Tragic events like the Chennai floods make one thing certain—we need satellite towns around each metropolis, especially those that have heavy trade and industry, and employ millions from across India.
Chennai is grappling with a crisis hitherto unheard of; Mumbai suffers a breakdown each monsoon; and Delhi is choking on its own breath. Each of these is a hub of industry and commerce, drawing people from all states and even from abroad. Chennai, for instance, in India’s Detroit and is bursting at its seams with people jostling for space for housing, water, electricity, driving space and parking areas, medical facility and quite literally for survival. The more people there are, more is the pressure on the system, which breaks the city’s back until it snaps.
America moved from its cities to the suburbs in a phenomenon called suburbanisation. It faced a crisis when soldiers returning from World War I needed housing and the cities were cramped. Policy-makers zoned and redlined areas, and laid stress on the development of suburbs. Interestingly, at one time suburbs were places that were traditionally without much work or easy access to cities.
Town planners earmarked land, which was to be used only for housing, and offered a larger area to each resident. Anybody who wished for a bigger courtyard moved to the suburbs. This created a need and enterprise flourished. Good roads were laid to link suburbs with cities making commuting easier and moving out of the city even more attractive.
There was enough reason to move to the suburbs, giving the metros a chance at survival. Buying land in the metros became impossible as premiums were too high. Prices of property, rentals, road tax became deterrents and stopped people from crowding cities, as suburbs became destinations of choice. A choice made happily and to everyone’s benefit.
Obviously, some functions remained in the central cities—government offices, research hospitals, universities, the judiciary, larger theatres and sports facilities to name a few. Now, in the 20 largest cities of the US, more than 50 per cent of a city’s population lives in suburbs, associated rural areas and towns.
Stress levels are down, traffic is easier and life better. Sure, the need to develop more, and to build more roads, bridges and flyovers is constant, because a population is organic and grows. This is why a government can never stop functioning round the clock looking at these matters, too.
Delhi has some suburbs falling in the NCR. But, due to faulty planning or simply because of the huge influx of people from other places, these areas are weighing heavily on the city. More development is needed and commuting must be made easier. The metro rails are remarkable and have shown a lot can be accomplished. Yet, more needs to be done.
A lot of thought must be given to our own nature as easy-going Indians—a trait that includes being careless about littering, using excessive plastic, blocking drains to build our little shops over them and also to build expansive driveways leading to palatial homes. We create garbage dumps everywhere we can. We end up paying an exceptionally heavy price. Our drains are choked and our cities flooded. Rainwater flows back into our homes and streets.
Of course, the municipality can be blamed for not looking after these aspects of town maintenance or the El Nino can be blamed for heating up oceans and air currents leading to so many odd climatic changes.
We find it easy to blame. Because, our sense of entitlement is far stronger than our poor sense of responsibility. We have been given several warnings and it’s time we pay heed.
This aside, a firm salute to my brethren who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in beleaguered Chennai, helping fellow men and opening the doors of their homes and hearts to anyone who needs help.
Heartwarming stories are filling up the airwaves, but we don’t need such misfortunes to show ourselves that we stand as one, come what may.
My unstinting respect to the armed forces, who stand fearlessly to protect us against danger from across borders or Mother Nature’s fury. I have full faith that we shall overcome. Jai Hind. firstname.lastname@example.org
Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell,All India Congress Committee