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Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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Nehru Place Needs To Be Completely Replanned And Upgraded

Nehru Place located on a site of 96 acres was one of the first district centres built in the mid seventies as per the Delhi Master Plan 1961. Located on the corner of the Outer Ring Road and Lala Lajpat Rai Marg across from Kalkaji, Nehru Place is easily accessible from most areas of South Delhi

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Nehru Place located on a site of 96 acres was one of the first district centres built in the mid seventies as per the Delhi Master Plan 1961. Located on the corner of the Outer Ring Road and Lala Lajpat Rai Marg across from Kalkaji, Nehru Place is easily accessible from most areas of South Delhi.

The master plan for the district centre prepared by the planning department of the DDA, was developed around a number of well defined square plazas linked by elongated spaces flanked by two levels of shopping arcades on both sides, with seven floors of offices above. The site, located on a rocky hill involved change in level of over 15 metres, resulting in a series of wide steps connecting different courts. The central space was continuous and uninterrupted, free of vehicular traffic. A series of independent isolated 15/16 storey office towers were located on the outside. Approximately half of the proposed total development was built in the first phase, and substantial areas still remain undeveloped. The overall concept was simple and direct, and despite poor maintenance this still remains an urban space of some significance. A space that now urgently calls for improvement and upgrading.

When the building of the district center was started development firms were reluctant to undertake the construction of large office structures. The linear office buildings that flank the central courts were therefore split into smaller blocks, which were sold to individual investors. The independent multistory office blocks on the periphery were also sold separately. Demand for large office space was limited, so each floor was split into smaller units, with window air conditioners and separate toilets. All external facades of the linear blocks conformed to a 2 standard façade control, which helped maintain an overall semblance of order. However, lack of proper maintenance has taken its toll over time, and most of the building facades and the central courts are now in a dilapidated condition. Paving in many parts of the central courtyards along with steps at changes in level are broken, creating dangerous conditions. Staircases connecting the two lower level arcades are narrow and inadequate. Indiscriminate signage and advertising panels, lack of regular repainting as well as general neglect, has led to the current shabby appearance of the entire complex. All these are elements that need urgent attention, essential in relation to the general cleaning up of the whole complex.

Most of the buildings constructed over fifty years ago were sold at low cost, or were rented out at minimal rates. As such there is now little or no willingness on the part of the owners to invest in the renovation of the facades, and improvement of the surrounding areas. Considering this, a framework of incentives will need to be devised to encourage owners to co-operate in renovating the existing structures. There are many different possibilities that can be considered. One would be to increase the FAR allowing for additional construction, but this has complex building regulation and management implications. Provision of a central air conditioning system into which each building could be hooked (as was proposed in the upgrading of Connaught Place) is another possibility, which could be linked with a commitment to renovating the facades of individual buildings. These and several other options, are possibilities that the agency responsible for managing the entire complex will need to explore, along with the implementation of a detailed new urban design scheme for upgrading the whole area.

Although intended to be a commercial center with a market that would serve the surrounding residential areas, the development as it came up fifty years ago became a complex consisting essentially of a series of small office units. The two levels of shops in the arcades around the central courts contained few retail outlets, and were mostly occupied by offices and banks. Over the last fifteen years the situation began to change with the influx of shops dealing with computers, cell phones, and all kinds of digital accessories. Today Nehru Place is the country’s largest computer hardware market. This has helped to bring about a qualitative change in the area, including the presence of a number of restaurants. Gradually every single available space at the lower levels, including small pockets of space along lift access corridors, and basement areas, have been taken over by small scale commercial units. The demand for large commercial space has steadily grown and a few premium office towers have been recently constructed. There are five existing vacant plots, which can be sold for building multistory offices, which would generate substantial revenue for the redevelopment of the complex.

In the early years the demand for car parking space was not very high and the planned parking lots were adequate to accommodate all vehicles. However in recent years, the demand has increased enormously, and the situation in the individual parking lots today is chaotic, with haphazard parking along roads, on footpaths, and every available open space. Because of the parking lots not being properly laid out, circulation is chaotic and space is not optimally used. The situation has been further aggravated by the DDA building a number of small retail structures in a totally unplanned manner. There is now a need to eliminate all surface parking and arrange for the parking of cars in multilevel parking structures in designated areas, within direct access of adjoining roads. The 4 existing parking lots can now be developed as multistory parking garages. A system of direct overhead pedestrian connections from parking structures to adjoining buildings, and the central courts, would help ease the movement of pedestrians across the complex.

DDA has not to date prepared a properly detailed plan, for the available open space in the district center, nor has it initiated or implemented any improvements in the complex over the last fifty years. There are till today, many small pockets of vacant land not allotted for specific use, where building waste is dumped, and garbage accumulates.

It is of interest to note that some sixteen years ago in mid 2000, a senior architect and town planner Mr Kuldip Singh had been appointed by DDA to do a study for the revitalization of the Nehru Place District Centre. Based on a systematic review, a report was submitted incorporating detailed recommendations. It was suggested that a proper maintenance agency be created to take on the responsibility of managing and maintaining the infrastructure on a continuing basis. The study made specific proposals for the use of the open plazas for outdoor dining, and their overall improvement with the introduction of seating around landscaped areas, advertising structures, and proper lighting. Proposals were also prepared for a multistory parking structure located on the plot west of the IFCI building, which included shops, and an informal market to accommodate hawkers and vendors. DDA simply ignored the study and its recommendations, and took no action. They went ahead and built the multistory parking structure without providing for any space for the informal sector, but added an office block in front of it. They did nothing to improve the general state of degradation of the surrounding area, nor took any action to repair damaged structures. Had 5 corrective action on the different issues been taken at that time, the steady deterioration of environmental conditions within the complex, would not have become as serious as it has now become. A lot has changed since this study was done, and developments over the last five years now call for a fresh evaluation of the action that needs to be taken to clean up the mess.

In 2002 Nehru Place was connected by the metrorail system on the Violet line to the Central Secretariat, Kashmere Gate, and Badarpur (now extended to Faridabad and Ballabhgarh). The Nehru Place metro station was located at a raised level, north of the complex, and the rail extended along the eastern edge to the Kalkaji Mandir station, which is currently being converted to an interchange linking it to the Magenta line, extending from Janakpuri to NOIDA. The underground Magenta line does not connect below the existing station, but cuts diagonally across the Nehru Place complex behind the existing bus terminal. An extended 280 metre long overhead pedestrian path has been built to link it to the existing station. There is no doubt that the metro connection will greatly enhance accessibility, and lead to increased footfalls. However, the plan and location of the metro stations are ill considered, and the system is not effectively integrated into the existing development. Despite its serious implications, DDA has not modified the urban design of the district center in relation to the DMRC proposals. The attached aerial view of the complex shows the extent of disruption caused by ongoing DMRC construction. For the construction of the Kalkaji metro interchange the DMRC has taken over a substantial parcel of land extending behind the Fire Station and the existing Cremation ground. The proposed development includes a road connecting to the Lotus Temple roundabout, the skywalk linking to the existing overhead Kalkaji metro station, and also a fair sized fenced in park. The landscaped park may well be a welcome 6 addition to the district center, but because of its location in a corner of the site it is not likely to be much used. In fact this particular site with its connections to the adjoining roads is an ideal location for a multistory car park, which would better serve the commercial complex, as well as be ideal for commuters connecting to the metro interchange.

With the help of a professional traffic planner a comprehensive traffic management plan now needs to be prepared. This would involve planning for the systematic movement of vehicular traffic within and around the complex, calculation of the number and type of vehicles involved, the size and location of multistory parking structures, and their points of ingress and exit, tied into the layout of the existing traffic system. The original road network and traffic movement through the center has changed over time. Today the volume of vehicular traffic both within and around the complex has increased substantially. This is likely to further increase with the construction of buildings on the vacant plots. Detailed traffic planning for the whole area taking into account current conditions and future development is therefore important. This is a complex exercise because of the need to effectively co-ordinate the movement of vehicular traffic with the bus movement systems, the pedestrian traffic, and cars, taxis, and three wheelers, servicing the metro stations.

The plan for linkage of pedestrian movement to the metro stations, the bus terminal, and the car parks is particularly important. With the opening of the new metro interchange station, the number of people coming by metro will increase substantially, and detailed plans for the safe and easy movement of pedestrians across the site connecting to activities like outdoor eating, impromptu shopping, and recreational areas, parks, and plazas need to be properly laid out. The 7 central courts free of vehicular traffic, are an asset for pedestrians, but beyond the courts the existing sidewalks are narrow and poorly planned, and are inadequate for the number of people visiting and working in the complex. Beyond the central courts pedestrians are forced into an uneasy mix with vehicular traffic in most areas. Considering long term need, it would be worthwhile to consider building an elevated system of walkways connecting to the metro stations, the bus terminal, and designated taxi and scooter stands. Such a system would also allow vehicular traffic to move freely on a separate level. Connections to the surrounding development are presently not satisfactory, and pedestrian access to the Kalkaji road junction, as well as to the overhead bridge near the bus station need corrective action. At present the only reasonable entrance to the District Center for traffic as well as for pedestrians is from the Lala Lajpat Rai Marg near the Park Hotel and from the Nehru Place metro station.

The preparation of a detailed landscape plan for the entire 99 acre site, is also now an important requirement. Green areas across the site are not clearly demarcated, and to date no comprehensive landscape plan has been prepared. Proposals need to be made for the proper use and maintenance of all the open spaces within the complex.

In recent years quite a few restaurants have come up in different locations, and it is clear that there is demand for many more eating spaces of different kinds. Currently sophisticated restaurants are concentrated in a few locations like the Nehru Place metro station, and the Satyam Cinema complex. A few other restaurants have also recently come up on the ground and upper floor corridors overlooking the central courts. Cheaper outdoor eating stalls are scattered in several areas, with a large group in the court adjoining the Paras Cinema. Most 8 outdoor eating spaces are disorganized, with inadequate garbage collection and service facilities, leading to conditions of squalor. Low cost eating spaces meet a definite demand as can be seen by the large numbers of people eating at these joints. Steps should to be taken to organize these in select locations with arrangements for water and sewage connections, to ensure that hygienic conditions are maintained. Adequate public toilets located close to areas, where eating stalls are concentrated is important. At present small eating shops have been set up in several locations, which have no sewage or water connections, with the result that garbage accumulates.

Since its inception, the District Centre has been a concentration of offices with some stationary and hardware shops, which with the recent addition of multiple restaurants, eating spaces, and computer goods stores, is assuming the contours of a multi-functional public space. In recent years Nehru Place has emerged as major center dealing in the sale of computers, and computer spare parts. While most of the sales take place from shops along the arcades, many cheap components as well as cheap general merchandise, is being sold off the pavement by vendors and hawkers.

Over the last five years, a number of hawkers dealing in cheap consumer goods have set up shop in all the central courts. A space that remained vacant in the evening after office hours, is now increasingly attracting large numbers of people from the surrounding residential areas, as well as those who come by metro from further away, creating a lively and vibrant bazaar atmosphere. Vending stalls are set up on shallow wooden crates covered by cloth on which the goods are displayed. The stalls are dismantled at night and stacked in the corridors and any other available space. As there are no electric lights in the courts, hawkers have 9 portable battery power units to light up their goods. Over time vendors have steadily increased in number, and have spread in a disorganized manner across all the courts, creating conditions of squalor, and general maintenance problems. With proper planning this situation can be easily rectified. Along with the repair of the staircases and the courts the entire central space needs to be properly landscaped. A series of raised platforms can be built in the courts at specific locations on which separate space along with a light point may be demarcated for individual vendors. A light steel structure and roof can provide shelter from the elements. Vendors may rent the allotted space and set up stalls on a strictly temporary basis, calling for complete clearance after shopping hours. This would enable proper maintenance of the area. Separate platforms may also be earmarked for entertainment and promotion events. In the long run, it would be good if the stalls were distributed to provide a larger mix of consumer items, which would help upgrade the market, to serve a wider section of society.

Regular cleaning of all the open spaces including the courts, the arcades, the access roads, the parking spaces, and the pedestrian paths, is a mammoth task that has to be systematically organized. Proper arrangements have to be made for garbage disposal as well as cleaning and general maintenance on an ongoing basis.

It is in the context of these developments and the steadily deteriorating environmental conditions within the district center, that the urban development ministry has sought a report from DDA as to how it intends to address the problems. DDA has not prepared any plan for future development, and their statement that they have handed over maintenance of the entire district center to the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, merely avoids the issue. The situation is 10 serious, and unless urgently addressed will lead to further decline in the condition of this major work center in South Delhi. On the other hand with the adoption of a positive attitude the entire complex can be gradually cleaned up and upgraded to become a commercial center of international standard.

It is quite clear that DDA does not have the necessary wherewithal to undertake this task. The only alternative for the Urban Development Ministry is to create an independent agency to take over the entire complex as it stands today, taking total responsibility for its further development, as well as for the upkeep and maintenance of the entire area and facilities within the complex. This agency would need to make a comprehensive assessment of the site, and prepare an updated urban design proposal which would incorporate development of the existing vacant plots, along with a proper plan for traffic management, the movement of pedestrians across the site, and landscaping of all open space, all integrated with the three metro stations. Based on detailed urban design guidelines individual plots may be sold to developers, which would generate adequate funds for the systematic revitalization of the entire district center, as well as provide for proper and regular maintenance of the entire complex, on an ongoing basis.

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