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Can they make Delhi a liveable city?

Delhi is set to vote in a new government. But Delhi may remain the same.

Written by Raghav Gaiha , Vani S Kulkarni , Manoj K Pandey |
Updated: February 6, 2015 8:19:30 am
A ‘wake up to vote’ campaign balloon in  East Delhi. (Source: Express photo byPraveen Khanna) A ‘wake up to vote’ campaign balloon in East Delhi. (Source: Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

On the eve of the Delhi polls, rhetoric took over facts. Tall promises of how Delhi will be transformed into a dream city in the foreseeable future are punctuated by mudslinging, character assassination, and a litany of charges of failure to govern, bribery, suppression of minorities, religious bigotry, and unabated violence against women. The debates are not just incomprehensible and offensive but steer clear of any policy agenda to address the growing tribulations of a sprawling city exacerbated by a rising tide of in-migration.

Delhi is a large city with a total population of 16.75 million (2011). The population density rose from 9,340 in 2001 to 11,320 (per square kilometre) in 2011. Within the city, the density was the highest in North-East (36,155) and lowest in New Delhi (4,057). High densities are burdensome as public spending on water and electricity supply, medical services and education gets stretched, and their quality deteriorates.

A.T. Kearney (Global Cities Index, 2014) ranked a sample of 60 cities in terms of their global engagement using five different dimensions: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experiences and political involvement. Over the period 2008-2012, Delhi’s ranking slipped from 41 to 48 and thus closer to the bottom. While it increased its score in every dimension except information exchange, its improvements in human capital and cultural experiences were not enough to keep up with similarly ranked cities worldwide.


Delhi has recorded an impressive growth rate of per capita income since 2004-05, with a doubling of (estimated) income in 2013-14. As a result, poverty declined from 14.7 per cent in 2004-05 to 9.91 per cent — a modest but not insignificant reduction over a low level. There is, however, also evidence of growing inequality and affluence. The Gini coefficient — a measure of inequality in expenditure distribution in urban Delhi, ranging from 0 to 1 — rose from 0.324 in 2004-05 to 0.378 in 2011-12.

Other corroborative evidence includes a more than moderately higher ratio of per capita monthly expenditure of the top decile to that of the fifth/ median decile in the short period 2009-10 to 2011-12. A measure of spaciousness of housing shows a decline in the proportion of households living in dwellings without an exclusive room or just one, and a more than moderately higher proportion living in larger dwellings during 2001-11. While a complete explanation of rising income and wealth inequality cannot be given here, it is linked to the nature of the growth process dominated by finance, insurance and real estate business.

Delhi has a total of 1,639 unauthorised colonies — the numbers vary — that have sprung up as a result of a growing housing shortage.

Elections were won on promises of official recognition of such colonies but forgotten soon after or just shelved, citing impediments from the Central government.

Unemployment rates were higher among females, but they rose for both males and females during 2004-11. The ratio of female unemployment to male unemployment rate rose from 1.53 to 2.25, signalling much grimmer livelihood prospects for women.

Barring a recent but transient weakening of inflationary pressures associated partly with declining global fuel and food prices, earlier years recorded a sharp rise in the latter. Using CPIIW (Consumer Price Index Numbers for Industrial Workers), the food price index more than doubled over the period 2005-13. Besides, given higher rates of morbidity among low-income households, it is worrying that the cost of medical care index shot up from 199 in 2012 to 235 in 2013.

The female-male sex ratio rose from 821 to 866 — a much larger increase than at the all-India level between 2001-11 — resulting in a reduction of “missing” women from two million to one million. Although the infant mortality rate remained unchanged at 29 between 2001-11, the neonatal mortality rate doubled from nine in 2004 to 18 in 2013.

While the quality of school education, judged in terms of reading and arithmetic skills, remains abysmal, the dropout rates from classes I to X were over 26 per cent for girls, about 20 per cent for boys and about 23 per cent for boys and girls combined, in 2010-11.

Symptomatic of acute economic and other distress, suicide rates were slightly lower in Delhi than at the all-India level. However, the gap between the suicide rates reduced from 2.6 in 2009 to 0.6 (per lakh of population) in 2013. In Delhi, it rose from 8.3 in 2009 to 10.4 in 2013. The majority of these involved men.

Murder rates fluctuated narrowly around 30 (per million of population) between 2005-2013. Other crimes, including dacoity, robbery, burglary and theft, surged from 784 to 2,073 per million, just short of a tripling of these crimes. While the number of car accidents dropped over the period 2000-2013, fatalities rose from about 20 to 24 per 100 accidents. Punitive action against criminal offences remained weak and the recovery of lost property (in value) fell from 12.18 per cent to 6.44 per cent.

Crimes against women comprising rape, dowry deaths and molestation were 1.65 times more frequent in 2013 than in 2005.

While dowry deaths remained low (about eight per million), rapes more than doubled.

These statistics thus paint a grim picture of rising insecurity amid growing affluence. To add to all that’s gone wrong, Delhi is the most polluted city in the world. The average respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM or PM 10) in residential areas is 209 micrograms/ cubic metre, which is three times higher than the safe levels. About 55 per cent of the population lives within 500m of roads with high air pollution, heightening the risks of cardiac and respiratory problems.

Delhi’s eight most troublesome traffic bottlenecks guzzle at least 40,000 kilolitres of fuel daily during peak rush hours. Worse, it is adding to the city’s pollution with nearly 115 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). But this may well be the tip of the iceberg in a more comprehensive assessment.

Despite shrill proclamations, a single-party government is a will-o’-the-wisp. But even in the highly improbable event of a single-party government, there is no guarantee of a dramatic improvement in living conditions. A dual government and proclivity to corruption bedevilled Sheila Dikshit’s uninterrupted rule of 15 years and just can’t be wished away.

Kulkarni is associate, Department of Sociology, Yale University; Pandey is fellow in Official Statistics, School of Economics, University of the South Pacific; and Gaiha is former professor of Public Policy, Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi.

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