Over the last two weeks this column has focused on Waqeyat-e-Dar-ul-Hukoomat Dehli (Events at the Capital City Delhi) by Bashir-ud-Din Ahmad. We had planned to carry excerpts from the book over the next two weeks as well, but something rather damaging and disturbing needs to be brought-up and therefore the excerpts have had to take a back-seat for this week.
And now for the issue that has caused this rescheduling. The Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Marg – the road connecting Andheria More to Mahipalpur in south west Delhi is being broadened. The broadening exercise has been in the news and it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The agency responsible for the exercise is the Public Works Department and it has cut down more than a hundred trees without permission of the department of forests.
The procedure for cutting down of trees, as laid down after persistent pressure from environmentalists and judicial intervention, states that for each tree that is cut at least ten saplings have to be planted on land identified and approved for this purpose. Identification of land and approval of forest department, for cutting and replanting at the designated site, has to be sought before tree cutting begins. In case any land designated as forest is to be used for any other purpose, then the government has to transfer an equal amount of revenue land after it has been re-designated as forest land.
In the case of this road every single rule has been flouted. The forest department was not informed, land for replanting was not identified, approval for the number of trees to be cut was not taken and trees were cut down in violation of all rules and many very explicit court orders. Residents of Sector A and Sector D from Vasant Kunj and environmental activists took recourse to litigation. Fortunately, the courts have put a stop to the work till the issues raised by the petitioners are resolved.
The concerns of the petitioners, aside from the environmental, include questions of safety for pedestrians especially children, the elderly and the physically disabled, issues as important as the deliberate disregard for the green cover of Delhi.
The Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Marg after being broadened to its proposed width of 75 metres will stretch from the boundary walls of Sector A on one side to the boundary wall of Sector D on the other side, and this would mean that residents will virtually step on the road as they come out of their blocks. Hundreds of children wait for their school buses on this road and cross it at least once while going to and returning from school, in many cases they do this alone and in others they are accompanied by grandparents.
Those tearing down this road at break-neck speed in order to lay out the red carpet for cars, seem to have made no provisions for subways and overhead bridges. Who knows how many accidents will make them realise that a majority of the population of this city has to walk and if city planning makes any claims to be inclusive it has to give priority to the pedestrian -- the child, the elderly and the physically challenged -- and not to automobiles.
There is one question about this project that has not been asked and it is only this question that will help explain the unseemly hurry in which this project has been taken up and is being implemented. The question is “what was the need to broaden this road?” The answer you are likely to get is “the sudden increase of traffic on the Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Marg – Auna Asif Ali Marg segment has led to traffic jams on this stretch and therefore the need to broaden the road.
Now, this is only half an answer. The complete answer is, “the sudden increase in the volume of traffic is a result of the creation of the toll plaza at the Gurgaon Expressway”. The high toll and the interminable queues at the toll gates have forced a large number of daily commuters to shift to the already congested M.G.Road alternative route. This shift has led to this sudden spurt in traffic on the Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Marg- Aruna Asif Ali Marg stretch.
There is a refusal to accept that the decision of converting an already existing congested arterial route into a toll plaza was patently wrong and that it would have been more fruitful to create a parallel toll channel for those wanting to save time and bypass Delhi and Gurgaon.
The refusal to except these two mistakes has led to compounding the problems at all ends. There seems to be no end to the mess at the toll gates at the Gurgaon Expressway, the Mehrauli Gurgaon Road has become impossible to navigate and trees need to be chopped to broaden the Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Marg in order to accommodate the ever-expanding volume of traffic that could virtually disappear if the toll plaza was scrapped.
If trees in Vasant Kunj have to be saved, the concessionaire for the Gurgaon toll plaza needs to be sent home bag and baggage. The question before us is “Who is going to scrap a profitable PPP project to save a few hundred trees?”