Brand New Delhi: Let Political India Move Out of the Capital
The Times of India,
March 26, 2004
Gerhardt von Hoffman was in charge of the
privatisation of the properties of the East German government in East
Berlin . We spent a fortnight together in Goa during which he said a very
interesting thing, namely, that since there is no profit and loss in
government calculations, the state is a very inefficient user of real
In his Utopia, he said, the state would be constitutionally required to
rent properties. That alone would yield an efficient real estate market.
After meeting Gerhardt, a new vision unfolded in my mind, a realisation
that we could also privatise state property.
This vision seizes me every time I am in Delhi , for in Delhi almost half
the city belongs to the state. If we decide to privatise state property,
and use Delhi as an example for the purpose, what benefits can this yield
for the average Dilliwalla? And what lessons can be derived for the rest
of India ? The first great benefit that this approach will bring is that,
by taking such a path, Delhi will finally be possessed of a Central
Business District. Every great city has one, but Delhi doesn't. The
Mughals built Chandni Chowk; the Brits built Connaught Place ; but both
these markets are not CBD material today.
How can the privatisation of state property yield Delhi a CBD capable of
handling globalisation? Rajpath can be privatised. Every sarkari bhawan
there can take 10 shopping malls and have enough room for parking besides.
The street name can be retained so that we all know that the raj now is of
the market and not the Central planner. This splendid, broad avenue can be
the central shopping and nightlife district and breathe fresh life into
Delhi 's commercial spirit. How can this be brought about? We must think
ahead. Globalisation means cities competing for commerce. Cities are the
hubs of world business.
If Delhi has to be such a city, it will require a CBD. But globalisation
also means the end of the dominant state. In commercial societies, capital
cities are small. Washington DC , Bonn , Canberra , Berne , Ottawa ...
there are so many examples. If Rajpath is to be privatised, this means we
must also shift the Capital out of Delhi to some smaller town. Such a move
will also mean that the diplomatic community will have to shift out of
Delhi too, and the prime spaces occupied now by foreign embassies can be
used by the market. Then, Shantipath can be the central office district,
with high-rises belonging to every great multinational, and this name,
too, can be retained showing that we Indians seek peace through trade.
Shifting the Capital out of Delhi will also yield huge amounts of space
currently occupied by sarkari babus . All the Bapa Nagars and Kaka Nagars
and R K Purams can be privatised and sold to the market — that is, to the
citizenry. The bungalows of Lutyens' Delhi could be left for the
commercial as opposed to the political elite. The question arises as to
what should be done with the money that this privatisation will yield.
I propose that it be used to shore up the city's transport infrastructure.
Let 20 250-km-long eight-laned expressways emerge as 'spokes' from Brand
New Delhi and connect all the surrounding towns so that a vast amount of
space is opened up for residence and commerce. For example: One spoke to
Dehra Dun with 10 satellite towns on the way; another to Alwar; one to
Jaipur, one to Agra , one to Chandigarh , and so on. In this way, hundreds
of satellite towns can come up (and not just NOIDA and Gurgaon). There is
enough land for all; what is required to get the land into service are
roads. They say 'every great city sits like a giant spider on its
Let Brand New Delhi be such a city. New Delhi certainly isn't. It sits
like a blob of jelly on the map, bloating up every year. And let rail
links parallel the roads. We can have 20 lines of the Delhi Metro
extending parallel to the expressways. In great cities, the underground
railway goes overground outside city limits and connects up the outlying
towns. Today, the Delhi Metro does not plan to link even Gurgaon.
The airport is not on the route plan of the metro. What about the grand
Viceregal Palace on Raisina Hill that we now call Rashtrapati Bhavan? I
believe the entire area would be very well suited to make the world's
greatest casino. I would welcome the idea of selling it to some casino
firm for, in Brand New Delhi, the electoral sweepstakes should not be the
only form of gambling allowed, as is the case in New Delhi . If half the
profits from the casino are given to the city coffers, then Brand New
Delhi may also be tax-free. They say political change is 'loquocentric':
It happens if we talk about it. In which case, we must all talk about
these ideas: First, the privatisation of state property; and second, the
idea of a new capital town by getting the state out of Delhi .
If enough people talk about these ideas, then only will we be able to say
that their time has come. As a lesson for the future, let us now be very
careful about how much property we allow the state to accumulate. Here's
to a lean state and a lean government unobtrusively performing its chosen
tasks well. Let the state be in a small government town and let every city
blossom. As the poet put it: "Into such a haven of freedom, my Lord, let
my country awake!"
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