Editorial

Delhi fire tragedy: A tale of failed regulation and chaotic urbanisation

| Updated on December 10, 2019 Published on December 09, 2019

The political economy encourages vast, largely unregulated industrial activity, in utter violation of labour, safety and environment laws

The fire that claimed 43 lives on Sunday morning in a grimly congested area of the Capital was an industrial accident waiting to happen. Sadar Bazar, or for that matter, an increasing number of such areas in and around our cities, are veritable death traps. They are testimony to an urbanisation process that has spun out of control, as well as a political economy that encourages vast, largely unregulated industrial activity, in utter violation of labour, safety and environment laws. To take the second point first, units such as the one that was gutted in Delhi are generally unregistered, with a range of municipal, labour and tax inspectors, besides local level politicians, typically claiming a ‘cut’ for allowing them to continue. Their products are remarkably cheap and service the needs of the poor — be it clothing, plastic household items — but they come at a huge social cost which comes to the fore when a tragedy breaks out every now and then. The only way to bring this seedy ecosystem into the mainstream of industrial activity is to reduce the cost of complying with regulation. India’s advances in the ‘ease of doing business’ index do not seem to matter for a wide swathe of tiny entrepreneurs, even in the inner city regions of the Capital. Industrial clusters for small and even tiny units will reduce their overheads and ensure that their operations are above-board.

Regulatory reforms for businesses should be accompanied by a relook at how urban spaces should be reordered, at a time when migration to the cities, more so the large ones, is likely to continue, if not intensify. According to Economic Survey 2016-17, annual inter-State migration flow has been close to nine million since 2011, against 5-6.5 million between 2001 and 2011. For Delhi, Mumbai and more so these days, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai, which absorb a good share of this exodus from the northern States in particular, there must be a plan in place to deal with this reality. A widely dispersed model of urbanisation, such as in Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, must be promoted across the northern States, to relieve the existing metros of their burden. By developing infrastructure projects in and around the Capital, the Centre is only encouraging further migration into what is already a humongous urban sprawl. Reverse migration out of the metros into smaller towns should be encouraged over the next decade. For this, urban spaces need to be reimagined, not just as places to work in but also as centres of education and cultural activity for all classes and communities. Civic planners need to place livelihoods and sustainability at the heart of their process.

Migration in India represents not merely a search for better opportunities, but rather a desperate quest for earning a livelihood. The latter reflects a failure of our growth and development path, which has bypassed rural India.

Published on December 09, 2019
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