Some glitches that need to be pondered over
The Metro has changed many things in Delhi, in areas with Metro connectivity the middle class now travels differently. Travel, for those who can afford it, has become much more comfortable and rapid. All this has been written frequently about but there is a down side to the Metro story that is normally not talked about and I have often wondered, why.
The skyline of Delhi has changed at places where the Metro is over ground and I am not convinced that it is an improvement on the earlier skyline. Some of the stations, especially the over ground projections at Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk, are eyesores. All over the world the metro networks have by and large followed a logic to ensure that the new structures, including stations, electric sub-stations, etc should be located underground. And if they need to be located above ground level they should merge, to the best extent possible, with the surrounding architecture.
Delhi metro has, to the best of my knowledge, not tried to ensure this in any systematic manner. The ugly concrete pillars upon which the tracks have been laid and stations built, have nothing in common with their surroundings. A sensitivity towards pre-existing urban design is something that the Metro cannot be accused of, probably the only place that they have tried to merge with the surroundings are the metro stations at Krishi Bhawan and Udyog Bhawan off Rafi Marg, but that is about it.
When the Metro started, it was given a virtual carte blanche. They could acquire any property and demolish any structure . Most of us agreed that without these kinds of sacrifices, a project of this magnitude would never come to fruition. The example of Calcutta Metro was quoted often to show how bureaucratic bottlenecks could delay things indefinitely. There are few examples in India of a public service project that has come up so rapidly. Even few are the instances when the places of worship were asked to move. But when managements approached the courts, they had to follow the orders. The same happened with the Panchkuian Road market.
The Metro Rail project showed that if the government wanted to do something it has the ability to exercise its political will and the courage to stand by its decision. Unfortunately, one does not see the government exercise its political will and give a demonstration of its courage as often as one would like to. In countless cases of places of worship coming up on public land and on heritage sites, the government has played silent audience and encroachments have become fait accompli.
The metro has, on occasions, been rather reckless in the exercise of the powers that it has been vested with. For example, till date there has not been any logical explanation as to why the metro network was built over ground outside the VIP district and Shahjahanabad. Agreed that tunneling takes more time, but that is the only valid argument. When compared, the cost differences are not too high and if seen against the cost of ruining the skyline of the city and causing disturbance to those whose houses are located within a few meters of the tracks, the savings are not worth it. The Metro follows a logic of naming stations that has escaped me totally. The yellow line has a station at Tughlaq Road Police Station but for some strange reason it is called Race Course. Tughlaq Road Police Station has significance in history as the FIR on Gandhiji’s assassination was registered here and the assassin, Nathu Ram Godse, was detained here. But the Metro Station is named after Race Course, almost a kilometer away, why? The race course is a place where horses race and its neighbourhood is at times known for serious horse trading. But does either of these activities deserve to be commemorated in this fashion? I should think not.
On the same metro line there is another station called Qutub Minar but the Minar itself is almost a km and a half away. Why could it not be named after Jamali Kamali, because that is where it is located? The next station is at Andheria More but is called Chhattarpur. Almost two kms further down, the Metro enters Gurgaon and the station should have been named Gurgaon but is called Dronacharya.
One would like to know on what historical or archaeological evidences these decisions have been taken. Or is it just a case of succumbing to political pressures? Perhaps political pressures of a different nature made the Metro Rail Corporation decide on Rajiv Chowk instead of Connaught Place. The idea of restoring Connaught Place to its original look, because it is part of a specific urban design with a history, is defeated if right in the heart of Connaught Place you have the hub of the Metro Network that calls itself Rajiv Chowk. A chowk incidentally is a crossing of two roads and Connaught Place has nine roads diverging from it. By no stretch of imagination can it be called a chowk, but then those with unbridled powers are not known to bother themselves with such linguistic niceties.
Keywords: Delhi Metro