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The Asian side of the world

Jean-François Sabouret

Part two. National challenges and their strategies to overcome them

Delhi and its “global city” dream

Véronique Dupont

Texte intégral

1January 2008

2Once the former capital of the Mogul Empire and then that of the British Indian Empire from 1911 to 1947, Delhi became the capital of the Independent Indian Federation. It is now longing to become a “global city”. Could Delhi be seen as a strategic location in the new world economy? A city determined to have international functions on a global scale? Even if the Indian capital is far from meeting John Friedmann and Saskia Sassen’s criteria, Delhi’s ambition to attain this status has been clearly expressed in the urban development plan of the city, “Horizon 2021”. The vision behind Horizon 2021 aims to make Delhi a “global metropolis and a world-class city”, a recurring slogan in the speeches of the Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit. What is the reality behind this ambition? And what would be the consequences?

3Demographically speaking, Delhi has experienced a particularly rapid rate of growth in the last few decades with migration being a major contributor to this; the Indian capital has become the biggest metropolis in the country. Delhi’s urban growth encompasses six very dynamic cities on the outskirts situated beyond the administrative boundaries of its National Capital Territory, in the surrounding states. This urban area today has 21 million inhabitants; as a megacity ranking, it is one of the biggest cities on the planet, thus overtaking Mumbai whose own population is 19 million.

4The dynamics of Delhi’s demographic position has meant that its economy has undeniably grown dynamically too. The income per capita within the National Capital Territory of Delhi is 2.3 times greater than the national average, and conversely the proportion of the population below the poverty line is much lower than that of the country as a whole (8% compared to 26% in 2000). Furthermore, Delhi boasts a record number of cars per individual compared to other Indian states: the number of cars in the capital was estimated at 1.5 million in 2005 and 2006, much higher than that of the entire state of Maharashtra, where the cities of Mumbai and Pune are situated. Delhi is a fast-expanding metropolis with many functions, for example, it is a centre for economic growth, famous for not only its trade activities, but also for its many industries. It has greatly surpassed its initial and original function of public administration in association with its status as the nation’s capital. Out of all the regions in the northwest of India, Delhi occupies the first place in the market. The prospect of manpower and qualified staff, who are able to speak English, has also attracted numerous international companies to Delhi within the Information and Communication Technologies sector along with their respective services that accompany them such as banking and hotels. Foreign multinationals equally invest in the industrial sector, particularly the automobile industry, supporting firms such as Maruti and Hero Honda set up at Gurgaon, in the suburbs of southern Delhi. In total, foreign investment made up 27% of all investments within Delhi’s metropolitan zone in 2004. Special Economic Zones (SEZ), with the aim of promoting private investments and exports from Delhi, are also planned for the capital.

5Delhi has certainly not been known as an international finance hub. Since the 1990s, however, an era that marked the launch of politics in India in favour of economic freedom as well as the opening up of India to the international market, this metropolis has shown its capacity to interact with other cities around the world. Similar to other large Indian metropolises (and developing countries), Delhi offers the global market the opportunity to invest directly in the capital as well as providing outsourcing services such as call centres and accounting and management services. Could it not therefore be considered a new sort of global city, a status supported by members of the Sarai group – The new media initiative of Delhi – as part of a network of complex flow, bringing together new information and communication technologies and using the Internet more and more frequently?

6Another dimension of Delhi’s “globalisation” concerns its urban landscape and the rapid changes that have taken place. Delhi has followed an international model of modernisation, which has a tendency to repeat and standardise urban forms. Examples of this include an increase in the number of motorway flyovers, a proliferation of malls, which are new “temples” dedicated to consumption, high-rise buildings, business centres and large housing complexes. The most spectacular changes have taken place in the cities surrounding Delhi, such as in Gurgaon and Noida, where new areas have emerged, and which often described as being “true urban entities” or “new cities” by private property developers. Large, high-end residential complexes can be found in these areas, equipped with modern infrastructures and amenities, integrated with other urban services and business functions such as commercial, educational and recreational functions. References to a Western model and style in publicity hypes, including the names given to these residential complexes, or in certain cases, references to the urban planning of other big Asian metropolises such as Singapore and Hong Kong are intended for the wide diaspora of Indians living abroad. Generally speaking, they characterise the making of what Anthony King calls “transnational or global cultural spaces”, deprived of any Indian identity.

7Delhi as a capital city has always received particular attention from those in governmental power. Developers and urban developers have turned it into a laboratory of urban policies. Being the country’s showcase, Delhi’s image is carefully looked after. As there are plans for it to be a global city, its urban landscape has to be attractive, modern and sharp. The increasingly significant integration of the Indian economy into the phenomenon of globalisation, and the efforts made to attract foreign capital have therefore impacted on the socio-spatial reorganisation of the capital, especially with its policies in place to remove the slums, the purpose being to give the city a “makeover” by taking out the unattractive elements from the capital’s landscape. For example, the view of a slum from a window in a luxury hotel could deter potential foreign investment as it signifies the failure of urban housing and planning policies. The demolition of slums increased from the end of the 1990s, and certain NGOs estimate the number of families forced to leave their squat camps, to be at least 100,000 from the period between 1998-99 and 2005-06. Certain families affected by this have been relocated to estates in the outer suburbs, relegated to the far reaches of the city. Nevertheless, many of these families do not fulfil the eligibility criteria for resettlement programmes, and thus find themselves on the streets again.

8The Commonwealth Games, an international sporting event that will be held in the Indian capital in 2010, represents a great opportunity as well as a deadline with regards to the government and developers putting the finishing touches to the capital’s “face-lift”. Delhi will be undergoing a makeover in order to meet the demands of international standards. With different development and construction projects underway, coupled with the clearance of new highways, Delhi has been left with an after-shock of cleaning operations (the demolition of squat camps) that had marked the preparation for the 1982 Asian games in Delhi. Squatters are, however, not the only “undesirable” inhabitants in the global city of the future Commonwealth Games. Another task assigned to the urban development department of Delhi’s government for the coming Games, consists of removing beggars and pickpockets from the streets, in addition to stray dogs and cows.

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