The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, August 31, 2003
Lead Article

The problem of being Chandigarh
A. S. Prashar

The Open Hand stands out against the skyline of City Beautiful
The Open Hand stands out against the skyline of City Beautiful

HANDIGARH completes 50 years of its existence later this year. It has come a long way since its formal inauguration by the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, on October 7, 1953. This may thus be a good occasion to examine some of the major problems facing City Beautiful, its future prospects and to determine how far it has drifted from its original concept.

With the passage of time, the socio-economic conditions of a city’s residents change. The success of a planned city lies in the manner in which it adapts to changing times. Chandigarh, which was initially planned for just five lakh people, has already accommodated almost double that number. And its population is still growing at a phenomenal pace. As much as one-third of its population lives in slums. This is something that was never anticipated by any planner of the city.

The problem of its ever-growing population can be attributed to two major factors:


The city shines bright at night
The city shines bright at night

First, not enough attention was paid initially to the rehabilitation of low-income migrants flocking to the city. All schemes undertaken by the UT Administration after 1965 to resettle this category of people by providing them with modern housing facilities encouraged more people to flock to the city. Incidentally, a large segment of the allottees are known to have sold off their tenements at a premium before again joining a queue for fresh allotments.

Experts feel that the only solution to this gigantic problem lies in accommodating only the eligible squatters without extending undue concessions to them. The remaining unauthorised squatters must be removed with an iron hand. Illegal squatters constitute nearly 50 per cent of the total number of squatters in the city. A strict vigil must be maintained to ensure that there are no more encroachments. Further, the cut-off date for determining their eligibility for rehabilitation schemes should not be shifted due to political pressure or other extraneous considerations.

Second, the Periphery Control Act, passed in 1952, covered all areas within a radius of 10 miles (16 km) to ensure that there was no unauthorised development in the vicinity of the city that would put pressure on the infrastructure and civic amenities of Chandigarh. The Act also provided for a green belt around the city.

A view of Shanti Kunj.
A view of Shanti Kunj

But unmindful of this enactment, the Punjab Government began developing SAS Nagar in the early 1960s and Haryana followed suit by establishing the Panchkula township in the early ‘70s. As feared, besides adding to the traffic woes, both the townships have put extreme pressure on the civic amenities of Chandigarh. Above all, it has encouraged unauthorised private development all around the city in complete defiance of the Periphery Control Act.

It was to avoid precisely this kind of a situation that the Government of India constituted a Coordination Committee consisting of officers from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and the Centre in the early ‘70s. In September,1977, it proposed a Chandigarh Urban Complex after taking into account the existence of SAS Nagar and Panchkula by defining the land use of the region. This plan was prepared by the Technical Working Group of the committee headed by then Chief Architect of Chandigarh M.N. Sharma.

Sadly, nobody paid heed to this plan. The government is now under tremendous pressure to scrap the Periphery Control Act itself, which could be disastrous for the region. Chandigarh will never be able to bear the extra load of population, which will play havoc with the planning of the region.

The original concept of Chandigarh did not cater to such problems and no city, howsoever well-planned, can withstand violations of this magnitude. If this is allowed to continue, no regional plan will ever succeed.

Chandigarh has a character of its own which is unique and distinctive. It should not be reduced to the level of other cities, which are already suffering due to unplanned growth.

The watch tower at Sukhna Lake
The watch tower at Sukhna Lake

Land is a scarce commodity and should be used with great care and foresight. The UT Administration will soon have to go in for high-rise buildings, not only to conserve land but also to provide breathing space. All this requires immaculate planning and implementation of revised plans and building designs. And, above all, there should be strict enforcement of the building bylaws and zoning plans. It will be in the interest of Panchkula and SAS Nagar to provide for an adequate number of educational and health facilities for their residents.

The UT Administration has been making serious efforts to put the city back on the rails by removing encroachments and illegal colonies. The Administration is also paying attention to the much-neglected Capitol Complex and City Centre designed by Le Corbusier.

Silting of Sukhna Lake is another major problem which, if not addressed seriously, will result in the premature death of this famous waterbody. The only solution is the mechanical dredging of the lake combined with afforestation in its catchment areas. Yet another major problem being faced by Chandigarh is the poor maintenance of its roads, open spaces and landscape features. Citizens in most of the developed cities the world over do not expect maintenance of public places without paying their due share of taxes. Thus, all those who are not in favour of paying taxes do great injustice to our City Beautiful.

— Photos by Surkhab Shaukin



History of the city

Pt Jawaharlal Nehru with Le Corbusier
Pt Jawaharlal Nehru with
 Le Corbusier

Other key planners of Chandigarh
Other key planners of Chandigarh

(From left to right) Le Corbusier with P. Jeanneret, M.N. Sharma and P.L. Varma
(From left to right) Le Corbusier with P. Jeanneret, M.N. Sharma and P.L. Varma
A section of the audience at the inauguration of Chandigarh on October 7, 1953
A section of the audience at the inauguration of Chandigarh on October 7, 1953

CHANDIGARH was born in the foothills of the Shivalik ranges in 1950. The city owes its existence to late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who initiated this ambitious project with the famous lines: "Let this be a new town symbolic of the freedom of India. Unfettered by the traditions of the past `85.An expression of the nation's faith in the future." The Chandigarh Capital Project started on this optimistic note and is still one of the most significant urban projects of the post-war period in this part of the world.

Chandigarh was conceived in a period of crisis and turbulence when the nation was going through the pangs of Partition and post-Independence confusion. The earlier capital of the joint Punjab, Lahore, had gone to Pakistan after Partition in 1947. A committee headed by P.L. Varma was appointed by the government for the construction of a new capital city. The site chosen consisted of several farms and two seasonal rivulets with a population of 9000 scattered over 24 villages.

The Master Plan of the city was prepared by an American firm (Mayer, Whittleslay, Glass and Nowicki) but the sudden death of Nowicki put a question mark on the future of the project. The Varma committee was sent abroad to scout for a suitable replacement. It selected Le Corbusier, one of the greatest architects of modern times, who had made a significant contribution to urban design theory since1920, but had not until then had the opportunity to successfully translate his ideas into reality.

Working with Le Corbusier was a team of British architects, E. Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, and Pierre Jeanneret. The team decided to build Chandigarh in two phases. The first phase covered 9000 acres of land in the shape of 29 sectors. On the whole, the city was designed to house a population of 5 lakh on 15, 000 acres of land in 46 sectors. Each sector consisted of a plot measuring 800m x 1200 m.