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Centre constitutes fresh committee to look at Delhi's 'unauthorised colonies', but lack of political will could hamper effort

A third of Delhi’s population lives in ‘unauthorised colonies’, a term coined by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for all big and small residential colonies that have come up in the past decades without its authorisation and not in accordance with the Delhi Master Plan 2021.

Ahead of the 2019 polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party are talking about regularising unauthorised colonies, something all parties prior to elections. An oversimplification of the issue by reducing it to a bullet point in a political manifesto can easily lead the public astray from the fact that the problem is still unresolved, despite years of talk and the formation of multiple committees by successive governments.

Last April, the Supreme Court ordered that construction be stopped at 1,797 unauthorised colonies in the national capital. Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, who was assisting the court with the sealing drive,  pointed out that construction is rampant in unauthorised colonies and since building bylaws don’t apply to these areas, authorities fail to take any action against illegal construction.

Kumar submitted that provisional regularisation certificates were issued to 1,218 colonies that have led to lawlessness in these colonies. The bench then asked DDA: Why is it that authorised colonies have to follow norms and bylaws and once these unauthorised colonies are regularised, illegal construction inside them is also automatically regularised?

 Centre constitutes fresh committee to look at Delhis unauthorised colonies, but lack of political will could hamper effort

The letter that KK Singh wrote to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Pallavi Rebbapragada

It is worth noting what the term ‘regularised’ actually entails. The policy on regularisation of unauthorised colonies in Delhi is set out in a 24 March, 2008, DDA Notification titled ‘Regulations for Regularisation of Unauthorised Colonies’ under Section 57 of the 1957 DDA Act. There’s a cut-off date which is mentioned in the line ‘habitations existing as on 31.03.2002 … would be eligible for regularisation’ and ‘date of formal announcement of regularisation scheme’. There is no specification to the latter date and the term ‘in existence’ isn’t defined either.

KK Singh heads the Resident Welfare Association (RWA) of Badarpur, one of the 895 unauthorised colonies that were regularised through a notification during Sheila Dikshit’s tenure as chief minister. In the notification, it is mentioned that the government was able to identify 895 unauthorised colonies not posing any hinderance to the provisions of infrastructural facilities under the Delhi Master Plan 2021.

“Our colony Shakti Vihar in Badarpur was regularised through the notification of 2012, but until the government makes a layout plan and defines the boundaries of the colonies, the regularisation process is not complete. Till today, no further steps have been taken to complete the regularisation,” he said, explaining the futility of granting regularisation on paper and not completing the required formalities.

Creating these layout plans is imperative. In 2017, a writ petition was filed complaining that the West Jyoti Nagar Colony slated for regularisation contravenes the regularisation plan and unauthorised constructions have come up in the areas marked for community uses in the plan. As a response to this, the Resident Welfare Association of the area pleaded that the writ petition is misconceived and the Delhi High Court accepted that the regularisation plan was in fact submitted to the authorities for approval.

“Plans are submitted and are waiting for approvals from departments as varied as revenue, fire, environment, air and so on. Also, the government needs to understand that RWAs, especially in areas where low income groups reside, don’t have the funds to engage professional architects and come up with plans that can find the approval of several departments easily,” explained Singh.

He shared letters he wrote to the Arvind Kejriwal government explaining the complexity of the matter. Singh further revealed that during a meeting at the Delhi Secretariat, senior officials of the Delhi government acknowledged the need to partly sponsor the developing of layout plans, but no action was taken the matter.

In an urban village where owners of plots of different sizes live, the question of who will chip in how much for conducting such high-level layout plans becomes an area of conflict among the residents, many of whom are migrants and keep shifting from one unauthorised colony to another. “Some people even proposed the use of Member of Legislative Assembly Local Area Development (MLALAD) Scheme funds for the payment, but no municipal agency has taken responsibility of this till now,” Singh said. He added that people have been waiting for regularisation because they can’t sell the properties at market rates and its nearly impossible to get a loan against a property in an unauthorised area.

People like KK Singh have fought a long battle with different governments, demanded that the land registry be opened up and a policy be made for commercial and residential sites as per Delhi bio-laws. Ashutosh Dikshit, CEO of United Residents Joint Action, a research and advocacy group that has been making a case for statutory powers to RWAs to decentralise governance in the capital, said the problem is the inability to clear stand.

Last year, the Supreme Court directed there would be no stopping of sealing or demolition of unauthorised constructions to address the validity of the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act 2006 and subsequent legislation that protect unauthorised constructions from being sealed. The Act was supposed to be valid till 2017, after which the demolition drive was to begin. Now, had the regularisations taken place and the extensions of village land within these areas been marked, the capital wouldn’t have witnessed this much chaos.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Centre approved a proposal to constitute a committee to recommend process for giving ownership or transfer rights to the residents of unauthorised colonies in Delhi. Decision to form a committee under the Lieutenant Governor to recommend modalities for recognising ownership/transfer rights to residents of unauthorised colonies in Delhi. Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Puri said this is being done to ‘put an end to the uncertainty’.

Romi Khosla, who founded Group for Rural and Urban Planning ( GRUP) in Delhi in 1974, feels the promise of regularising is a pie in the sky because the method is not clear. “It is not clear what they mean by regularised. Do they mean, people occupying the place are the legal owners and that they will become the accepted owner of the property? What kind of elaborate mechanism is going to be set up for the number of transactions that have taken place to the original people occupying the property right now?” He further said that it was possible a third person would be occupying the property and  wondered how the government would scrutinise millions of papers to determine the real owners.

One reason for the politicisation of the issue is playing on the uncertainty of the voters who live in the hope that one day, a Delhi government will declare them the owners of the houses.

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Updated Date: Mar 12, 2019 21:39:04 IST