More than 30 years ago, when Yogendra Narain was given the task of building Greater Noida, he set up his makeshift bedroom – a small room with a sofa – at the Noida Authority Headquarters. It was 1991 and its mandate was to plan a modern city with the best facilities for residents and industries.
Narain wanted it to have better infrastructure than Noida, and one of his concerns as he undertook the planning of the brand new city was to find a nomenclature for its neighborhoods that would be suitable for a futuristic city.
“After careful consideration, I decided to use the letters of the Greek alphabet to name the sectors of the city. The idea was to make sure that the names were in tune with the scientific spirit of the city and that politicians would have a hard time changing them on a whim,” says Narain, who served as the first CEO and chairman. of the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA).
He retired as the country’s Defense Secretary in 2002 and later served as Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha.
But three decades later, GNIDA plans to remove the old sector names. For the uninitiated, Greater Noida, about 40 kilometers from Connaught Place, was established in 1991 as an extension of Noida.
The city, administered by GNIDA, has wide tree-lined roads and service roads and everywhere there are large signs directing the commuter to its sectors Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Omicron, Mu, Zu, Chai, Fhi , Pai and others.
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a system for naming variants of Covid-19 and used letters from the Greek alphabet because it believed that the practice of describing variants after the country original was “stigmatizing and discriminatory”.
While the Greater Noida Authority says it is trying to streamline the city’s ‘complex and poorly managed naming system’ as many residents, visitors and investors struggle to pronounce, identify and memorize these letters of l Greek alphabet, many residents believe the proposed name change is linked to the association of Greek characters with Covid-19 variants.
“What else explains this sudden desire to change names after more than three decades,” said Rakesh Goyal, who lives in the Omicron-III sector. “While these names remind us of the pandemic, changing them will not erase history,” the software engineer added.
“If the WHO hadn’t skipped the Greek letters Nu or Xi, Omicron still wouldn’t have been the name of a variant of the coronavirus. But it’s good; we don’t want our sector to be called anything else,” Goyal said with a hearty laugh.
Sector Omicron-III (there is also Omicron I & II) where Goyal lives, is, like most other sectors of Greater Noida, a green place with silence similar to an isolated European district.
It’s 5 p.m. and not a soul is in sight except for a dog walker and a few cars entering his door which has a sign with the pictures and names of the office staff. local Residents Welfare Association (RWA).
Another resident, Ashwani Munjal, said he loves Omicron-III, for its quietness and greenery, but the name of his neighborhood indeed makes it harder to forget about the pandemic.
“Also, when I travel, a lot of people are confused to know that I live in a place called Omicron,” said the businessman, who is also the author of “Beyond Currencies – World’s Most Incredible Minds.” , a book based on his extensive collection of banknotes from around the world featuring scientists.
The Delta coronavirus variant may have originated in India and left a trail of death across the world, but Sunny Bhati, a real estate agent and RWA president of the Delta-1 sector, says residents love the name and that any attempt to change it will force them to start an agitation.
“Yes, we have often joked that the names of the most devastating coronavirus variant have brought infamy to our industry. But ours is a model sector with a lot of equipment and its name Delta -1 is still dear to us. Any attempt to change it will be met with strong resistance,” Bhati said. He sits in a large, padded chair in RWA’s office in a towering white building in the community center.
When we asked Narendra Bhooshan, CEO of the Greater Noida Authority, about people’s opposition to any nomenclature changes, he replied, “I really don’t understand people’s fixation on these Greek names. All we’re trying to do is streamline the city’s poorly run naming system. There is a multiplicity of names in a sector. So, there is Alpha, 1 and 2. Then the city has two sectors which are named using simple English numbers; then there is an area called Tau, which was renamed Swarnagari as the locals felt that ‘tau’ was used to refer to the elderly in their village. We are trying to simplify the naming system.
Bhooshan added, “A committee is currently studying the multiplicity of names in various sectors and will come up with alternative names and solicit people’s suggestions on them. A modern futuristic city can’t have such a confusing naming system.
When asked if the upcoming exercise was promoted by associating Greek letters with coronavirus variants, Bhooshan replied, “Not really. The fact is that we regularly receive complaints from residents, visitors and investors about these confusing names”.
But most residents say there is no confusion. “Also, you don’t change neighborhood names after 30 years if visitors or investors find them confusing,” Delta-II resident Agam Singh said. “We know the city like our palm,” he added.
Upasna Singh, who heads a non-governmental organization (NGO) and has lived in Alpha-II since 2003, said changing the names of sectors would only create confusion when none exist. “This decision to change the names of sectors in Greater Noida is quite ridiculous and is politically motivated. It was designed as a modern and progressive city and changing the names of the sectors will take away its global character,” said the former history teacher.
Professor Vivek Kumar, who teaches sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said that over the years people identify with the names of their towns and localities.
“Furthermore, I think the people of Greater Noida associate the current names with modernity, exclusivity and egalitarianism. If the alternatives to Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta are Sector 1,2,3, 4…that feeling of exclusivity is lost,” he added.
Narain, who speaks of Greater Noida with great passion, says he couldn’t agree more. “I don’t think those names should be changed; they give the city its unique identity. If they need to be changed, the alternative must be better, equally unique,” he said.