Environmental Recharging | lopamudra baruah

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Vacancy Strikes Back

With great Infrastructure, comes great Capitalism!

1991. India’s new economic structure swept in. What did it entail? The potential of the common to harness greater power in the ways of the market, the window for a middle-class man to live his dreams of affording luxury. Was this power up for everyone to seize? How did this free market regulate the nature of inclusive economic growth? What role did it play in the management and ownership of public assets?

From license raj to private raj

Since the time India was freed from the mercy of license raj, privatization of the public sector has implicitly given rise to a capitalist economy. Specifically focusing on infrastructural construction, the commercialization of land assets under PSUs has strengthened the capture of private corporations on public land. The core benefit out of this alliance is to generate capital for the government to manage these infrastructures. This has been a strategic promotion of this agenda which entails layers of development that have a direct impact on the other half of the people who are in no ways associated with the complications of such processes. The Sabarmati Riverfront Development project for instance was branded as “revitalization of the river”, “giving back the river to the city”, expropriating lands from informal settlements, the remaining of which are now sold to private corporations for commercialization. So, was it really “giving the river back to the city”?

The value of public land

Indian Railways have the largest amount of vacant land, about 43,000 hectares amongst all other infrastructures. In 2006, IR proposed the creation of RLDA in order to commercialize these vacant lands that will be leased or licensed to private developers for the railway department to generate enough revenue. The capital accumulated will be used for construction and maintenance of railway stations and housing colonies. The way to do so, as proposed by RLDA, is to open multiplexes through revenue sharing with developers and/or commercialization by selling these plots to the highest bidder. The fixation upon such kind of infrastructure should be questioned since the function and architecture of multiplexes would have a prominent effect on the land market, affordability and urbanization of the surrounding area. The economic condition of people, market activities specific to such locations needs to be analyzed against the proposal of these complexes which are rigidly exclusionary in nature. The developer wants to make more money and the government is more interested in generating capital out of it. But considering these vacant lands are public assets, what can be expected out of them? Instead of populating our cities with commercial multiplexes which are economic assets only to their private owners and exclusionary in terms of their usage, we must re-evaluate the repurpose of such lands with more pressing crises that will benefit the city’s sustainability against time.

The rise of the Vacant Lands

What battles are our cities fighting? What battles is our world fighting? The 3 E’s that have constantly been the focus of all narratives are economy, ecology and energy. The adaptation of these infrastructural leftovers to provide durable solutions against these crises is what should be the underlying principle of such repurpose projects. 100 years down the line, the accomplishment of an ecological or an energy generation project weighed against the transience of a multiplex will be stronger and way more beneficial for the health and wealth of the city. 

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