It is said about cities that if we listen carefully, a city speaks and narrates its story to all those who consider it their own. Delhi is no different and a rendezvous with the city reveals its glorious past and a heritage of green spaces, some of which were preserved even before the Mughals ruled the city. Delhi is referred to as the city of antiquity and is believed to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities of the world. There are on the record, a total of seven cities of Delhi (and two more) that rose and fell during different times for various reasons.
Delhi, the seat of power of the world’s largest democracy is also one of the greenest capital cities on the Planet. Even the British kept Delhi’s green heritage alive during the time that they ruled the country. Not only were the existing green spaces upgraded but new parks, gardens were also planned throughout the city. Such is the glory of Delhi that the building of New Delhi was actually an attempt by the British to lay claim to India’s past and show their unfaltering determination to maintain the British rule in India.
Legend has it that any man or King who creates a new city in Delhi will not be able to last his rule. But that did not stop the ‘conquerors’ of Delhi from raising different cities from time to time. From erstwhile Dilli to Khushwant Singh’s Bhagmati – the city of Delhi has attracted people from all walks of life. Delhi: there’s something about it, that makes it more than just a city!
The Lifeline of Delhi: Two natural features that perhaps made Delhi the suitable place and a capital of choice for many rulers from time to time are the Delhi Ridge and River Yamuna. The Delhi Ridge: part of the Aravalli range which enters Delhi from the south forms the principal watershed in the area while also providing natural protection. Yamuna: a perennial source of water adjacent to the Ridge makes the region strategically significant thus attracting settlements of all kinds to settle here.
In the present day: Delhi’s green spaces are being choked and the very trees and green heritage that has been cherished by the generations gone by are being removed without batting an eyelid. The two lifelines of Delhi have been blasted to make colonies, hotels, transport corridors and turned into a drain, respectively. All this has been and is still being done in the name “development”, in order to make Delhi a ‘world class city’.
We ask two questions here: 1) Development for whom? and 2) Why are we degrading Delhi into a ‘world class city’ when it is an out of the world city with no comparisons. And the latter is the attitude with which we want to ensure the city is sustainably developed in an ‘inclusive’ manner.
Of late: Delhi is facing an identity crisis of its own which is nothing unknown to mega-cities of the scale of Delhi. People from across India are migrating to Delhi in large numbers for better opportunities and a good living standard. With the latter being their primary objective, most of them pay little, if any, attention to the city. Delhi is but just a source of livelihood for many which is a dangerous attitude for both the people and the city.
As more and more green cover is being displaced and trees removed from where they once stood in their full glory, the city is fast losing its ambiance and may soon become alien to the few who can still relate to it. This understanding had motivated the Delhi Greens organisation to carry out a city wide survey in 2008 called and with the question, “Kiski Dilli”? (Whose Delhi is it anyway?). This survey analysis gave us depressing results and elevated motivation to do even more, and create ‘citizens’ of Delhi from the people living in the city.
At the same time, the other world class cities references on the basis of which Delhi is being modeled and shaped neither even remotely share the history or the culture of Delhi nor did they have any considerable green heritage in their recent past. In fact, Delhi is a one of its kind city that can neither be compared to nor should be compared with!