I think some plannerly clarifications are in order on a news item,1 especially since another news item2 says the Court has issued notice to Delhi Traffic Police and Municipal Corporation of Delhi in one case.

‘Colonies suffer disorganised traffic’ points out, with examples, reasons for traffic problems that residents in Delhi will readily relate with – commercial use (Kalkaji, Pandara Road), frequent entry points on main roads (Janakpuri, Hari Nagar, Patel Nagar), etc. It quotes views of some residents and officials, some of which directly or implicitly refer to city planning. Since disorganised traffic is a common problem, it is important to more precisely identify its relation with city planning.

Joint commissioner (traffic), Maxwell Pereira, is quoted saying, "There is no traffic police deployment in the colonies, but whenever there are specific complaints from residents, it is the area traffic officer's responsibility to resolve it." The first half of this statement is consistent with what was planned. It is important to note here that ‘planned development’ is not a phrase open to willful interpretation in Delhi, being legally bound by Delhi Development Act to mean development according to Delhi’s Master Plan. The Master Plan provides for residential areas to be free of non-local traffic, which is, therefore, a statutory entitlement of residents. The Joint Commissioner is, therefore, right if he does not normally deploy traffic police in residential areas, as they are not normally supposed to have any traffic requiring policing. I differ with his view that in case of a problem it is the area traffic officer’s responsibility to resolve it. Since traffic problems in residential areas are the result of Plan violations, as illustrated further, it is really beyond the jurisdiction of area traffic officers to ‘resolve’ them and they can, at best, ameliorate them, and in many cases even that is not possible.

"Police commissioner R S Gupta says, "Beside the local police and traffic personnel, the responsibility also lies with city planners, civic agencies and residents, who can interact regularly with the police to help ensure smooth traffic regulation, in the true essence of Bhagidari". He also attributed the problem to lack of garage space, encroached residential blocks and shops within the colonies." I agree with the Police Commissioner that citizens, including planners, and civic authorities should interact with the Police, but disagree with his view that this is the ‘true essence of Bhagidari’. As the Commissioner points out, encroachments and shops – both illegal and not possible without ‘involvement’ of residents – contribute to traffic congestion, yet ‘bhagidari’ initiatives of Delhi Police are confined to RWAs. If anything, bhagidari in its present form is diverting attention from the cause of the problem by ‘empowering’ RWAs to secure more than their fair share of help (area traffic officers) for non-durable symptomatic interventions. As for interactions between planners and police, I now look forward to a response to recent letters to him, written as planner consultant to various citizens’ groups in the residential area of Vasant Kunj, on problematic issues like hawking, slums, illegal development by private builders, etc. All these problems arise from Plan violations and contribute immensely to traffic congestion as well as stressed water and power. Interaction between planners and police can certainly help identify precise Plan violations to address the cause of such problems.

"Delhi Urban Art Commission member and Kalkaji resident H K Yadav said: "Kalkaji is in this mess partly due to faulty town planning. But residents' are more guilty as they are fast turning the residential blocks into commercial areas". There might be a reporting error in this quote. Delhi’s revised Master Plan approved in 1990 incorporated unique provisions for integrating a regulated amount of commercial activity in residential areas to meet needs of residents – both entrepreneurs and customers – without affecting residential amenity. The logic is that once need-based mixed use is accommodated in a regulated way through a proper and transparent scheme, unauthorised commercialisation will become possible to check, as it will no longer be justifiable as being need-based. These statutory provisions for Mixed Landuse apply also to existing areas with haphazard and problematic mixing of uses, such as Kalkaji, for which a scheme has been legally possible since 1990. Since DUAC is represented on the committee that makes policy for layout sanctions under the Master Plan and since it has been taking up various suo moto studies/schemes, it seems unlikely that DUAC blames either the Plan or citizens for the situation. The particular case is clearly an implementation failure on the part of DDA, especially since Kalkaji was one of the several areas studied in the ‘80s to frame the Master Plan Mixed Landuse regulations.

"In west district, big residential colonies like Janak Puri have a problem with many inlets and outlets within the area. "Every resident wants to have a cut on the road in front of his house. The same is true of Patel Nagar and Hari Nagar," said DCP (west), Dependra Pathak." DCP (West) has accurately pointed out a common problem, which becomes a serious one when there are long stretches without a break in verge and people start driving on the wrong side of the road. While residents find frequent inlets and outlets on main roads convenient, limiting them is necessary for both traffic flow and safety considerations. In order to resolve this contradiction, most sensible approved layout plans make provision for service or slip roads running along main roads. The real cause of the problem is that in most places these service roads have been obstructed by various unauthorised constructions, including full-fledged shops operating illegally on MCD hawking licenses and, lately, MCD bins and toilets. This problem seems beyond the jurisdiction of traffic police to resolve and in many places MCD is party to creating it. If the Court has issued notices in the Roshanara Road matter only to Traffic Police and MCD, as suggested by the other report, then it may take a while before the residents’ effort actually bears fruit, or at least benefits other areas in Delhi.

At the root of the problem of disorganised traffic in residential areas lie processes that lead to traffic attracting uses in them, in violation of the Master Plan. Besides unauthorised commercial development by private parties there is also the problem of allotment by DDA of planned sites meant for local facilities – shopping, schools, hospitals, etc – for city-level up-market use. The problem is compounded by the failure to ensure compliance in respect of allotment conditions requiring, say, local enrollment in schools. In Vasant Kunj at least citizens groups have taken up the issue of mis-allotment, and hence misuse, of local facility sites.

Since traffic-free residential environment is a statutory entitlement of residents in Delhi under Delhi’s Master Plan, of which DDA and MoUD are custodians, it is not possible to secure either implementation of these entitlements or accountability on their non-implementation without involving them in the discourse. Delhi government’s Bhagidari is all very well, but cannot become a substitute for governance, if only because of its very limited coverage as well as lack of statutory basis. The duly elected Delhi Government is anyway fully empowered by Delhi Development Act to ensure that DDA acts in line with its statutory mandate of development according to Plan and citizens entitlements are protected. There is no point in a bhagidari between RWAs and Traffic Police on the traffic congestion problem while government is pressing for / not opposing regularisation of Master Plan violations like commercial use, additional floors, etc, or even doing bhagidari with violators. The true essence of bhagidari, surely, can neither be the abdication of state responsibility or the misuse of state powers to benefit some at the cost of others. The true essence of citizens’ participation must, surely, be about ensuring that state powers are optimally and effectively used to safeguard all citizens’ entitlements.

Problems that have become widespread are obviously not amenable to simple solutions. Time and effort spent on precisely identifying the causes and dimensions of the problem is time and resources saved from being wasted on experimenting with right answers to the wrong questions. This may sound plannerly, but problem solving does call for planning.

  • 1. Colonies suffer disorganised traffic’, ToI web edition, 10.03.03
  • 2. Roshanara Road residents' letter becomes a PIL’, ToI web edition, 10.03.03