Cut & Thrust: How not to make India

Cut & Thrust: How not to make India
Cut & Thrust: How not to make India

No you haven’t landed on an alien planet. Yes you might get that impression because the scene before you might resemble a bombed out Mosul because slap bang in the middle of National Capital Region is a living and breathing testimony of how to wreck India’s infra push. Alternatively, one can hold a neo sign up on which is emblazoned — HOW NOT TO MAKE IN INDIA. It is called Ring Road, the pivot which connects the domestic and international airports with south Delhi, Gurgaon and the UP satellite town of Noida. Of course there is another living hell called Dhaula Kuan, which remains the alternative route to Lutyens Bungalow Zone, Karol Bagh and central business district area of Connaught Place.

I have chosen to concentrate on what is called RTR flyover on the same Ring Road. Firstly, it is a lesson on how not to build a flyover. It was designed as a single carriageway flyover because some egotistical and whimsical worthies decided that it impinged on their view. Tere ghar ke samne, ik ghar banaunga, ek ghar banaunga, tere ghar ke saamne with due apologies to the Mohd Rafi and Asha Bhosale super hit from the 1963 eponymous Tere Ghar Ke Samne. The only difference being that in this case the ghar has been replaced by an ugly flyover; a flyover, which has created chaos and havoc.

So this writer along with a zillion others drives to work and back on this nightmarish journey daily only to hear idling engines, see carbon monoxide smoke while displaying typically endless Indian patience.

Meanwhile the single carriageway has turned into a double carriageway with narrow mouths, which lead to tailbacks that are ridiculous. India’s infra push has been brought to an abrupt standstill right here in the national capital. You don’t need to go to the Delhi-Jaipur highway, which for years was lying in a state of disrepair or get down and dirty to multi billion dollar bauxite plant in Niyamgiri that Jairam Ramesh and Rahul Gandhi shut down due to tribal sensitivities and ecological concerns. These two, among many other cases, are emblematic of how not to build infrastructure in India.

 A newspaper recently reported — The Delhi government has found a unique solution to decongest the choked Rao Tula Ram Marg, a key road to the IGI airport. For the first time in the city, a portal flyover is being constructed to allow four-lane traffic movement below the three-lane flyover. A study by the School of Planning and Architecture on ‘Accessibility to airports’ recently said reaching Delhi airport is far more difficult compared to other cities (wonder why?).

In Delhi, flyovers are constructed with pillars in between the road, which take a lot of space. In the portal type flyover, pillars are built at the two ends of the road so that traffic below it can move easily. “We are doing this as the area is congested and a three-lane flyover will not solve the problem. While one pillar will be on the footpath, the other one will be on the divider, making an entry that looks like a flipped U. The traffic bound for the airport from south Delhi will have a seven-lane road and 15 minutes of travel time will be saved,” said a Public Works Department (PWD) official. The PWD is constructing the flyover and racing against time to meet the deadline of June 2018. The new flyover parallel to the existing Rao Tula Ram (RTR) will be longer than the existing one. The 2.7-km-long flyover will start from the existing Palam flyover and will take the commuters till the Army base, where the flyover connecting NH-8 starts. “Despite being on the footpath, the pillar will leave space for pedestrians. There will be space for non-motorised vehicles also. Since the flyover starts from the middle of an existing flyover, there is no need for a ramp. At the end, there will be a ramp so that commuters can merge with the NH-8,” the official said. The new flyover and road below it will be for the airport-bound traffic while the existing one and road below it will be for the commuters coming from the airport. Currently, the existing flyover is used for two-way traffic, leading to congestion.

The Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Centre, the agency entrusted with the responsibility to approve projects related to road and transport infrastructure for Delhi, had approved the PWD’s plan to construct an elevated road between Munirka flyover and Subroto Park in 2014.

Ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the PWD built three flyovers between IIT Gate and NH-8 along the Outer Ring Road to make the stretch signal-free. Ever since it opened in 2009, the RTR flyover in south Delhi has been a nightmare for motorists. While the first two flyovers near IIT Gate and Munirka have dual carriageways, the narrow and single carriageway RTR flyover becomes a bottleneck. There in lies the rub of the flyover. Powerful resident activism for their own welfare sabotaged the construction of the flyover and ensured that only a single carriage way was built. Then when it dawned on one and all, that the architectural marvel was the reason why everyone was sweating, the Delhi High Court asked the Delhi government, “Why did you make a single lane flyover? It always gets choked with traffic. We have spent hours on the road on our way to the airport. We have all been victims.” The court’s observation came while hearing a plea by various associations representing the Vasant Vihar residents, who have opposed PWD’s decision to build a three-lane flyover parallel to the one already there at an estimated cost of Rs 211 crore. Subsequently in October 2014 after passing strictures earlier on PWD and Delhi government, it passed an order — allowing the PWD to go ahead with its project to build a three-lane flyover parallel to the one existing at RTR Marg on the Outer Ring Road here. A judicial bench, however, told the authorities that they should make operational their alternative routes and try to decongest the heavy traffic expected during the construction work there.

How and why was this resident activism entertained by the courts to thwart this vital dual carriage flyover? Was one of the top functionaries of the city administration on board this major sabotage along with these powerful vested interests? Years later, come make a tryst with infra tourism right here and now. It is a scrum like no other. This is when it gets funny, for the new flyover being built by PWD is an architectural disaster, simply because there is no space on the road to build effectively, hence the portal model. India remains capital, infrastructure and power deficit and to any purported investor who wants to look at infra in India, all return on capital employed, return on investment models will go out of the window once he checks out Mosul colliding with Aleppo. The situation is so precarious now that if you are coming from south Delhi and are headed for the airports or Gurgaon, you have to set out at least two to three hours in advance.  Mr Kejriwal, PM Modi, Mr Gadkari and whoever else matters needs to be told that this is the shining manual on how not to succumb to a handful of myopic men who have brought Delhi to its knees.

Against this, as a resident of Gurgaon, I can see how rapidly DLF has decongested the badly planned Cyber Hub area with systematic planning and use of underpasses and flyovers. Ditto for NHAI, which appears to be building a gargantuan series of flyovers in double quick time on the NH 8 expressway to make sure that all gridlocks are passe. Taking the same theme forward, visit Golf Course Road and see the kind of development that has taken place along with a high speed Rapid Metro to connect Gurgaon internally.