(Written by Aggam Walia)
Ravinder Kaur is a professor of Urban Geography at Panjab University. She has been working on urban-rural relations and analysing how the intensity, nature, extent and direction of these relations have in varying time and space. In conversation with The Indian Express, Professor Ravinder Kaur highlights problems and ways of efficiently preserving the heritage of the City Beautiful.
Migration to Chandigarh is, perhaps, at an all-time high. Should we restrict movement to preserve the city’s heritage?
We are a democracy so we cannot stop people from migrating to Chandigarh. So first, we have to understand why people are coming here. Chandigarh doesn’t offer you industrial opportunities, so then what? It is an administrative hub, an education centre and quality medical services are available in the city. People come here to access these facilities. If people come to live here, it’s for the quality of life the city is trying to give to its citizens. You can’t have bylaws to restrict people’s movements. One should envision the scale and kind of population expected to arrive in city for availing its services and how to cater to those needs.
The periphery is seeing an explosion of new colonies. What explains their unrestricted, unplanned growth?
The paradox is that Chandigarh does not have control over the land that we call its ‘periphery’. Most of the land is owned by Punjab and Haryana government. They are trying to reap the benefits of Chandigarh’s outskirts because of its proximity to the City Beautiful. All their policies are made keeping this is mind. That’s why, the governments promoted unregulated expansion, which shouldn’t have been advised. These governments have their own vested interests and they do not think about Chandigarh, just of their own states. The periphery was supposed to sustain the city but Punjab and Haryana are exploiting it for their own benefits.
What can be done to ensure that the periphery is in sync with the City Beautiful?
According to me, we have to think of a larger context, the entire Chandigarh region itself and not just its periphery. The Chandigarh region will have to be very inclusive, with parts of neighbouring states coming under it. A statutory body should be formed like the Delhi-NCR, to administer the region. The governments of neighbouring states should take up projects in cognisance of the fact that whatever they do, should be in the interest of the whole region. Right now, development is happening only for their own states. They must recognise that the whole region matters.
With population explosion, the burden on the roads has increased manifold. How can we facilitate commute for everyone?
I look at commuting as a way of increasing the mobility for people. We need to promote efficient transport system. that brings people to the city and takes them back without creating confusion. With ease in conveyance, migration of people from neighbouring districts will stop as well. When talking about the Metro, my concern is only the extensive digging up of city’s important landscape. Instead of the Metro, why can’t people go for buses? We have an efficient road system, so why can’t we promote road transport? Whatever we have, we should make the best use of it. How many people use buses? I have seen empty buses going around the city.
Why don’t we tell people to leave their cars and use public transport?
I think the buses are underutilised.
What can be done to preserve the character of the city?
More than policymakers, the onus is on the citizens of Chandigarh to take care of its heritage. In the next few years, if things get worse, who is the most affected by it? The people of Chandigarh need to wake up and take up this cause. Apart from people’s contribution, the government has to help its citizens. However, it is the citizens who can improve the situation by voicing their concerns.
What is the importance of trees and greenery to the city?
Trees add to the beauty of a city and they have an ecological importance. Chandigarh has so many gardens and open spaces, which makes it stand out. We have lost all the land on the periphery which was meant to be kept green and for supplying the city with food resources. We won’t be able to get it back because we lost it to built spaces. The occupancy rates of the flats constructed in place of green spaces is very low. Those flats are just there for investment, nothing else yet we have to pay the price for it in terms of loss of green cover.
What do you think of Zirakpur and New Chandigarh?
Zirakpur is not planned at all. There was a rat-race to build around Chandigarh’s proximity and Zirakpur is the result of this. There is a state of confusion and anarchy in that place. Le Corbusier wanted that land to be used for agricultural purposes and there was a law for that too. However, it has been flouted. My only hope now is on judicial activists to help rectify this. As for New Chandigarh, where was the need to make one? Has the present Chandigarh lived its age? It’s just a trick by Punjab government to lure people to invest in Chandigarh’s proximity.
What is the way forward?
The Chandigarh Administration should take a lead in getting a statutory body formed as they understand the city much better than the Punjab and Haryana government. The existing plans are not being delivered due to a lack of such a body. A political will is required to get this under control.