India now needs a new national capital

The smothering smog is just one of the many issues that ails Delhi and we need to actively consider having a new Indian capital

rahul

Rahul Dass | November 8, 2016 | New Delhi


#Mortality   #Ozone exposure   #PM 2.5   #Pollution   #Air pollution   #Delhi   #Smog   #Environment  

(Photo: Arun Kumar)

Delhi is sick. It is wheezing and coughing. Its roads are packed with vehicles. It is bursting at its seams with people. Dengue and chikungunya season had just got over when it was time for the bird flu scare. Crime is horrific and governance is terrible. The Indian capital has today turned into a nightmare.

The smog should be a reason enough for us to start looking for an alternative site for the national capital.

But, before that a bit of history first.

King George V visited Delhi in 1911 for a durbar and he dramatically announced that the capital would move to Delhi. It meant developing a city from ground-up and that was executed with perfection. The opulent buildings and the wide open boulevards stand testimony to that grand vision.

Suhash Chakravarty writes in Architecture and Politics in the Construction of New Delhi that from Calcutta, now Kolkata, the capital was to be shifted to a more congenial site. “It was maintained that the Government of India, when in Calcutta, was apt to look at things through binoculars, and when at Simla, the tendency was to reverse the glasses and look at things through the wrong end. In the former case the difficulties were unduly magnified; in the latter they were to some extent minimised. It was, therefore, necessary to insulate the seat of the Indian administration from the disproportionate impact of the most advanced outpost of Indian nationalism.”

Chakravarty adds that in this context Delhi figured prominently in the official mind. “Delhi had been the capital of many Indian empires and it had been the focal point of the uprising of 1857. Was it not possible to construct the capital of India, it was argued, in the ruins of the earlier imperial citadels? As successors of the Mughals, the rulers fixed their eyes on Delhi. They did this in search of continuity and of escape from the seething movements of Bengal. Delhi would place them at a distance from the noisy Hindu pleaders of Calcutta and their more virulent literary exponents in the Bengali Press. Surrounded by Mahmudabad, Rampur, Darbhanga, the Awadh Taluqdars, the Aligarh movement, the Benaras' orthodoxy and the native princes, the Raj would be more amenable to the needs and aspirations of its erstwhile friends, its present allies and its future defenders.”

But, over the past 100 years much water has flown down the Yamuna, which itself has become so dirty that it is lifeless.

There are other reasons too. Delhi is lies on the sensitive earthquake zone 4. The national capital is barely 700 km from Islamabad and the China border is not too far off. Delhi is also not easily accessible for those who are living in the north-eastern states as well as for those staying in deep south.

At a time when the government is working on developing smart cities, it would be in the fitness of things that it makes a smart national capital.

But, where should the new capital be. It doesn’t make sense to take it back to Kolkata and Mumbai is not a good bet even though it is commercial capital.

If we want a capital which fulfils most parameters, then build a national capital in the heart of India or consider Hyderabad.

B.R. Ambedkar who headed the drafting committee of the constitution, too felt that Hyderabad could be a good option.

“Hyderabad, Secunderabad and Bolarum should be constituted into a Chief Commissioner's Province and made a second capital of India. Hyderabad fulfils all the requirements of a capital for India. Hyderabad is equidistant to all States. From the defence point of view it would give safety to the Central Government. It is equidistant from all parts of India. It would give satisfaction to the South Indian people that their Government is sometimes with them.

“The Government may remain in Delhi during winter months and during other months it can stay in Hyderabad. Hyderabad has all the amenities which Delhi has and it is a far better City than Delhi. It has all the grandeur which Delhi has. Buildings are going cheap and they are really beautiful buildings, far superior to those in Delhi. They are all on sale. The only thing that is wanting is a Parliament House which the Government of India can easily build. It is a place in which Parliament can sit all the year round and work, which it cannot do in Delhi. I do not see what objection there can be in making Hyderabad a second capital of India. It should be done right now while we are reorganising the States,” said Ambedkar.

Read: BR Ambedkar’s views on second Indian capital

Shifting out from Delhi would not be easy. In fact, it is going to be a logistical nightmare. But, difficult times call for difficult decisions and this is one issue that is well worth wondering.

Between 1100 A.D. and 1947 A.D., there have been a string of cities where Delhi stands today -- the oldest city near the site of the Qutab Minar, Siri, Tughlqabad, Jahanpanah, Firozobad, the city around Purana Qila, Shahjahanabad and New Delhi. Maybe New Delhi’s time has today come to join the illustrious lineage and give way to a new national capital.

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