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A new-look Chandigarh?
Komal Amit Gera | April 28, 2007
Is the planned city of Chandigarh really heading for unplanned development? This is a frequently asked question, especially as efforts are being made to transform Chandigarh from a "green city" to a "high tech" one.
Five years ago, the administration of the union territory of Chandigarh took the initiative to bring Infosys to start its operations in Chandigarh to create employment opportunities for the second generation of government employees who settled here in the early sixties.
The administration went one step further by obtaining the SEZ status for the 123-acre IT Park. With this initiative followed a plethora of players in the IT sector, including the likes of Tech Mahindra, IBM Daksh, Net Solutions, Insigma Infotech, eSys, KMG Infotech and Bharti Airtel.
Lured by the development in the IT sector in Chandigarh, real estate giants like Uppals, Parsavnath, Ansals and a slew of Delhi-based real estate investors rolled out their investment plans for Chandigarh.
Which explains why there are a large number of shopping malls, multiplexes and housing projects under various stages of execution in Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali. Besides, there are also proposals for creating a theme park in a 73-acre area, besides another film city on 30 acres of land.
But the moot question is whether the city is ready to accommodate such a burgeoning population? Spread over an area of 144 sq km, Chandigarh was designed by Le Corbusier for a population of 5 lakh people. Today, it is bursting with over 10 lakh residents.
For starters, the public transport, the lifeline of any developed town, is obsolete. The poor connectivity with satellite towns has encouraged the use of private vehicles, which make driving a nightmare. So far, no scientific study has been undertaken to discuss the feasibility of an efficient public transportation system.
The decision of the administration on the conversion of industrial plots for commercial activities at the rate of Rs 19,200 per sq yard in the industrial area has been discussed as a decision without vision. Many industrial plots have been converted for retail shopping malls and multiplexes that, according to experts, will eventually lead to a scarcity of power and water.
Parking of vehicles for commercial projects in industrial areas is another problem, especially as roads are narrow and two-level basement parking will be insufficient. There are many who feel that the administration is making a fast buck by allowing the city to change so drastically.
A think-tank of veteran architects, and those who believe in Corbusier's design aspect, strongly oppose this lopsided development. According to
M N Sharma, the first chief architect of Chandigarh, "We created infrastructure first and then invited establishments to open shops in Chandigarh way back in the 1960s. Now the Chandigarh administration is making changes without thinking of the consequences." He adds, "Why do we need a film city in Chandigarh when there is already a thriving film city in Mumbai?"
The modern school of thought, dominated by policy makers, says that this change is imperative. The administration says that Chandigarh is on the tentative list of UNESCO and is likely to get the status of a World Heritage Site in a year.
"We are simply adding economic value to the city by creating a conducive environment for the investors. We are not making interventions to the old structures but only making value additions," says Vivek Atray, director-tourism, Chandigarh.
The city urgently needs a mass rapid transport system as it has the highest per capita vehicles in India that makes roads inaccessible at peak hours. The administration, over the years, has failed to evolve a strategy to finalise the MRTS (mass rapid transport system). Chandigarh also tops in per capita income and disposable income and is on the radar of several international retail chains.
If only the two schools of thoughts could blend effortlessly -- to retain the old charm of Chandigarh while keeping pace with a new age retail economy. Wishful thinking?