Can the Crime capital become the Night Capital?

File photo: Getty

Despite subsequent Master Plans the promise of making Delhi’s nightlife safe and secure for all seems like a distant dream

Master plan 2041 wishes to create a Capital city which will be awake, thriving with a nightlife. But the main concern when such a plan emerges, in a city where crime is rife, is security.

National Crime Records Bureau data ranks Delhi first among 19 metropolitan cities in the country with the highest number of crimes against women. At the same time, the Master Plan, which is presently in the public domain for feedback highlights in its “Nightlife Circuits” that night time economies and an active nightlife are important for improving safety.

It also says it would help in reducing congestion by staggering activities, utilising spaces for different activities optimally, and improving productivity for formal as well as informal economic activities. And those “streets or areas such as cultural precincts, areas with concentration of heritage assets, areas in the Central Business District, etc. that have a vibrant nightlife presently shall be priority nodes of Nightlife Circuits (NCs).”

If it is to bring about this change in the nighttime activities, a huge part of the mission is going to be to improve transport. The plan specifies its important role in the circuits, saying “concerned agencies shall work jointly in identified NCs to facilitate adequate illumination, security and easy access by public transport. Special metro lines and bus routes may be permitted to operate at low frequency during night time.”

But let’s just look at Metros first, which are deemed to be relatively safer, with being well manned by security personnel, and CCTV cameras. It still manages to allow crimes, especially theft to take place. DMRC’s website shows in April, despite restricted services due to Covid, it raked up a total of 225 cases with crimes being segregated into theft and “other cases”. Majority of these cases were reported at Kashmiri Gate Metro Police Station with 55 cases of theft, which also happens to be an area which could be described as a “cultural precinct” and one with a “concentration of heritage assets”.

Going by this, buses and streets, of course prove to be even more vulnerable zones to crime, not just of theft, but also to crimes against women. How these are secured, to give everyone an equal opportunity to take part in night circuits would be imperative.

Professor Sewa Ram, HOD of Transport Planning at School of Planning and Architecture says public transport would be essential, so as not to promote inequity. It matters, he says, how people come to these areas, “If they only come by car, that would mean we are having inequity that somebody who owns a car comes to the place. The person who does not have it (a private vehicle) has to be given public transport at night. And there has to be some surety of its frequency and full-fledged security, which ensures safe and secure travel.”

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had announced Rs 200 crore for installation of CCTV camera and that 1.32 lakh cameras including command control centre (CCC) have been installed and made functional till now, however, even these might not be enough to ensure a safe nightlife PHOTO:Getty

In this year’s budget, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had announced Rs 200 crore for installation of CCTV cameras. He had also pointed out that about 1.32 lakh cameras including command control centre (CCC) have been installed and made functional till now.

However, this is not enough, according to a UK-based firm called Comparitech which reviews technology services. Its report found that Delhi has about four lakh CCTVs for over three crore of population (429,500 cameras for 30,290,390 population) bringing it to just 14.18 cameras per 1,000 individuals of the city.

Other than increasing the number of cameras, what will also help ensure safety are bus marshals. Introduced in Delhi to improve women’s safety in public buses, bus marshals are civil defence volunteers and home guards deputed in DTC buses and recruited by the Department of Revenue and the Directorate General of Home Guards respectively. Currently, there are 3,356 marshals, of which HGs constitute 4.5% and CDVs constitute 95.5%, according to a 2019 report.

But even they may not be a fool proof way of securing public transport, as the report notes that marshals “do not have support in case of threats received or afflicted with violence.”

Till now the master plan has not fulfilled all their promises, but how it goes about fulfilling current goals, may change the recurring scenario. At present, as the Master plan of 2021 comes to an end, its transport goals, one which includes making “all roads usable and safe at all times for women, children, elderly and the differently abled,” has clearly not happened.

Professor Sewa Ram says a study they have conducted – which is yet to be released – has found a major relationship between crime and the streets; with some roads they have referred to as “khuni sadak” (murderous roads). These are roads, he explains, which are abandoned, and at night don’t have vehicular movement. “There are two things (which can be done). One, you allow vehicles to move and second allow certain activities along with having physical infrastructure like lighting, CCTV, which will ensure you are safe.”

Even just providing roads which are pedestrian friendly, as the Master Plan of 2021 says has not happened. “Some streets particularly in NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corporation) are walkable, perhaps because of less chance of encroachment…But leaving that aside, the rest of the city does not have it. Not just a footpath but a continuous footpath. They have to improve on this, and what is missing is the walkability score where there is a high density of pedestrians’, Professor Sewa Ram adds.

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