Opinion

Out of My Mind | Dilli Chhodo: Time for a new Capital

Out of My Mind | Dilli Chhodo: Time for a new Capital

I wish the contract to renovate the surroundings of the Raisina Hills, with Parliament, the North and South Blocks, had not been awarded before the recent Emergency on the air pollution front. Although Delhi air later changed from ‘deathly’ to ‘poor’, the viability of Delhi as a habitat needs to be questioned. Delhi is overcrowded, overbuilt, with far too many cars. There is no municipal governance one can discern which has any interest and/or effectiveness in environment control. The AAP government has stopped behaving like a bunch of teenagers and begun to do serious work. But the Opposition behaves in a manner (with BJP leader Vijay Goel flaunting an SUV to defy odd-even regulations) which does not assure citizens (or even a frequent visitor like myself) that they understand the seriousness of the crisis facing Delhi.

The answer to the problem is at hand but requires boldness and an ambitious vision, which means Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to step in. There is a need to decongest Delhi. But this is also the right time, in the 70th year as a sovereign democratic republic, to ask whether India should have a brand new Capital free of the burden of memories of Old Emperors.

Delhi is a capital city by accident. It is at the gate of India, from where invaders used to come through the Khyber Pass. North India is landlocked and Delhi is crucial, for the North. Earlier empires had their capital in Pataliputra/Patna. From Alexander till Babar the conquerors came from the Northwest. The last conquerors came by sea and landed not in the North but on the coastal extremities. They only moved their imperial capital to Delhi less than a century ago. That proved a fatal choice and they did not last in their Lootyens Delhi for long.

The Republic of India has the most extensive territory, larger than any previous Empire it has seen — Hindu, Afghan, Mughal or British. It needs its own Capital. The Capital should be centrally located, equidistant between North and South, East and West. It should be commissioned by the BJP/NDA government, and designed and built by whoever wins a global competition.

But where should it be? I have one suggestion, but there could be others.

There is in the Dandakaranya the ideal ample space to build a new Capital. It is ideal because it straddles North and South, East and West. It touches states from Maharashtra to Odisha, Chhattisgarh to Telangana. It is at the heart of India. Its 90,000 sq km will have ample space and a healthy natural environment to build a fantastic new Capital for new India.

Many nations build their Capital as exclusively for government business and keep their commercial centres separate. The US has Washington DC as a special city for national politics. Malaysia has a similar arrangement. Brazil commissioned Brasilia specially as a new capital away from São Paulo or Rio. Canada has Ottawa, Australia Canberra.

Delhi will always be there as it has been. But the British constructions of 1911-1930 can be abandoned and sold off along with Lootyens Delhi to finance the new Capital. With the political Capital gone, Delhi will breathe again. It can be a proper Union Territory, not mixed up with National Capital.