The cities of Chandigarh and Gurgaon are a study in contrast.
The former, planned and designed by Le Corbusier, was built on an area of 114 sq. km for a population of half a million. Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the key architects of modern India, had wanted cities such as Chandigarh to be the symbols of India’s future: “A new town, symbolic of freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, an expression of the nation’s faith in the future.”
Chandigarh derives most of its apparent cleanliness from having no space for the poor and its aesthetic harmony from devoting 2,000 acres of land solely for parks. Yet, say analysts, it remains a sterile and heavily subsidized city that encourages neither entrepreneurship nor tax-generating jobs.
In 2008, the planned city of Chandigarh failed to attract companies that manufacture parts of air-conditioned buses for its pilot project of 17 air-conditioned mini and five double decker buses floated by the Chandigarh Transport Undertaking (CTU). Despite the CTU filing a retender application, only two companies applied evinced interest.
In contrast, Gurgaon was an accidental city—the new face of cities in the 21st century India, unlike what Nehru had envisioned, erratic, unplanned, sporadic and lacking in infrastructure, yet functional. In 2003, Gurgaon was named the Millennium City owing to its exponential growth post 2000.
Interestingly, Gurgaon had a plan on paper dating back to 1966. It went nowhere till after the establishment of Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) under the HUDA Act in 1977. One of the first major changes was the acquisition of land by Sanjay Gandhi to start an automobile company. The plot is now the Maruti Suzuki factory.
With the advent of private developers from 1981 onwards, the area experienced a great boom in construction activity when developers such as DLF Ltd began to acquire farmland along the Delhi border.
However, while Gurgaon was commercially functional, it is a city plagued by serious civic problems ranging from clogged roads and erratic power supply.
“Gurgaon sold dream houses and that was the end (and there was nothing more). A town has to have more than just beautiful houses, which Gurgaon lacks,” says Kavas Kapadia, head of the department of urban planning, School of Planning and Architecture. “But it also adds significantly to the revenues of Haryana.”
So the big question then is whether India can ever have a planned city that is also functional—a hybrid between Gurgaon and Chandigarh.
Bibek Debroy, economist and professor at Centre for Policy Research, says it’s difficult to have completely planned cities in India. “Gone are the days of greenfield cities that are built from scratch,” he said.
In his opinion, chaotic growth will continue since planning is difficult. To curb this kind of surge into cities, he said, “Ideally there should be no migration into the metros, and larger towns should be better planned so they would serve as bridges between smaller towns and metros.”
The growth of Gurgaon is synonymous with the IT industry and also due to its proximity to Delhi. This process got another impetus when industries based out of Delhi were forced to relocate to neighbouring areas such as Gurgaon.
Chandigarh on the other hand was largely dependent on Punjab for its economic development. And the growth of Punjab is largely a story of relative industrial stagnation.
To the problem of existing habitations, Debroy said that they should be better planned. “One has to look beyond the chaos and municipalities should be more empowered,” he added.
Though the 73rd and the 74th constitutional amendments carry the simple prescription that rural and urban local bodies should be institutions of self-government, adherence to this provision has been downplayed and distorted, Debroy pointed out.
The problems of overlapping administrative powers is one of the reasons why Gurgaon has been unable to make any progress in providing adequate urban infrastructure.
The Gurgaon municipality established in 2008, functions amid ambiguity. Since the HUDA sectors are developed by HUDA, the old city is managed by the municipal corporation, and the developer colonies such as those owned by DLF are managed by the town and country planning department, Haryana.
“The state doesn’t want to lose its absolute control over Gurgaon. For any work with a budget of more than Rs 1 crore, we have to take up the case with the state government. This means that we are at the mercy of the government and bureaucrats,” said Yashpal Bharat, deputy mayor of Gurgaon.
Some say part of the reason why India is unable to create planned and functional cities is due to lack of clear delineation of administrative powers.
Kapadia is sure that India will have functional cities.
“If rules and controls are imposed, India will have cities that are not only nice to live in but are also functional,” he says.
“We need more rigid government agencies that exercise control so that public-private partnerships do not change the motive for growth into profit instead of planning.”