The leak in a cylinder of toxic gas that affected over 450 girls from two schools on the outskirts of the Capital is another episode in the lament about myopic planning, uncontrolled urban expansion and the customary indifference to safety. Mercifully there was no repeat of the tragedy in Bhopal, with which some fanciful parallels were drawn, but it did revive memories of another gas leak closer “home” ~ the mishap at a chemicals plant at the city-end of Najafgarh Road. That plant, when commissioned, was considered to be “outside” the city but by the time the accident took place it was right in the thick of the urban jungle. So too with the Inland Container Depot: initially there were no schools in the vicinity, so the question being asked by the schoolgirls’ parents about why a depot was permitted near educational institutions could be asked in reverse ~ why were schools allowed near a major transport and transshipment facility? However, neither a blame-game nor a “what came first, the chicken or the egg” query serve meaningful purpose ~ the accusing fingers must point towards those entrusted with drawing up the plans for urban development.
The depot originated at Pragati Maidan, initially to cater to Asia-72, the first “modern” trade fair. Within a decade it was so heavily used that it was decided to re-locate it. The planners of the day were terribly myopic, never realised that the city would expand to Tughlakabad, Faridabad, Ballabgarh…In the same way that during the Emergency the authorities flexed muscle and “re-settled” slumdwellers in terrible conditions, and shifted the “sabzi mandi”, wholesale iron and steel trade, and marble units away from their traditional centres. But soon they too were engulfed by urbanisation ~ and a major fire in the petroleum tanks at Shakurbasti only emphasised the need for comprehensive urban re-development. The trading community has stoutly resisted such moves: Sadar Bazar, Khari Baoli and Chandni Chowk remain the focal point of commerce, despite the fact that they are becoming increasingly prone to fires. The chemical accident at Tughlakabad has to be seen in that larger perspective.
As usual political squabbles have broken out: the Aam Aadmi government in the Capital is “taking on” the Centre, the local BJP leadership has its own set of accusations to level at Kejriwal & Co. Yet since, happily, no serious medical complications appear to have arisen the “storm” is likely to blow over once its potential for causing political turbulence dissipates. To expect the urban development ministry at the Centre to work in tandem with the Delhi government to “de-fuse” the powder-keg upon which the city is sitting would be wishful thinking ~ they are unable to finalise a common plan even to let Delhi breathe clean air