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Delhi’s Unauthorised Colonies: An Issue Only for the Election Season?

It is estimated that more than 30% of Delhi’s urban population resides in unauthorised colonies.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Delhi’s Unauthorised Colonies: An Issue Only for the Election Season?
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With much fanfare, the Union government launched the PM-UDAY (Prime Minister – Unauthorized Colonies in Delhi Awas Adhikar Yojana) scheme through the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to confer property ownership or transfer/mortgage rights to the residents of unauthorised colonies in Delhi. The timing of the launch and implementation of the scheme coincided with the run-up to the Delhi state elections of 2020.

Till October 2021, according to an official statement, around 4,37,255 PM-UDAY registrations were made on the portal and 87,275 applications were submitted. Out of these, 30,717 applications have been disposed of.

This implies that less than 10% of the total households residing in unauthorised colonies of Delhi have successfully submitted their application under the scheme in over two years after its launch, indicating that there is a strong gap in reaching out to the beneficiaries.

Manoj Kumar, 42, is one such applicant from Budh Vihar, an unauthorised colony in the northwest district of Delhi. He lives in a four-storeyed housing plot of roughly 40 sq m, incrementally built over the past few decades. He, like many other families in the area, registered for the PM-UDAY Yojana in 2020. A GIS survey (Geographic Information System-based survey to record details and tag those on a map) was undertaken with a deposit of roughly Rs 1,100, and since then, he has no information on the progress of his application. He is unaware about who to contact at DDA for further submission of papers. This is a case in point for many residents of unauthorised colonies in Delhi. Thousands of applicants from over 1,700 unauthorised colonies in Delhi are waiting for their turn.

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How Unauthorised Colonies Came to Be

Unauthorised colonies are unplanned settlements not included in the development area of the master plan and/or not marked under the residential land use. These were once predominantly rural or agricultural land subdivided into plots, and their development generally evades building bylaws and planning norms.

Unauthorised colonies primarily started sprouting up after independence, owing to the increased migration, increase in housing demand, high land prices and lack of affordable housing in the city. Over time, private landowners saw the opportunity to sub-divide their land and transfer power of attorney on the land parcels to individuals to construct housing, often in an extremely haphazard manner without provisioning for sanitation, street networks and other basic amenities.

The real problem is the lack of provision for affordable housing in the city. It is not enough that residential space is earmarked in the Master Plan – it must also be closely monitored that different typology of HIG/MIG/LIG/EWS housing is constructed in matching proportion with the income categories of the city’s population.

Today’s situation is such that there is a surplus of HIG/MIG planned housing, while it is left to the poorer neighbourhoods, consisting of unauthorised colonies, slum clusters and urban villages, to house the majority of poor coming to the city. The poor essentially accommodates the poor in the city.

Currently, the review of the Master Plan of Delhi is underway and Vision-2041 is awaited. The provisions for accommodating the poor and filling of the backlog of affordable housing stock by earmarking of spaces is again missing in the draft master plan, which has been put forth for public consultation.

12 Lodhi Gardens in Sangam Vihar

It is estimated that more than 30% of Delhi’s urban population resides in unauthorised colonies. These unauthorised colonies lack proper roads, open spaces, sanitation and water facilities and are a hub of illegal and unsafe construction. Although these colonies provide facilities and dwellings that are better in condition than slum clusters, the legality of the dwellings, especially in terms of finance and mortgaging, remains a challenge for residents.

To get a mental picture of the magnitude of the challenge at hand, let us explore the images given below, where we have tried to superimpose the image of Lodhi Garden, a 90-acre plush urban park in Delhi, upon the satellite imagery of Sangam Vihar, one of the largest unauthorised colonies in India. A total of 12 Lodhi Gardens can be accommodated within Sangam Vihar, illustrating the enormous size of the unauthorised colony. The image perfectly summarises the spatial injustice imposed upon the residents of the unauthorised colonies, who reside in high-density urban clusters without planned urban provisions.

(Photo credit: Authors)

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A Missing Piece of the Housing Discourse

While governments continue to focus on building planned housing for the rich & the middle class and relocation of slum clusters, unauthorised colonies, which are somewhere in between, are left behind as missing piece of the mainstream housing discourse. Instead of focusing on regularisation of unauthorised colonies only during the election season, consistent efforts must be made for monitoring successful implementation of the scheme. This will provide relief to thousands of families in a time-bound manner, enabling them to tap into additional financial opportunities and welfare benefits.

The II and III-tier cities in India also need to focus on provisioning for low-income/affordable housing to avoid vast pockets of land within the city from becoming unauthorised colonies.

We can safely discard the option of demolition of unauthorised colonies at this stage with the various socio-political factors involved in it and the huge economic loss that will be incurred by the government, apart from it being a blatant human rights violation.

A sound regularisation programme with dedicated handholding support is the only way forward to enable upgradation of these colonies. This programme must be holistically planned with proper provisioning for basic infrastructure and social services by the local authorities in close consultation with residents.

This way, the government has a golden opportunity to recognise the inherent and organic way in which the city-makers, ie, the poor, have built the city over decades, which the post-colonial understanding of city planning in the ‘Global South’ has historically ignored.

(Aditya Ajith and Ritu Kataria are co-founders of Corurban Foundation, a social impact organization based out of Delhi-NCR working on providing access to infrastructure in rural and urban low-income communities. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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