 23 districts from three neighbouring states — 13 in Haryana (Faridabad, Gurgaon, Mewat, Rohtak, Sonepat, Rewari, Jhajjar, Panipat, Palwal, Bhiwani, Mahendragarh, Jind and Karnal), eight in Uttar Pradesh (Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Bulandshahr, Baghpat, Hapur, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar) and Alwar and Bharatpur, 200 km away, in Rajasthan.

The population of NCR, according to the 2011 Census — when Muzaffarnagar, Jind, Karnal and Shamli were yet to be added — was 46 million. Its population is projected to be 64 million by 2021, according to MPD-2021.

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The World Urbanisation Prospects 2018, interestingly, did not factor in the entire NCR to derive at the population of Delhi agglomeration. It roughly took into account the population of NCT of Delhi and Central NCR. Earlier termed as Delhi Metropolitan Area, the Central NCR is a categorisation introduced in the Regional Plan 2021, which was prepared by the National Capital Region Planning Board and notified in 2005.

The plan suggested that the opportunities presented by Central NCR should be maximised to enable it to compete effectively with the NCT of Delhi, offering comparable employment opportunities, economic activities, a comprehensive transport system, housing, social infrastructure and quality of life and environment.

Also, larger industries should be located not in Delhi but in Central NCR. According to Census 2011, Central NCR with NCT of Delhi had a population of 22.2 million, which could well be 29 million in 2018, as estimated in the UN report.

So, how would Delhi deal with its burgeoning population? First, it needs to take care of its migrants. In 2001, over 60% of the total addition to the city came from a natural growth of population (people born in a geography), with the remaining 40% being migrants. In 2011, the share of migrants to the overall addition to the city increased to 45%.

According to projections in MPD-2021, the share of migrants to the additional population will further rise to 50% in 2021, implying that the ever increasing influence of migrant population is now a harsh reality.

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Delhi will suffer unless its neighbours share the growing burden of migrant population.

Hardeep Singh Puri, Union minister of state (independent charge) for housing and urban affairs, argues that the decongestion of Delhi is possible only if the state government cooperates. “We prepared a Delhi decongestion plan in 2016. I have shared the report with the Delhi chief minister. Maybe he does not realise the urgency. Whatever be the reason, the plan is not being implemented,” Puri told ET Magazine, adding that the development of NCR is essential to make Delhi a liveable urban space (See interview “Delhi Government Needs to Cooperate”) There is another reason for the problems of Delhi and NCR. Says Jain: “The key problem is that the NCR Planning Board (NCRPB), which is mandated to undertake integrated planning for Delhi and its neighbouring towns, is truly a toothless body.”

The NCRPB, which was constituted by an act of Parliament, the NCRPB Act, 1985, is mandated to prepare a regional plan and evolve harmonised policies on land uses and infrastructure development in the entire NCR. But the board has not been effective primarily because land is a state subject and none of Delhi’s neighbours — Uttar Pradesh, Haryana or Rajasthan — is willing to give too many concessions to Delhi. Nor is NCRPB empowered enough to give orders, for example, to stop stubble-burning in Haryana and Punjab — the single most important reason behind the severe pollution that hits Delhi every winter. OP Agarwal, a former civil servant and CEO of World Resources Institute-India, says maybe India should think of yet another level of government — beyond municipalities and metropolitan authorities.

“Perhaps a larger regional entity, something like a city-cluster, will be needed,” he says, pointing to the Chinese model of city clusters as expanded jurisdictions. “There would also be a need to classify municipal services into those delivered at the municipal level, metropolitan level and cluster level.” (See Should India Follow China’s Cluster Model?) More and more towns are willing to join the NCR — the most recent being Shamli — not to help Delhi decongest, but to enhance their own brand value and to get Central funds. The NCRPB, for example, provided loan assistance for 353 projects in NCR, involving a total outlay of Rs 30,809 crore, as on February 10, 2019, for which data is available. The total loan sanctioned for NCR towns is Rs 14,664 crore, out of which Rs 11,297 crore has been disbursed so far. But Delhi has to realise that it needs its neighbours more than they need it.

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After all, Delhi will suffer unless its neighbours share the growing burden of migrant population. Delhi cannot move ahead on its own. While Kejriwal’s AAP is ruling Delhi, it would need the cooperation of BJP, which is ruling the Centre as well as neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and Congress that rules Rajasthan. Interestingly, government offices, mainly of the Centre, occupy 56 sq km of Delhi, sarkari residences take up another 30 sq km and embassies 8 sq km. Political differences should not be allowed to hinder the execution of development plans.

While the development of Delhi’s neighbourhood is key, mindless expansion of NCR beyond Alwar or Jind will be counterproductive. What’s needed, instead, is the development of counter magnet areas (CMAs), nine of which — Hisar (Haryana), Ambala (Haryana), Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh), Kota (Rajasthan), Jaipur (Rajasthan), Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh), Patiala (Punjab) and Dehradun (Uttarakhand) — are already under the fold of the NCR Planning Board.

These CMAs, when equipped with upgraded social and physical infrastructure, can draw the migrants away from Delhi and ease the pressure on the capital city. For that, another P is required: planning that will leap out of master plan documents and will be effectively implemented.