Are Alternate or Multiple National Capitals feasible for India?

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  • Recently West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in a rally said India should have four capitals on a rotation basis and sessions of Parliament should be held in different locations in the country.


  • Urban Planning and Role of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) Reforms Required and Government Initiatives Taken So Far

What is Capital?

  • Capital is a city where a region's government is located. This is where government buildings are and where government leaders work. A region can be defined as a nation, state, province, or other political units. At the county level, capitals are usually called “county seats.”
  • In some countries, there are two cities that serve as capitals. For instance, Santiago is the capital of Chile but the National Congress of Chile is located in Valparaso. In Tanzania, Dar es Salaam is the official capital, but most of the government is located in Dodoma.
  • A capital is frequently a country's business, cultural, and population centre.
  • Capital cities are often historical centres of trade, communication, and transportation. London, England, and Paris, France, developed hundreds of years ago around large, busy rivers (the Thames in London and the Seine in Paris). Baghdad, Iraq, and Damascus, Syria, have been thriving urban centres for thousands of years.

Why Capitals needed

  • The word “capital” originates from the Latin capitalis, meaning “of the head”.
  • A means of control, and a symbol of unity.
  • As the city at the head of the territory, it is linked to the state and hosts the seat of government and, if they exist, usually royalty too.
  • The capital needs to be protected, but also able to exert control and project unity.
  • For that reason many capitals are built in the centre of countries – they need to be seen as representative and accessible.
The Case of Delhi
  • It was 30 years ago on February 13 that New Delhi became the power capital of undivided India, ending a wait of 20 years.
  • The foundation of the new capital was laid On December 12, 1911, by King George V during the New Delhi durbar (a pompous royal ceremony).
  • However, it was 20 years later that King George V, during his visit to India, announced that New Delhi will replace Kolkata (then Calcutta) as the national capital.
  • And finally, on February 13, 1931, Lord Irwin inaugurated the new capital – New Delhi.


Partition of Bengal and moving the capital to Delhi:

  • Calcutta was the literary and commercial centre of the country. But on October 16, 1905, the British sliced the state into two – Muslim eastern areas and Hindu western areas. The partition, aimed at taking control of the state, under 'divide and rule policy' inflamed nationalist sentiments and lead to a call to boycott all foreign goods. Eventually, bombings and political assassinations took place in Calcutta.
  • Since Calcutta had now become less than a hospitable place for them, the British were in a rush to leave the city.
  • Hardinge's plan was approved by the first British monarch, King George V who announced the reunification of Bengal and decided to immediately move the Capital.
  • Shahjahanabad (old Delhi) was the capital during the Mughal era but it wasn't equipped enough to accommodate the British. As such British architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker took the charge of redesigning the new capital.
  • The new capital was carved out from the undivided Punjab province and was named 'New Delhi' in 1927.
  • The unavoidable events like World War I delayed the process to over 20 years. The war, which imposed stringent funding constraints, affected the construction of the capital of British India.
  • The British set up a temporary seat of government in Civil Lines. And in 1912, constructed a secretariat building to house government offices while the North and South Blocks were constructed on Raisina Hill in New Delhi.
  • However, for Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, it took another 20 years to complete 'New Delhi' before it could be inaugurated as the capital of undivided India in 1931.

Why Delhi was chosen as the Capital?

  • Some 100 years ago, then Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge, said in a letter why Great Britain should move its empire capital from Calcutta to Delhi.
  • The letter was sent from Shimla to London on August 25, 1911, and addressed to the Earl of Crewe, Secretary of State for India.
  • Hardinge highlighted the anomaly that the British governed India from Calcutta, an eastern extremity of its Indian properties. Hardinge argued that the rising importance of elected legislative bodies required Britain to find a more centrally located capital.
  • One of the reasons for declaring it the capital was that Delhi was the financial and political centre of many empires that had earlier ruled India.
  • Another main reason for the capital shift was the location of Delhi. Calcutta was situated in the eastern coastal part of the country, while Delhi was located in the northern part.
  • The British government also believed that ruling India from Delhi was easier and more convenient than from Calcutta.
  • The announcement was followed by the foundation stone for Coronation Park, Kingsway Camp, which was also the Viceroy's residence.
  • Four million British pounds was the cost of shifting the entire administration from Calcutta to Delhi.
  • It has been well known that between 3000 BC and the 17th century AD, Delhi was supposed to be the site for a total of seven different cities.
  • There were a total of 14 walled gates that protected the city in the beginning. Five of them, including Ajmeri Gate, Lahori Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi Gate, and Turkman Gate are still standing.
Why Delhi should not be the Capitals city of 21st century India?
  • Rising Pollution Level:
    • Air, water and land are the three basic necessities for humans and animals to survive. But it seems like the capital city of India, Delhi isn't capable of fulfilling these basic needs for its citizens
    • While Delhi witnesses severe air pollution during the winter season, reports from the last few years have proven that Delhi's toxic air is no longer limited to winters. The city's air quality is hazardous for a major part of the year and we hardly have any 'good' air quality day.
    • Toxic air in Delhi on average is 10-12 times above safe limits set by the WHO and this is clearly not the kind of air safe for humans to breathe.
    • The Yamuna River in Delhi is 'dead'. Its water is toxic and unfit for any purpose even after treatment.
    • More than a third of Delhi’s population depends on the water from the Yamuna river for their daily needs.
    • The traffic situation in Delhi is so bad that it takes a person 58% longer to commute during rush hours.
  • The rising cost of living:
    • According to a report prepared by location technology specialist TomTom, Delhi stands at the 4th position in the list of cities with the worst traffic around the world. The study surveyed 403 cities across the world.
    • Living in Delhi is getting more expensive for middle-class and upper-middle-class families.
    • Mercer's Annual Cost of Living Survey 2019 found that Delhi is one of the most expensive cities in India. While Mumbai was ranked as the most expensive city in India in 2019, Delhi came a close second. This is reflected in the cost of real estate in the city.
  • Women Safety:
    • Year after year, Delhi has registered the highest number of crimes against women.
    • The latest data by the NCRB revealed that Delhi once again topped the list of Indian cities with the largest number of crimes against women. Another survey by the UN Women supported this finding. It concluded that 95% of women and girls in Delhi feel unsafe in public spaces
  • Rising Population:
    • One of the primary reasons for Delhi’s mounting infrastructural inadequacy is its demographic explosion. Delhi, with about 400,000 people in 1901 ranked the seventh-largest Indian city. It is now around 18 million and the largest megacity in the country. That is a rise of 4,500%. The future appears even more daunting.
    • A UN Report titled World Urbanisation Prospects 2018 by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs suspects that Delhi may be the world’s most populous city by 2028 with 37.2 million people. It does not require great intelligence to foresee that the physical, environmental and social infrastructure of the city – already unable to keep pace with demography and showing signs of severe fatigue.
    • Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s admonitions, it appears the demographic tsunami will make it almost impossible to salvage the city.
    • B.R. Ambedkar, who known as the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, had suggested establishing a second capital to remove the tension between the north and the south. “Delhi is most inconvenient for people from the South because of distance as well as extreme cold and hot weather,” he wrote. “Delhi is a vulnerable place, within bombing distance from neighbouring countries,” Ambedkar said. His choice, however, was Hyderabad, since it was accessible to people from any part of the country.
So should India have multiple capitals?


  • Making a new smart capital for India will not only give a sense of remaking India for the 21st century but also give a fillip to various economic activities- new airports, railway stations, highways and other infrastructure, giving rise to great employment opportunities.
  • New buildings for government offices, Parliament, courts and foreign embassies may be planned with the help of modern technology making it more secure structurally and electronically.
  • It would be less onerous for intelligence and security agencies to protect the new capital and its VIPs.
  • In the process, New Delhi will get full statehood. It can have its own police, and a smaller population will be easier to manage land with a lesser population for better management.
  • It can be further developed into a world-class centre for education, technological research, medical science, arts, literature and culture, and tourism.
  • It can become a connecting point between East and West for financial and commercial activities, e-trading and information technology.
  • Delhi would be less polluted and safer with the reduction in population following the exit of the government. It can get back to its old glory.
  • The new city, by being at the centre would be more accessible to people all over the country.
  • If the new city is in the blighted centre of the country, it could accelerate the growth of the whole region. Chattisgarh and MP could enjoy some of the benefits Haryana and Punjab enjoy. Again, a safer, prosperous India.
  • With better law and order, and city planning, it can provide excellent avenues for international seminars and conferences, and even house some UN offices.
  • The existing government buildings in New Delhi, the vestiges of the Raj that remind us of the rule of the British empire, can be rented out to these organisations to help finance the relocation of the capital.
  • Multiple capitals would prevent the centralisation of power and would correct Asymmetric Federalism.

We need more cities:

  • India needs to build 100s of new cities as people rapidly climb up the ladders of prosperity. Without the new cities, our existing cities would crumble.
  • Without new cities, people keep accumulating in existing cities, rapidly increasing land prices, making it unaffordable for the common man and also making real estate a ripe ground for black money accumulation.

Governments should bootstrap the new cities:

  • Every new city faces the predicament of attracting its first occupants. There are network effects involved. Would you migrate to an empty city? This is where governments could bootstrap new cities. If the central government and state government can move to new cities, we can have 30 new cities that will have a sufficient population.
  • Governments are big employers and these new cities will have jobs. Governments also attract private companies who want to stay close to the babus [bureacrats] to get their job done. This produces a virtuous cycle and builds a sustainable city.

Where should it be?

  • Ideally want it to be in the Madhya Pradesh – Chattisgarh border. With all the new economic activity, new jobs and new comforts, we might be able to reduce/eliminate the Maoist problem there. It will also be directly accessible to all the major cities, by being at the north-south, east-west nexus through which major highways are planned.

What about history and culture?

  • There is a myth that Delhi has always been the capital of India. It was the capital of India only since 1911. Until then, it was only the capital of regional rulers. New Delhi was built to weaken the Indian freedom movement that was getting active in the old capital of Calcutta.
  • Delhi is no more culturally significant than Patna or Ujjain or any of the great cities of India. And none of our iconic freedom protests led by Congress happened in Delhi.
  • The nation as a whole is significant and no one city is above another. The past 100 years is another era in our long history.

Arguments against having multiple capitals:

  • Multiple capitals hamper administrative efficiency: The time and costs of travel of government Ministers, officers, and staff, will be significant. 
  • Infrastructure requirements: It will need to construct new buildings in the new capitals.
  • Threat to food security due to urban sprawling: Accelerated urbanisation driven by multiple capitals may increase urban sprawls which could threaten food supplies at a time when food production is already not keeping up with population growth.
  • Slum problem: Simultaneous Rapid urbanisation at multiple places in a state can result in an explosion of informal urban settlements, or slums.
  • Concerns with urbanisation in India: If China is a nation of boom cities, India is emerging as a land of creaking megacities, surrounded by small towns. The result is that India has a serious imbalance in its economic geography, with too few second cities, growing too slowly.
  • A large number of highly-populated cities: 17% of India’s urban population lives in four megacities, a higher share than in China, where just 12% of the urban population lives in a total of six megacities.
  • Failure in developing 2nd tier cities: India has a severe problem developing second-tier cities, which reflects some of the nation’s basic flaws, including a state that meddles too much, and a track record of spending too much on subsidies and too little on building factories and ports, the anchors of modern urban development.
  • Flawed SEZ policy: India tried to create SEZs on the China model, but these zones have restrictive rules on the use of land and labour, so they have done little to create jobs or build urban populations. 
  • India’s outdated building codes discourage development in downtown areas and drive up prices, which is one reason average urban land prices are now twice as high in India as in China, according to the Global Property Guide. 
  • Unused airports: There are now 25 airports in India that stand unused because they were built to serve cities that were expected to expand, but haven’t. 
  • Delhi is a melting pot: Delhi is usually free from the issue of regionalism and son of soil theory, unlike other regions. Hence it is a melting pot for many cultures and acceptable to all Indians who live together amicably.
  • Strategic Importance: The movement of the army is easier from Delhi as it is close to 2 Indian borders that are also the most critical in terms of national security.
  • No other city in India will be able to match the grandeur of old Delhi and the red fort. This may be an insignificant reason for many but we Indians need to have some confidence in our own power that we usually derive from our pasts.

Way forward:

  • Given the advances in communications technology, it is not important to locate everyone in the same place. We also have multiple judiciary benches in some states for the sake of efficiency.
  • Future research must focus on understanding the drivers, and consequences, of city growth in shaping the spatial allocation of resources, people, and economic activity.
  • Separating at least one government’s branch: India can follow Germany where the executive and legislative capital is Berlin, but the judicial branch of the government is divided between Karlsruhe and Leipzig.
  • Improving physical infrastructure: In the physical infrastructure space, transport ecosystem, parking and safety are the most critical aspects for citizens. 
  • Social infrastructure: The availability of healthcare facilities, educational and childcare facilities requires improvement. 
  • Centralised building management system: A centralised building management system will help to connect various aspects of building operations such as surveillance, water connection and supply, electricity meters and lift and parking 
  • A smart grid, Smart communication, and Smart surveillance: it integrates an electrical grid with ICT tools that can be used to communicate with local substations, monitors demand, regulates supply, adapts to changes in consumption and keeps track of it on real-time basis. 
  • PPP Partnerships: City administrators will have to forge strong partnerships with private organisations, nongovernmental organisations, universities, funding agencies and entrepreneurs in order to derive an operating model that could work. 
  • Citizen participation: Citizen participation will come through engagement with the businesses and their employees.
  • Leadership commitment: Successful execution of an urban development initiative will depend on committed leadership from the civic body’s elected representatives and administrative staff.

Global examples:

  • Brasilia example: In building Brasilia, a system of roads was developed so that much of the interior was integrated, and Brazil even became an exporter of agricultural products such as soybeans. 
  • Beijing granted its lesser cities considerable authority to commandeer land or funnel bank loans into building projects.

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