It has taken a petition in the Supreme Court to prod the states which comprise the National Capital Region (NCR) to develop a common programme, pass and portal through which they can speak in one voice. The goods are to be delivered within a week, to fill a void that has been aching for years. The NCR was defined in 1985, anticipating that the urban sprawl of Delhi would expand beyond its borders, with the stated intention of harmonising infrastructure and land use across state borders. But the essence of the idea was to allow the frictionless flow of human capital and services across state borders, so that people could live in affordable housing in one state and work in commercial zones in another state, and perhaps depend on the resources of a third state for other necessities, like cultural activities and healthcare.
The NCR is popularly perceived to comprise Delhi, Gurugram and Faridabad in Haryana, and Noida and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, and when the pandemic closed borders between states, it crippled essential services and activities in these regions. At the beginning of the lockdown, goods in stores ran low not because of a fall in production, but because shipments were stuck at borders, sometimes for so long that truckers abandoned their vehicles and went home. At one stage, even doctors in Delhi scheduled to perform procedures in Noida hospitals were prevented from crossing over. Recently, in a drama that was partly Kafka and partly Chaplin, Haryana and Delhi alternately sealed and unsealed their common border, according to the threat perceptions of the moment.
But the NCR extends far beyond the districts contiguous with Delhi, all the way to Karnal, Muzaffarnagar and Alwar. One day, it will become one of the biggest urban sprawls in Asia, and the crippling effects of the recent border closures are an early warning of the chaos to come if administrative policies and actions of the constituent states are not coordinated through a collaborative apparatus. The NCR is a unique region whose constituent administrations, while retaining command and control links with their respective state capitals, must work together, transparently. If harassed NCR citizens rethink their choices of where to live and work, and lives become circumscribed by state borders, a radical experiment in urban planning would come to nothing.
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