The ‘Gurgaon Model’ has Failed: Our Cities Need a New Deal

Aditya Gulia
3 min readOct 13, 2022

I recently started reading this book by Thomas Cowan, titled Subaltern Frontiers: Agrarian City Making in Gurgaon. The introduction to the book discusses the Gurgaon Model, which represents a new concept for the development of urban spaces in India. Urban development departments across states ceded space to private developers, and these private players “developed,” sold, and governed these new-age cities. Incidentally, Gurugram — as it is now known — flooded after incessant rains over three days. This is neither the first time for Gurugram nor a city-specific vow. Every year, our cities flood; Bengaluru flooded three weeks ago, and Chennai in 2016. There’s a missing piece in this puzzle of governance; the citizens of our cities.

Cybercity in Gurugram

As per the 2011 census, more than 30% of the Indian population now lives in urban areas. A recent report by UN-Habitat projects that by 2035, India’s urban population will stand at 675 million people, or about 43% of the population. Indian cities aren’t capable of handling the bourgeoning population in the current state of their infrastructure. Let’s take the example of Gurugram. It is a city with wide roads, expressways, metro lines, and modern buildings. But the question that becomes pertinent is whether the city has been constructed taking into account the geological, hydrological, and ecological factors. Flooding over the years tells us that it wasn’t. Private players developed the land as they pleased and made sky high profits. This is not the case with metropolitan areas only. This is a phenomenon across the country. Go to any urban area, and you will find people fed up with these developers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, back in 2015, gave an important message on this matter. He stated that city development cannot be left to private developers. He was right to say this. But what has panned out isn’t the solution either. Authorities run by bureaucrats have become the norm. The Haryana government formed a Metropolitan Development Authority for Gurugram in 2017. The decisions are passed on from private developers to the GMDA. The right approach would have been to work with the citizens of the city.

Critics of this approach would say that ordinary citizens do not have the expertise in the planning and maintenance of a city. Educating the masses should be the answer to such problems, rather than excluding them from the process altogether.

What Needs to Change?

There is an urgent need to fundamentally change the approach of our governments. Evidence from across the world suggests that decentralisation is the answer to such problems.

The 74th Amendment Act, which empowered local bodies and gave them constitutional recognition, needs rejuvenation. States across the nation have acted to curtail the powers given to such bodies. The commitment to decentralisation must be renewed in the 30th year of the amendment. Recent reports suggest that local bodies have struggled with their finances, especially after COVID-19. They do not have enough avenues to raise resources, thus putting them in a vicious cycle of loss and poor public service delivery. Let’s start by providing financial resources to our municipal bodies.

Our cities have a large migrant population. Most of these people aren’t franchised in the city that they live in. State Election Commissions must ensure that all eligible citizens are enumerated on the voting list for the municipal body. Further involvement of the citizens should be ensured through local level bodies like the RWAs, public hearings, and other innovative methods for idea collection. Involving the citizens in any programme is extremely important for a city. Indore, the cleanest city in a row for five years now, is the best example of this approach. The city achieved this phenomenal success with the involvement of its people; the city authorities may have taken up the task, but it was the people who made it a mass movement to keep their city clean.

The impetus should be on empowering the municipalities and citizens, not the bureaucracy that currently ails the system. People in the city know what they want, not officers in state capitals hundreds of kilometres away.

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Aditya Gulia

Alumni of the Integrated Programme in Management at the IIM, Indore. Interested in Public Policy, Politics and International Affairs.