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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2785

Unauthorised Delhi

By Tushar Charan - Syndicate Features

In days long past Delhi was known by many names, a reminder of the city’s rich history and its cultural mosaic. Various rulers might have chosen different names for Delhi, but none of these had any derogatory connotation. In contrast, recent years have seen the national capital collect epithets indicative of the city’s degeneration due to a multitude of reasons not the least of which is an unholy politician-bureaucrat-criminal nexus that has ravaged the city’s beauty and charm.

The ‘tree-lined, broad avenue, relaxed, sleepy’ character of Delhi has given way to concrete jungles and tension-filled life. Instead of leisurely style of yore, the city has become disorderly with danger lurking in every corner. Winter or summer, Delhi faces shortage of power and water and the greater part of the city’s population lives in ‘unauthorised’ housing areas with hardly any civic amenities, not that the civic bodies serve the rest of the city adequately.

One gets a city one deserves. Most, if not the majority, of the city’s citizens not only shut their eyes but also became active partners in ruining the city. Belatedly, signs of citizens’ ‘awakening’ are visible. It is too early to say that the people will rally together to stem the rot and make Delhi a ‘world class city’ in every sense by 2010 when it hosts the Commonwealth Games.

The facts so far militate against imagining a better Delhi in less than four years from now. In a matter of few years, Delhi has made unenviable strides as the capital to a host of sins—crime, rape and corruption. After enacting a legislation seeking a status quo on unauthorised construction till January 1 this year, Delhi is now likely to become the most ‘illegal’ city in the country.

It was hardly surprising that politicians of all hues joined hands in parliament to pass within an hour a legislation, the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Bill, 2006, which will put a 12-month moratorium on the ongoing demolitions and sealing of illegal buildings in the capital. According to Union Minister of Urban Development, S. Jaipal Reddy, the government needed a year to prepare a plan to deal with the problem related to the mushrooming of unauthorised construction in the capital. If the government has not been able to deal effectively with this problem for over 30 years, how can it do so in 365 days?

Perhaps the surest sign that nothing much can be expected in the next 12 months is the fact that despite their rare unity in passing the legislation, the main political parties in Delhi, the Congress and the BJP, were sniping at each other to score brownie points but showing really little concern for either the rehabilitation of the poor or an orderly growth of the metropolis of an estimated 10.5 million people. Nearly 400,000 people are said to be arriving in Delhi every year to start a new life. Not all of them manage to get a job that they covet, but all of them need a roof and other basic civic amenities.

Delhi is supposed to have over 3000 ‘colonies’, 1600 of them unauthorised. Delhi also has 3.2 million buildings, over 75 per cent with major or minor illegal constructions. One of the most priced residential addresses in Delhi where live some the capital’s richest and most influential people, the 161-acre Sainik Farms, still remain a totally unauthorised housing area.

Why single out the Sainik Farms? Today, there is hardly any residential area in Delhi where large scale flouting of building norms has not taken place. Even as the much-publicised demolitions were taking place some week ago, a lot of illegally constructed ‘builders’ flat’ were being built and sold everywhere.

Whether it is a government-built (DDA) or cooperative society flat or a privately owned bungalow, illegal extensions are the norm and so are business and commercial activities in ‘strictly’ residential areas of the city. The big builders have acquired enormous clout and do not fear any action by the government.

Though largely seen as the underdog, one section of the tenants has also become very powerful in Delhi and is in a position to manipulate the politicians to their will. Recall the ease with which these tenants (mostly in Delhi’s Connaught Place and Chandini Chowk) were able to scuttle the law on tenancy that had been passed ‘unanimously’ by parliament.

It is repulsive to see one political party blaming the other for the unplanned and chaotic growth of the city when both the parties are equally responsible for the mess. Till 1977, about 1400 unauthorised colonies—slum clusters, basically-- were ‘regularised’. Between 1989 and 2002, five times as many slum clusters were regularised. For the past six years, 2200 of such slum clusters are hoping that the high court will order their regularisation.

Recently on a citizen’s plea the high court ordered removal of all unauthorised and illegal construction. A total of 18299 buildings were marked for demolition. When the municipal body, sacred only of the courts, started sending the bulldozers the affected parties raised a hue and cry, pretending that they did not know that they were doing business in illegal premises. Can anyone believe that?

These ‘page three’ types even feigned concern for the poor who would be deprived of their livelihood. Some of these ‘sympathisers’ of the poor turned to god, organising ‘havans’ under lights and camera to save their buildings from the bulldozers. But god in his wisdom refused to answer their prayers.

The media hyped the ‘sob stories’ of these rich and the famous and it looked as though the courts and the municipal bodies have combined to cruelly throw the good people, who had enlivened the scene in rural peripheries of Delhi by opening fashionable boutiques, out of business. But soon allegations began to fly that the demolition operation of the municipal body was cosmetic and did not touch the VIPs and the powerful.

The enactment of the new legislation by parliament may bring more chaos as some experts have said that the law can be challenged in court. In any case, even in its present form, the new legislation might see those whose properties have been demolished seeking compensation. It will be a unique case of the government compensating someone for carrying on blatant illegal building activity.

Cynics often say the government is nothing but a collection of politicians and bureaucrats who decide what to do or not do often without any vision. Some would say that ‘extraneous’ considerations like vote bank and liquidity flow are the prime considerations in arriving at government decisions.

A city growing as fast as Delhi cannot improve if there is no will to seriously plan for a better future and there is lack of foresight among those who run the city’s affairs. A good way to plan a big city’s growth is preparing a master plan. But even this exercise has been rather shoddy or else why should it be necessary for Delhi to await clearance for its third master plan in less than 40 years?

The latest master plan is supposed to take care of the city’s future till 2021. The manner in which the previous ones were flouted should leave no doubt that another master plan will remain nothing more than a piece of paper.

- Syndicate Features -

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