Delhi's jugaad urbanisation

Jugaad may mean innovation but it also means shortcuts and expediency at the cost of quality. So Jugaad in urbanisation will eventually become a part of the problem


Kevin Stolarick | May 20, 2013

Jugaad is originally a Punjabi term that is widely used across India. Jugaad is "good enough" or a "quick fix". Jugaad is functionality without optimality. Jugaad is one of those terms that has many meanings. It can be an apology. It can be an insult. It can be an act of surrender. It can be a frustrated acceptance. Jugaad is what my father calls "close enough for government work". It is creativity. It is innovation. But, it is also short cuts and expediency at the cost of quality.

Something that is jugaad will work, but might not work for long or very well. For something to be jugaad, it might require bending or even breaking the rules (but just a little bit). Jugaad is the blessing and curse of India. And, jugaad is exactly the perfect word to describe the urbanisation of New Delhi and the Delhi metropolitan area.

Delhi's urbanisation, and by urbanisation I am referring to the built form, infrastructure, systems, and people that all comprise the metropolitan region, is a result of many quick fixes and a collection of things that have resulted from expediency and limited capital with almost unlimited people.  Like a petulant three-year old, Delhi knows what it wants, sees what it can be, and wants it all NOW.  If Delhi had the money of the oil states, the soaring skyscrappers and tremendous urban core that would be built would put Dubai to shame. But, the elevators in the 150-storey towers wouldn't always work and sometimes the floors wouldn't be exactly level or the windows perfectly sealed -- but, it would be jugaad.

In a region of too many millions of people, the basic infrastructure just barely manages to keep pace with the growth.  And, that is the problem.  If the infrastructure actually couldn't keep up, the growth would be slowed from the overwhelming problems created from lacking infrastructure.  But, infrastructure, from a power system that leaves many in the dark for a random eight hours out of every day, to a road network that is constantly jammed, to a water and sewage systems guaranteed to create a case of "Delhi belly", the infrastructure is jugaad. It is enough to get by.  It is not efficient or effective. It is not particularly sustainable or optimal. But, it works. It might not work well, but it works. Keeping pace with the growth is almost (but not quite) impossible. Just enough can be done to keep the chaos manageable. The system doesn't break but instead stays almost continually at the breaking point. The jugaad infrastructure of Delhi creates its brittleness.  Any significant shock could quickly reduce the entire thing to an unmanageable chaos.

Much of the fault lies with governments at many levels. What is the purpose or use of planning when the events have already happened and are happening?  Why should planning commissions and departments even try when senior officials (with or without external financial considerations) can override their decisions and permit construction and development that the infrastructure can't support. How do you adapt when any open space can suddenly become a homestead or impromptu small business, market, or micro-industrial site? It is said that "the good is the enemy of the great". In this case, it's not about getting to great -- it's about getting from jugaad to good. Solutions are not going to be perfect. They don't have to be. But, they need to be better. Many dedicated, hard working people work in government and as civil servants. They are trying hard to make the right decisions and do the right thing. They know what has to be done and they know how to do it. But, they need support. They need the capital to make competitiveness a reality.  They need more than settling for jugaad solutions.

While many see jugaad as creative and innovation solutions, jugaad is really the problem.  Being able to do just enough to keep things moving forward even if just barely, means that things can keep moving forward.  It's a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".  The urbanisation of the Delhi region, has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen.  The tidal wave of people who see and understand the benefits from being part of this agglomeration will continue.  As long as people believe that their lives will be better (and they usually are better even in the worst urban environments) and even if that promise is only realized as jugaad, it is realized, and that makes it nearly unstoppable.  The minimal success of Delhi's urbanisation might be minimal, but it is still success.  Finding a better way forward will be a significant challenge -- one whose solution needs to be more than just jugaad.

After research and discussions in Toronto and only a week and a half on the ground in Delhi, do I think I know it all?  How can one expect to be believed or to have really gained deep insight of the urbanisation process of the Delhi region?  No, I don't know it all.  I had no sudden karmic convergence that led to enlightenment.  Instead, I saw a hundred small things and examples, talked to many people, and observed everything around me.  In the end, I don't think I have a tremendous deep insight, but what I do have...... is jugaad.

Special thanks to Dr. Amit Kapoor of the Institute for Competitiveness for showing me jugaad in action.



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