Three Municipal Corporations of Delhi will go to polls on 22 April, 2017. The pitch for these elections is no less shrill than back in February 2015, when Delhiities stepped out to vote generously in favour of Arvind Kejriwal, giving his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) an absolute majority in the Delhi Assembly – with 67 of 70 seats. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi's formidable victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections could not keep AAP away.
Truth be told, from the time the Delhi chief minister first resigned, within 49 days of assuming power in February 2014, to his re-election with a thumping majority in 2015, arguments in Delhi's drawing rooms and chai addas flew both ways.
Those who pressed the button on the lotus (BJP) in this David versus Goliath clash, believed having the same rulers at the Centre and state made it simpler for the capital to get a much needed facelift. Whereas, an overwhelming number of those who went for the upstart Kejriwal, connected with his much more impactful campaign run at the galli-mohalla level. Many who didn’t care for Kejriwal’s belligerent politics or inexperience, simply voted for AAP as a viable counter argument to bestowing absolute power to one party.
But much has changed between then and now, as Delhi prepares to vote again for its civic corporators, who hold the power over Delhiites' everyday life.
What grabbed public attention though, was the constant and bitter standoff between AAP and the erstwhile Delhi lieutenant governor, Najeeb Jung. In all the battles that the AAP government picked, its constant crib has been that it isn’t being allowed to function effectively. And, therefore, its pitch to voters this time around is to give them 'a majority in Municipal elections and see how they transform Delhi.'
But is that really so? I’m afraid not. Let’s put the spotlight on one key policy which has been sacrificed at the altar of this power struggle – Delhi’s Land Pooling Policy (LPP).
Delhi, the capital of the world’s largest democracy, has seen a substantial rise in population – both organic and through migration. In the last few decades, Delhi’s population has gone up from 60 lakh people to 1.7 crore. The current infrastructure and housing accommodates only 1.5 crore people. Rest find their way into growing slums and unauthorised colonies of the city.
By the end of the year 2021, this population is expected to rise up to 2.5 crore people. The big challenge Delhi faces is to accommodate 80 lakh more people with the right kind of housing, supported by adequate social and physical infrastructure.
Based on these estimates, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and subsequently the Urban Development Ministry notified Delhi’s LPP in September 2013.
Now what is LPP all about? It’s aimed at getting individuals or a group of land owners – living in urban villages on Delhi's peripheries – to pool their land and hand it over to DDA, which will develop public infrastructure like roads, before returning a substantial portion back to the owner.
Minimum size of land parcel which will be acquired by DDA is two hectare. For land up to 20 hectares, DDA is to return 48 percent of the land to its holders; for land above 20 hectares, DDA must return 60 percent of the land to the original holder. Subsequent to the pooling exercise, the land owners can rope in real estate developers or developer entities to come up with affordable residential properties. The zoning done for LPP is in accordance with Master Plan of Delhi 2021 and was aimed to expand Delhi’s boundaries on all sides.
This is a globally acceptable model for city development and should have been implemented right after regulations were notified in 2015. But and it’s a big but, for the policy to take off, the Delhi government’s urban development department is required to notify 89 villages identified by the DDA, as ‘development’ areas.
Simple enough isn’t it? Except Kejriwal, who cheered the LPP notification in one of his 'Talk to AK' video conferences, soon after assuming office, has dug his heels and is refusing to budge on it. AAP’s stance give the Delhi government a blanket 10% of the pooled land – to develop school, hospitals, bus shelters etc. Only then, say AAP, will the Delhi government notify the 89 villages and allow land pooling to move forward.
Urban planners say this demand is flawed. "By default, more than 10 percent of this pooled 47,000 acres of land will necessarily pass on to Delhi government after sectoral plans are drawn out. Every master plan provisions for social and institutional development, which includes, health, education, sports, community clubs and shelters, is the responsibility of state governments," Ramesh Menon, founder, director of Certes Realty Ltd, said. DDA has time and again stated that land will be provided to Delhi Government in accordance with the master plan, on need basis, as is being done now.
Dig deeper and you find that the Delhi government is already sitting on huge parcels of land. Between Agencies like DUSIB (Delhi Urban Shelter Development Board) DSIIDC (Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development) and departments of Health and Tourism, Delhi government has almost 3,000 acres of land at its disposal.
What’s more, in November 2015, the AAP-led Delhi government transferred all Gram Sabhas, or the common village land in these to be notified villages, to its own revenue department. This adds approximately another 5,000 acres. So with almost 8,000 acres already under its belt, what exactly is AAP’s quibble?
Unfortunate as it is, with the village notification being held to ransom, nothing has moved. Except scams. Hundreds of buyers have been hawked property in the LPP zones, by unscrupulous entities. Hurriedly cobbled together development entities have mushroomed and pre-sold apartments – with memberships in housing societies collecting anywhere upwards of Rs 1,000 crore from buyers. This is happening in direct contravention to the Supreme Court order on pre-launches, and right under the nose of Delhi’s revenue department.
"There have been people/investors who have unfortunately bought properties in the Delhi land pooling zones, on the hopes of high return, unfounded advise from developers with little or no experience, as also middlemen, which include not only includes local brokers but also a few operating at a national and an international scale," corroborates Ashwinder Raj Singh, CEO of JLL Residential.
And this well-oiled 'scam' continues to find scapegoats even today. You only have to travel to Chhawla, Najafgarh to see hoardings talking of a future smart city, attempting to lure more buyers. DDA, for its part, has come out with a few feeble advertisements warning buyers to stay away, but that is simply not enough. It could have easily served suo-moto notices to stop these fly by night operators.
For India’s capital city, time is of immense value. The entire idea of land pooling was to make Delhi a future ready city. Even if the villages are notified today, it will take 18-24 months for DDA to get the land together. And then comes the work of developing it by DDA, an authority which has a dismal record of developing anything in Delhi. The fact that DDA itself needs a complete revamp is yet another story!
In the meantime, Delhi suffers. And it’s quite clear to the voters that the standoff between Kejriwal’s AAP and Modi’s BJP has cost Delhi on several fronts.
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Updated Date: Mar 23, 2017 13:18:21 IST