Delhi’s Unauthorised Colonies: A Tale of Neglect, Since 1931   

Underprivileged citizens of Delhi continue to suffer from policies made by ivory tower bureaucrats.

6 min read
Underprivileged citizens of Delhi continue to suffer from policies made by ivory tower bureaucrats.

Last week, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the Central Government, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on the prickly and politically sensitive issue of unauthorised construction in Delhi and put a stay on any future constructions in 1,797 unauthorised colonies (UCs).

A strict enforcement of existing rules and regulations could possibly result in loss of habitation for more than 10 million people in Delhi (that is half of Delhi’s population) mostly made up of the underprivileged working class.

The issue of unauthorised constructions is one that has been simmering for long enough and has come to a head now largely due to the incompetence and administrative lassitude of the Central Government and the aforementioned government agencies.


A Historical Background

In 1931, the erstwhile British Empire shifted the capital of colonial India from Calcutta to Delhi. Delhi, then, consisted mostly of rural villages and vast tracts of agricultural land which either acquired to make way for rapid infrastructure development.

This took away from the villagers their farmlands and open spaces, and the government circumscribed these rural residential areas by a red line and defined them by the term — ‘Lal Dora’.

While rapid urban development took place across Delhi, such villages remained within the confines of their Lal Doras. The close layouts and narrow lanes of these Lal Doras were conditioned by compulsions of collective security and considerations of mutual interdependence in a village economy.

Eventually, this made the village abadis intolerably cramped. The Central government, thus, took the decision to urbanise these villages in a phased manner. However, bureaucratic delay in the issue of the requisite notification declaring the villages as ‘urban’, resulted in unplanned growth around the villages.

Large scale unauthorised construction (residential and industrial) and settlements of slum dwellers came up, and of lack of integration of urbanised villages with the process of planned development in the surrounding areas. This soon spread to all parts of Delhi.

Post Partition, Delhi witnessed a huge influx of refugees from Pakistan resulting in a rapid increase in Delhi’s population, from 0.9 million in 1941 to more than 1.8 million in 1951. The refugees settled temporarily at makeshift camps, which in due course became permanent, illegal and unauthorised urban settlements.

To handle the pressing needs of land and development, Delhi’s urban development authority – the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) – came about in 1957. However, since its inception, the DDA has repeatedly failed to keep pace with the rapidly growing population — the decadal growth rate of population in Delhi is almost 50 percent.

The Present Situation

The building laws in Delhi are regulated by more than 15 urban authorities, with overlapping jurisdictions, making the process costly, complex and time consuming for the common citizen. Thus, unauthorised and illegal constructions continue, as citizens continue to flout rules in order to circumvent the complex procedures and red-tapism.

Multiple efforts over 50 years to address this problem have failed.Eventually, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) Laws (The Special Provisions) Act, 2006 (extended up to 31.12.2017) was enacted by the Central Government for protection of unauthorised constructions.

However, in the absence of a comprehensive regularisation framework and fragmented areas of jurisdiction of different public agencies, no tangible progress has been made so far at the ground level.

The fact that the Central Government has not been able to regularise even a single colony since 2006 is testament to the impracticability of the policies made and goes to show that policies are made by ivory-tower bureaucrats with no connection with ground reality.


The Way Forward

  • Regularisation of Unauthorised Colonies (UCs): As per the existing regulations, only those UCs which have come up by 07.02.2007 are to be regularised. This will not solve the problem, as more than 400 UCs have come up post 2007. Second, the Central government still relies upon the aerial survey conducted in 2007 for fixing the boundaries of existing UCs. And regularisation is only accorded to those UCs which have at least 50 percent plots built up. This is highly impractical as the plot built-up size differs drastically from one UC to another and the aerial survey is now outmoded. Third, as per present planning norms, all un-built private plots in UCs need to be reserved for community facilities for the ease of residents. However, this proposal of the government of reserving all open plots (owned by individuals) for community facilities and expecting the RWA (as well as the individual) to hand over these plots is too impractical.


  1. The above conditions should be relaxed, u/s 57 of DDA Act (1957), to facilitate regularisation of UCs.
  2. Thereafter, in the first phase, 904 UCs built on undisputed private land should be regularised. UCs on private land, vested in government for non-agricultural use should be handled next with proper GIS survey. Then, the majority of UCs would be regularised and would receive the benefits of municipal facilities.
  • Allow Width of Streets to Be Less Than 15 Feet: Most of the UCs have narrow streets. The original layout plans had proposed road widening of 15 feet and above. However, the actual widening of such roads has not been carried out by MCD and DDA. That’s why, when a resident of such a UC comes to obtain sanctions for their building plan, they have to leave a ‘scope of road widening’ in the plan. As a result, the permissible coverage becomes lower and their house goes behind the existing row. Thus, the resident prefers to carry out unauthorised construction.

Solution: The only remedy to this is to relax the requirement of 15 feet wide road(s) immediately and to sanction the building plan immediately.

  • Do Away with Red-Tapism: Sub-division in unauthorised colonies, village abadis and special areas carried out up to 08.02.2007 is permitted as per the notification dated 17.01.2011 of DDA. However, as per clause (iii) of the said notification, the increase/decrease of Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of the building is permitted only on the undivided size of plot as on 16.02.1977, that is the date of regularisation of the colony, is taken into consideration and the applicant is asked to submit old documents. Most of the applicants do not have old documents and are unable to get the sanction for their building plan and have to resort to illegal construction.

Solution: FAR should be permitted on the size of plot as on the date of approval of the building plan. That’ll ensure there will be no need of previous ownership documents.

  • Allow Plots of Size Less Than 32 Sq. M: As per the Master Plan of Delhi (2021), the minimum area of a residential plot in a UC is prescribed as 32 sq. m. But there are many UCs where the dwelling units have plot area of up to 18 sq. m. only. Due to existing norms, the residents of these areas are either unable to carry out construction.

Solution: The minimum area of the sub-division should be permitted up to 18 sq. m.

  • Ease the Construction Permission Process: India ranks 181 out of 190 countries in ‘Ease of Construction Permissions’ in World Bank’s ‘Doing Business Report’ (2018).

Solution: Singapore’s model of trust-based building plan approvals should be followed. Following Section 5(5) of Singapore Building Control Act (2012), building plans should be approved on the basis of certificates by accredited checkers themselves instead of involving the urban local bodies. Reducing permission regulations and simplifying the process would also lower housing costs in Delhi.

Half of Delhi’s population’s livelihood is at stake. The need of the hour is for the Central government to stop acting like the 12th man in a sordid game of cricket, to rise above blame-shifting and to focus on solving the current crisis by following the steps outlined above.

(Pranav Jain works with the AAP and Delhi government on key issues. He can be reached on Twitter at @pranavj142. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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