The invisible shackles of the most beautifully planned city in India – Chandigarh

Shubham AP Mohapatra, Batch of 2024, Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai

All things are great and beautiful in the city of Chandigarh. The beautiful grids of the city merit for it being called one of the best planned cities in the country of India. A gift to India by Le Corbusier, his architectural genius brought to life the grid plan in India. While at face value this appears to be a boon by the virtue of the grid plan to be accredited as one of the most systematic urban development strategies, [1] a little back reading to both the purpose of origination of the grid plan and into the life of Corbusier hints at the possibility of the city planning of Chandigarh to be a bane.

History of Grids –

A look into the usage of grids in ancient Rome reveals the authoritarian imposition the city planning imposed on its citizens. The Romans established Castra or military centers. These Castras were equivalent to our modern-day grids. They were designed to be standard in design as standardized stationing of military camps allows of the authoritarian to station the soldier anywhere in the town with the sense of familiarity. [2] The existence of a uniform grid planning allowed for the ruler to establish easier surveillance of the residents. The towns would consist of a north to south road and an east to west road at the intersection of which all the important public structures were stationed. [3]

A striking similarity exists in the city of Chandigarh, wherein all the public buildings are stationed at the heart of the city – The Capitol Complex. [4]

History of Corbusier –

Corbusier’s political views were the heart of the controversies surrounding him. He is known to have contributed pieces about urban development to the fascist journals Plans, Prélude and L’Homme Réel. [5] Also mired with anti-Semitism, Corbusier had a political affiliation with the French fascist party of Le Faisceau, which commissioned him to be the city planner of the city of Marseille, after its Jewish population had been forcefully removed. [6]

An endorser of fascism implementing a town planning system having a history of authoritarianism cannot be brushed away as mere coincidence. Much less attention has been given to the residential areas of Chandigarh and all that lay beyond the Capitol complex. [7] It is safe to assume that this set of facts has not gone unnoticed by the people in power throughout the years. A chilling conclusion can be possibly drawn by looking closely at the map of Chandigarh. There seems to be an uncanny concentration of hospitals only towards one end of the city – the end that is considerably far from the heart of the city from which the residential neighborhoods spanned out, hinting at the possibility of the regulation of access to healthcare at the hands of the government.

Endnotes –

[1] See The Law And Economics Of Street Layouts: How A Grid Pattern Benefits A Downtown by Robert C. Ellickson, Alabama Law Review, Vol. 64:3 pg 471 to 483.

[2] Higgins, Hannah (2009) The Grid Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. p.60.

[3] Id.

[4] Journel, Guillemette Morel (2015). Le Corbusier- Construire la Vie Moderne (in French). Editions du Patrimoine: Centre des Monument Nationaux. Pg.182.

[5] Brott, Simone (8 December 2017). “The Le Corbusier Scandal, or, was Le Corbusier a Fascist?”. Fascism. 6 (2): 196–227.

[6] Id.

[7] Town Planning in Postcolonial India, 1947-1965: Chandigarh Re-Examined, Annapurna Shaw, Pages 857-878, 16 May 2013, Urban Geography, Volume 30, Issue 8.

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