The Chief Minister of Delhi, at the glorious inauguration of the new Flyover at Ashram Chowk, said that earlier there used to be long traffic jams in this area, particularly during the office-going hours in the morning as well as evening, but this extension of the flyover will now (insert poetic license to complete this sentence) take those long traffic jams elsewhere — maybe Naraina, or even further, Bahadurgarh, or any basically anywhere where the posh South and Central Delhi’s fancy folk don’t have to deal with it!
Pardon my audacity, and taking of liberties with a matter so serious, although one doesn’t need to be factual or accurate in a post-truth world, thus spoke a recent American President! What the CM did say actually was, it will bring relief to lakhs of citizens on a daily basis — but I will come to that in a bit.
Delhi boasts an impressive record in infrastructure; quoting the CM, “There are 101 flyovers and underpasses in the city, and the city government has constructed 27 of them in the last seven years.” The remaining 74 flyovers and underpasses were built over the course of 65 years before their government came to power.
On March 7, 2023, to much fanfare in the press and on social media, the 101st of these, the Ashram flyover, was opened to traffic after months of inconvenience and many missed deadlines. The official line is that it will provide much-needed relief to commuters between Delhi and Noida. Delhi commuters will be able to travel from Noida to AIIMS signal-free, as three red lights between Ashram and DND will be bypassed. The much-awaited move is to save time and fuel for everyone using this stretch.
The newspapers and media loved it. The couch potatoes loved it, the Instagrammers loved it. Twitter was buzzing! A few soundbites on TV, a few video clips of red tail-light trails, twinkling headlights of speeding cars, and Delhi begins to look like a beautiful dream again.
On the face of it it sounds all very well, and very very thoughtful. At the same time, I am also a little bit amazed at how, for a person who claims to be a common man’s minister and trained at the country’s most hallowed scientific institution, the IIT, evidence-based problem-solving seems to not be his strong suit. If we look at the statistics as claimed and the timeline, clearly this is a big problem and one that the century of flying-over has not quite solved. I’d argue that if one hundred previous flyovers have not solved the problem, there is little empirical evidence to suggest the hundred and first flyover miraculously will.
But we also live in Amrit Kaal! So maybe the term “fly over” is actually more of a euphemism, like an “expression of intent”, perhaps, a suggestion, a “concept and abstraction”, or as has become quite fashionable now in social media, manifesting — a chief minister, genuinely willing us citizen of Delhi to leap, bound and gracefully glide through Delhi’s dreary grey sky into a future where we just don’t see the traffic jams, we don’t notice them, we un-see them like we un-see so much else in the world around us every day. Or better still, we see them as the very nature of the city itself. An outward expression of an inner DNA we should be proud of and celebrate like a rare single malt, nursed and discussed in refined language at suit-and-tie evenings.
Almost forgotten now, some seasons earlier, not far from the DND and Ashram Chowk we added another spectacular piece of car-friendly infrastructure to Delhi — the Delhi Meerut Expressway for the Rich. Given that it is to connect Meerut to Delhi, and given that Meerut is a tier 3 city, and that people who can afford renting in Delhi would actually prefer to live in Delhi than do a two-hour commute each way, the idea that only cars and heavy vehicles are allowed on it seems to be rather confusing. Who are these rich people who need a six-lane expressway to connect them to Meerut every day? And why does the government care so much to actually build that expressway for them? Or am I missing something?
I have lived in Delhi now for 25 years and I can safely say this, that Delhi is a city with a curious case of car pride. One that gear-stick-challenged folk like me are subjected to all the time. Cars for Delhi people are not modes of transport — they are passports, IDs of class membership. Owning a car in Delhi is a way of telling your neighbour, your boss, your class bully, your doodh-wala, your maid, and your barber and istri-wala, maybe even the tomato delivery boy, that you have finally entered the rich class!
We have had the Delhi Metro since 2002, Delhi Rail since 1975 that was upgraded in 1985, the DTC bus networks since 1948; and if at the end we still have to build flyover after flyover for Delhi’s rich to drive, one person per car, to wherever they want to go, I think we should see the the hundred and first flyover of Delhi not as a government bragging point but as a symbol of the utter failure of Delhi’s public transport infrastructure — which it really is.
𝘏𝘦𝘯𝘳𝘪 𝘍𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘮𝘦, 𝘢𝘯 𝘢𝘳𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘤𝘵 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘗𝘈, 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘬𝘴 𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘔𝘦𝘩𝘳𝘢𝘶𝘭𝘪, 𝘋𝘦𝘭𝘩𝘪 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘸𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘴 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘥𝘦𝘴𝘪𝘨𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘶𝘳𝘣𝘢𝘯 𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘤𝘦𝘴
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