The changing faces of Delhi

Once a colony, now the national capital, Delhi transformed with every century overcoming challenges. Yet, what remains an obstacle is its toxic air

HAZY: Even though things have returned to normal in Delhi post-Covid, pollution remains a worry

dillī kahāñ gaiiñ tere kūchoñ kī raunaqeñ
galiyoñ se sar jhukā ke guzarne lagā huuñ maiñ

 
(Delhi, where is the liveliness of your streets; I walk amid the lanes with my head down)

2022 was the year Delhi came back to life. After two years of relentless struggle under the pandemic, this year marked the recovery of India’s capital — New Delhi. The city witnessed admissions to hospitals, oxygen shortage and anguish like the rest of the world under Covid-19. But the Capital emerged with renewed vigour and optimism for the future in 2022.

Restrictions were lifted, widespread vaccination ensured that hospitals would not be overwhelmed, transportation resumed and the city got back on its feet. Students in schools and colleges resumed offline classes after two years of online instruction. They could once more join in-person classes in colleges.

Delhi University’s famed social life, extracurriculars and events could once more resume in both the North and South Campus.

Marriages have once more resumed in the fashion of the ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ with extended celebrations and long guest lists. The wedding industry had been gravely affected during the pandemic when social distancing was implemented.

But air pollution continues to be a major and constant irritant for Delhiites who suffer high levels of particulate matter in the air leading to health problems related to the lungs.

More importantly, for history and culture buffs, the government has rebuilt, renovated and built new infrastructure for its functioning in the heart of Delhi known as the Central Vista. These new buildings are replacing the old Lutyens architecture from the colonial period and will house the ministries and the top bureaucrats from where the government will be run.

Delhi is not only the nation's capital; it is also its historical capital. During the British era, Delhi was the country's political hub for a considerable amount of time.

Delhi has a long and illustrious history since its founding as Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata epic. Turkish and Afghan dynasties took control of the city at the beginning of the 13th century.

The Khilji, Tughlaq, Sayyid and Lodi dynasties then ruled during the early medieval era. Babar established the Mughal Empire in 1526 by overthrowing the final Lodi Sultan. Shah Jahan shifted the capital to Delhi during the reign of the Mughals.

In 1857, the British armies seized control of Delhi and the remaining Mughal lands. In 1911, the British relocated their capital to Delhi, demolishing portions of old Delhi to make way for New Delhi.

Edwin Lutyens created government buildings and offices, which were built in an English colonial style. With Jawaharlal Nehru serving as India's first prime minister, Delhi continued to serve as the country's capital after independence from British rule in 1947.
 
Delhi's development accelerated after it gained independence. Colonies started to expand. Delhi hosted the 1982 Asian Games and the 2010 Commonwealth Games. In 1991, the National Capital Territory Act, often known as the NCT Act, was passed by the Parliament, and it established Delhi's form of diarchy. In accordance with this system, the elected government, whose actual enforcement started in 1993, has all the authority aside from maintaining law and order.
 
Delhi's city plan combines both traditional and modern road layouts. Old Delhi's street system is a reflection of past times' defence requirements, with a few transverse streets connecting the city's main gates.

One of India's most upscale neighbourhoods, called Lutyens Delhi is the administrative centre of India, where, post-independence, politicians and government employees have taken up residence.

The Central Vista Redevelopment Project, which is now underway, is a rehabilitation of the area that serves as India's primary administrative district and is also commonly referred to as Central Vista.
 
Delhi has also attracted businesses including those related to technology. When it comes to leasing by start-ups, Delhi-NCR is one of the markets with the quickest growth.

Clean energy has attracted numerous entrepreneurs, who are now proliferating in and around Delhi-NCR in the fields of green technology, vehicles and delivery services. Between April 2019 and December 2021, approximately 5,000 recognised start-ups were added in Delhi, according to the Economic Survey 2021–22.
 
The areas of Delhi University’s North Campus and South Campus are a significant component of Delhi, and students moving into the city from all over the nation and even from overseas add more dynamic overtones to the metropolis. It is interesting that Delhi serves as both the nation's center for liberal arts education and the gathering
place for literary festivals from all corners of the community.
 
The lack of affordable housing in Delhi needs to be considered from the larger perspective of the nation's overall housing needs. Delhi experiences a yearly influx of migrants. According to the Economic Survey of 2017, Delhi, Gurugram, Noida and Greater Noida saw the largest number of migrants between 2001 and 2011. Since 1951,
Delhi's population has grown by 45.8% more than the country as a whole every decade. More than 23% of population growth overall is attributable to migration.

Of the several concerns circling Delhi, the most crucial is its traffic congestion, which has become a significant barrier to mobility and, ultimately, to the growth of the city.

The other significant environmental issues that Delhi is dealing with include noise pollution, municipal trash, dust and biodiversity loss. It also continuously receives poor ratings for women's safety, continuing to be India's most dangerous metropolis for women. Crimes against women increased by 41%, from 9,782 reported incidents in 2020 to 13,892 cases in 2021, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau.
 
The fact that the city of Delhi currently overstretches its infrastructure and practically extends from Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh on the one hand to Gurgaon in Haryana on the other pushes thinkers to the inference that the time has come to shift the capital away from Delhi. Delhi's already dangerously high air pollution levels have increased significantly.
 
What still remains unclear is whether other regions of India would best serve the country's political, cultural, commercial, geographical and historical goals. In light of the southern area's geographic influence on the rest of the world, scholars from the region are calling for the capital of the nation to be moved there. However, the linguistic foundations upon which India was built appear to be fragile and this

invalidates their argument. Perhaps because Delhi is more homogeneous, which is uncommon not only for the south but possibly for any geography of India, this is why the capital of India was transferred from Calcutta to Delhi.
 
Would it be preferable to move the legislative, judicial and executive parts of the government to different locations in order to address Delhi's crisis? Perhaps. But for now, as India gets ready to host the G20 summit next year, New Delhi will serve as the centre of global diplomacy with the world’s eyes on it. Delhi – its history, its concerns and its accomplishments will be put on the world map for all to see.
 
Chehre pe saare shahr ke gard-e-malāl hai
Jo dil kā haal hai vahī dillī kā haal hai

 
(All the city’s dirt and agony is writ large on the face; The state of Delhi is no different from the state of the heart)

– MALIKZAADA MANZOOR AHMAD
  
Rajesh Mehta is a leading International Consultant in the field of Market Entry, Innovation and Public Policy & Ashraf Nehal is a postgraduate scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and a South Asian analyst.

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Rajesh Mehta
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Ashraf Nehal
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