“niiti”, a Sanskrit word means, in different contexts, policy, ethics, tenets. To us, who belong here, it is our raison d’etre, our touchstone. So we constantly turn to our ethics and tenets when we re-examine the basis of what we do and how we do it over and over again. This is our space to engage with our core, with you, our readers and companions on the path towards an equitable society in the deepest meaning of the word. Over the past years, there are several social issues and organisations that we have engaged with and been enriched with both experience and knowledge along the way. We believe that in creating a conversation platform for those engaged in the field, including some of our clients, partners, all of you out there who have reached this site wanting to be the change and others who have expertise to comment and critique, we can actually crowd-source actions and solutions for some of our most pressing social issues.

Some of these stories feature organisations and people who have been the change; others highlight innovative approaches to long-entrenched social issues; yet others point to ways in which change can be facilitated, simply. If you are inspired by them as well and motivated to replicate their work, or want to share inputs on other bright examples like these, do write to us at

This is your platform. Feel free to contribute, critique, and most importantly, converse.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Surfing the Urban Chaos

I think about our cities often these days. And it’s not just because we are associated with the India Urban Conference. It’s because it’s become difficult not to. Living in Delhi for a good part of my life, I have seen its deterioration unfolding in front of me. The supposedly newly laid sidewalks across the city remain somehow unfinished lending it a somewhat unkempt look despite the seemingly new exterior. The subways are dark and stinking forcing one to brave the traffic to cross roads. One continues to pray for shorter powercuts and longer duration of water supply and the only ones who seem be benefitting with these prayers are inverter and bore well manufacturers in the city. People fight with each other over petty issues exposing the stress that seems to govern our everyday existence.

The recent New York Times story seemed to capture it rather well. Just that this isn’t the state of just Gurgaon, but all Indian cities, large and small. The story ends with a baffling comment by Mr. K. P. Singh, the chairman of DLF, one of India’s largest real estate players- 'If Gurgaon had not happened, the rest of India's development would not have happened, either. Gurgaon became a pacesetter.'

I am sure Mr. Singh didn’t quite mean what he said….for if he did, I am deeply distressed by what the captains of our infrastructure business deem as “development”. Roads where one doesn’t have sidewalks to stroll, or 3 km long malls, entirely run on diesel-powered generators, and electricity (unavailable most times) at a staggering price per unit that is four times the price its available in adjacent Delhi surely can’t be a model for our cities and towns in the country to emulate.

Last week, I also attended a workshop on “Inclusive cities” organized by SEWA, The World Bank, DFID and IIHS, and came out stumped unable to comprehend the magnitude of the urban problem we are facing in our country and its complex hues. On one hand, India is increasingly getting urbanized- in the next few decades, more than half of our population will be in “cities”, adding roughly 100 mn people to her urban areas every decade. Within the next decade, 3 of the world’s 10 biggest mega cities will be in India. And our allocation of funds is the lowest for urban development as a nation.

Should we be surprised that this NYT story written about yet another town after 5 years, would have the same content? We need to redefine development, not blindly emulate urbanization in other countries and find a roadmap for us that works for us.

I am deeply concerned and I definitely don’t want to be a silent spectator to this chaos around me. Addressing how we can make our cities livable now may not change how we live our lives overnight, but it may perhaps make it a better, safer and healthier place to live in for my son who turns 10 next week. And I can’t help thinking I owe it to him to be the change.

If you have ideas for bringing about a change to make our cities more livable, comment on this or on our facebook page / twitter with the hashtag #transformurbanindia.

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