Behind Gurugram’s dazzle

GURUGRAM:Gurgaon’s — alright, Gurugram, if they insist — dazzling façade can hide the worst of its follies.

Behind Gurugram’s dazzle

Tribune photos: S. Chandan

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

Gurugram, January 12

Gurgaon’s — alright, Gurugram, if they insist — dazzling façade can hide the worst of its follies. But the Millennium City’s real face is slowly beginning to show.

Away from the hustle of swanky pubs, breweries and malls is a city struggling to sustain its people as long years of unplanned growth finally take their toll. It’s a city that grew too fast, fast enough to see that no administrative agency could keep pace with its development.

As Municipal Commissioner V Umashankar notes, “Gurugram is a city still under construction. The crash in real estate prices gave us an opportunity to catch up with the city’s growth. Gurugram is not irrecoverable. Office property markets are surging again. This is a sign of people’s confidence in the city”.

The Municipal Commissioner has a point. There’s this weird thing about Gurugram. It thrives in chaos. Notwithstanding the city’s rutted inner roads, invisible civic amenities, infamous traffic congestions and ragtag transport, people continue to make it their home just as top global brands continue to set shop here.

In November last year, Swedish design major Ikea bought a 10-acre plot in Sector 47 for Rs 842 crore in an auction deal the Haryana Urban Development Authority described as its single largest in history. Top global carmaker Hyundai bought a tower in Gurugram’s commercial hub, Sector 29, in 2016, joining hundreds of MNCs operating out of the city. Lower commercial property rates compared to Delhi continue to make Gurugram attractive for global players, who lend the Millennium City its unique class and bustle and a mild European feel, as some put it.

But that doesn’t mean Gurugram has sorted everything out for its people. Lack of civic amenities, mobility options and safety are the city’s deepest fault lines with the state government struggling for solutions.

Two worlds

Move off the Delhi-Gurugram highway and you encounter a different world where roads are almost always jammed, pollution is touching severe levels and pedestrians and cyclists are wondering if they have road rights. Cases of motor vehicles hitting cyclists are routine even as citizens take upon themselves to push non-motorised transport, risking lives for the sake of cleaner air.

Around 400 Gurugram residents recently took what they called the “Car Free Challenge”, which involved commuting to work and back on foot or by a bicycle. Top corporate leaders participated in the challenge and each said it was highly risky to negotiate the city’s roads that are designed around cars only.

“We did it for a week. It felt very unsafe as the city is designed around cars. Fast-moving traffic in multi-lane roads is dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists,” says Manas Fuloria, Nasscom member who participated in the challenge. Another participant rued how Crown Plaza refused her entry into the hotel unless she sent her foldable bike packing.

Residents are also signing up for a new cycling app “Mobycy” launched by entrepreneur Akash Gupta. The app allows commuters to hire dockless bikes from popular haunts and leave these anywhere for others to use.

The Gurugram Municipal Corporation has now tied up with Mobycy by providing parking stations for bicycles, which can be unlocked by scanning a digital code. HUDA City Centre is housing these bikes as the new start-up finds its feet.

Mobility research shows that a sustainable city model is one that rests on public transport, primarily buses. But Gurugram, with its 20-lakh people, has no city bus service to date.

London with 86 lakh people has 9,500 buses. Closer to Gurugram, Delhi has 5,421 buses for its 1.67 crore people. If this was not enough of a problem, 10 per cent additional private vehicles hit the roads every year!

Breathless, unsafe

With vehicular traffic comes the challenge of air pollution and related disease burden. Gurugram doctors confirm a rise in cases of respiratory disorders, especially chronic bronchitis. TERI, which studied pollution in Gurugram recently, revealed the famous Cyber City traffic junction as the most polluted, followed by Iffco Chowk and Gwalpahari junctions.

It was found that vast tracts of Aravalis around Gwalpahari kept pollution there low but the heavy presence of diesel autos and taxis in the Cyber City and Iffco Chowk raised it to lethal levels.

Another equally pressing concern in Gurugram is safety. With last mile connectivity missing, it’s near impossible for women to walk safely to nearby metro stations. One has personally encountered situations where two to three cars on an average have stopped by, with occupants glancing curiously, as one has walked to a metro station just a kilometre from home. In 2017, a woman was gangraped in an auto-rickshaw and her toddler thrown out on the road to die.

Part of this problem stems from the dearth of policemen. Gurugram has only 4,200 policemen for 20 lakh people! That’s one policeman for 500 people. The sanctioned police strength is 6,200 but the real need is 10 times that. No wonder robberies, house thefts, murders and rapes are rampant. The police record 12 vehicle thefts in the city daily and take heart from the fact that this number is 20 in Jaipur.

Only now the authorities are beginning to spruce up police infrastructure with 10 new stations sanctioned last year and five to be added this year, besides a first dedicated cyber police station to check IT-related crime.

“Gurugram has a lot of migrant population. This population is also very diverse. On the one end of the spectrum are the wealthy who can afford this city’s high life. On the other are low-income people working in industries. Medical tourism is booming due to the presence of major hospitals. Residents include foreigners, healthcare infrastructure support staff and all kinds of people. A diverse population poses its own challenges, including collision of ethos and class divides. But relative to the challenges, we are on top of our jobs,” Police Commissioner Sandeep Khirwar says.

The Gurugram police were recently part of the team that cracked the infamous highway gangrape of four women in Greater Noida’s Jevar last year. The accused were wanted in several cases of serial rapes and robberies in and around Gurugram.

Within the city, too, the police are planning a blanket of CCTV cameras. “You will also see more traffic constables on the roads,” Khirwar says, referring to an additional sanction of 350 traffic police who will join the 183 already posted.

The other Gurugram

Interesting is how Gurugram’s complexion changes as you move from posh-gated apartments to the older colonised city where the civic infrastructure has nearly collapsed. Enquiry into reasons takes us back to V Umashankar, who acknowledges the mess and explains why it happened.

People tend to see civic amenities as one but multiple agency roles in Gurugram never enabled coordinated development.

Things are now changing with the Gurugram Municipal Corporation set to take over the residentially developed Gurugram which HUDA and private colonisers built over the past. The Municipal Corporation has taken over all HUDA sectors barring Sector 29 (commercial hub) and Sector 53, which is under development.

“The problem is there are four different Gurugrams in one. The first is old Gurgaon where haphazard urban growth has taken place. The second is poorly maintained HUDA sectors, which the Municipal Corporation is now taking over and restoring. The third is Sectors 1 to 57 built by DLF, Unitech, Ansals and others, who got licences to colonise but stopped maintaining the areas after residents refused to pay whopping maintenance charges to them. The fourth Gurugram is Sectors 58 to 115, which are outside the municipal limits and where no one is currently responsible. Unification of different Gurugrams into one is our challenge and we are working towards it. By 2018, people will see results on the ground,” Umashankar says.

The Haryana Government is learnt to have begun tightening the noose around colonisers by raising claims of deficiencies against them and asking them to either pay the Municipal Corporation to remove civic deficiencies or fix these themselves.

Financial implications for builders are high – Rs 50 crore for South City repairs, Rs 90 crore for Sushant Lok and so on. But the state is confident of recoveries and also to cancel builder licences if they default.

Parallel to this, Haryana has now created the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) for integrated development of the city. In the past, the city was a multi-agency affair with no one fully responsible for anything.

Chaired by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, GMDA will coordinate all future infrastructure and mobility plans in Gurugram and has begun its task by recently floating tenders for the city’s first ever 200-fleet bus service.

The idea is to bridge the city’s deep class divide that Aravind Adiga had powerfully captured in his Man Booker Prize novel “The White Tiger”. 

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