Cars careen through the Delhi University campus, with their horns blaring incessantly, spaces for rickshaws and most of the footpaths being taken over by them. The entire campus looks like a bad dream

2010 was the year when the Commonwealth Games were organised in Delhi and there was a flurry of activity that saw virtually the entire city being dug-up, pavements being uprooted and re-laid, new roads and flyovers coming up at the drop of a hat and swanky stainless steel bus shelters, street furniture, trash cans beginning to sprout like mushrooms all over the landscape.

The bus shelters, one learned by 2011, became unbearably hot during the long and searing summers, too cold during the short freezing winters and too wet during the monsoons. We were told that they looked very good. One can’t really win an argument that privileges utility over appearance, so we kept our council.

This frenzied activity was followed almost without pause with another outbreak of sprucing up in 2011-12, the provocation this time was the centenary of the shifting of the colonial capital from Calcutta to Delhi. A large number of projects, even more grandiose than the ones witnessed during the CWG, began to be conceived and executed with astonishing alacrity.

The centenary observation was also marked by seminars, symposia and TV debates about issues of heritage versus development and it is at one of these discussions that I met Dr. Amita Baviskar from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University and we got to discuss things that we like and dislike about our city.

Dr. Baviskar has specialised in Development Sociology, her work engages with issues pertaining to the politics of environment and development. A few days ago she asked me to take a look at the traffic mess that Delhi University has become as a result of several interventions made during the preparations for the CWG and later and so I went to DU.

Every-time I step into DU, myriad memories come flooding back and the disconnect between what it was and what it has become keeps growing. What I witnessed, much of which was pointed out by Dr Baviskar, was simply breathtaking in its insensitivity and utter callousness.

We walked down two roads and this is what I saw. The road connecting Mall Road to Maurice Nagar Chowk has a separate track for cycle rickshaws to its left. The parallel road connecting the Mall to the Law Faculty traffic signal has a cycle rickshaws track to the right of the road. These roads were re-designed at the time of the CWG, to become one-way streets and that is why almost one-third of both the roads was hived off to create a track for cycle rickshaws, while the other two-thirds on each road was reserved for one-way motorised traffic on each road.

Great idea one would think, a separate track for cycle rickshaws had become necessary with more and more members of the university community opting to travel by the Metro and then taking the rickshaw to their colleges or departments. Unfortunately, the cycle tracks have all been blocked by cars parked at every intersection. The cycle rickshaws are therefore forced onto the portion of the roads meant for motorised traffic.

The large number of security guards hanging around seems incapable of preventing cars being parked on cycle rickshaw tracks. The university authorities, busy converting a three-year graduate course into a four year one, seem not interested in either restricting the entry of cars, with blaring horns and loud music, into the campus or in creating alternative parking spaces and providing better bus connectivity to the ever growing number of students.

In the good old days there used to be University Specials (U.Spls) coming from all parts of the city to the campus, but most of them except for those coming from distant villages like Kanjhawla, Nangloi Syed, Majra Dabas and Mundka etc and some other areas have been discontinued. Now (as of 2010-11) only 19 U.Spls connect the campus in the morning and 11 in the evening ( pdf). Almost all regular routes like 210, 220, 240 and 100 and many others have been taken off, all this because the DMRC does not like competition. As compensation, DTC has been permitted to run two buses on a shuttle route every 15 minutes or so, starting at the Metro station, going around the campus and terminating at the Metro station.

The combined effect of all this is that students, especially those who cannot afford the rickshaws, have to trudge from mall road to college and back in temperatures that are no longer pleasant. Besides, you have, cars careening through the campus, with their horns blaring incessantly, spaces for rickshaws and most of the footpaths being taken over by cars, with the entire campus looking like a bad dream.

It seems that we are increasingly falling into the trap of going for change for the sake of change discarding practices that have stood the test of time only because they have been in place for a long time. The shift from the annual exam to the semester system, from a three-year Bachelor’s degree to a four year course and emasculating public transport and handing over the university roads to private transport are acts that represent the same tendency. They are acts that betray insensitivity towards the common good and are acts initiated without application of mind. When a University begins to display such tendencies it is time to get worried, seriously worried.

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