Future is a Ghetto
Chitvan Gill

In its masterly plan for housing the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) shamelessly glosses over the imperatives of an even halfway-competent management of its city and replays the same old, disastrous, failed plans. Thanks to their complete absence of vision, their inability to reinvent the city, the Delhi of 2021 will be no more than a city of slums.

The Master Plan envisages a ‘comfortable adjustment’ of 23 million persons by 2021, for which DDA’s first scheme is “to find ways by which the population growth in Delhi can be checked”. 20 per cent of the city’s “assessed housing needs” can “potentially be satisfied” by deflecting these numbers into the neighbouring cities of the National Capital Region (NCR). The careening pace of urbanisation in Delhi sees close to an annual influx of 500,000 migrants a year. An assumption that cities around Delhi would magically reinvent themselves and suck in the influx is a remote possibility in the coming decade. What kind of planning manifests itself in a ‘hope’, a ‘premise’?

Currently, 2.9 million persons live in slums and jhuggi jhompri (JJ) colonies in Delhi. MPD 2021 declares “the present three-fold strategy of relocation, in-situ upgradation and environmental upgradation” is good enough for these and must continue. But can DDA point out a single slum that looks fit for human habitation as a result of this ‘strategy’, and that can merge into the overall design of a ‘world class city’?

MPD 2021 concedes that there will still be need for at least 50,000 new ‘dwelling units’ per annum, 50 to 55 per cent of these for the urban poor (at another place estimated additional housing stock required is put at 2.4 million dwelling units; not even the numbers reconcile). The solution? ‘Densification’ and ‘redevelopment’. 50 per cent of all new housing will be one and two room units with average plinth areas of 25 to 40 metres, each rising up to four floors under the new rules. In its ‘norms for utilities’ for EWS (economically weaker section) housing, MPD 2021 prescribes one WC for 10 families and one bath for 20 families – assuming a modest family size of five persons, this condemns fifty persons to share a single WC and a hundred to a bath! These bleak, inhuman, concrete hellholes are the great plan for Delhi in the 21st Century.

That is not all. 10 per cent of built area in these ghettoes can be used for commercial activity, setting up an explosive recipe for free-wheeling chaos under the Master Plan’s ‘mixed land use’ scheme. Existing units can also be pooled and ‘densified’ with increased FAR and relaxed norms for infrastructure and common spaces, and the ‘private sector’ is to be invited to engage in this process in a ‘cooperative resettlement model’ that would further erode the tenuous ownership rights of the poor.

40 per cent of total projected housing needs are to be met through ‘densification’ and ‘redevelopment’ of Delhi’s existing areas, and another 40 per cent by ‘additional housing’. MPD 2021 is, however, quite obscure about the ‘where, when and how’ of this. Areas identified with ‘surplus holding capacities’ are, in fact, already overburdened. Rohini, Dwarka and Narela have already been commandeered to a carrying capacity far in excess of original projections. The only point at which concrete norms are defined is in allowances of increased FAR for ‘densification of existing areas’. This is at a time when even the best colonies of Delhi are feeling the strain of infrastructure stretched to the limits – how DDA will reconcile ‘densification’ of the magnitude it proposes with even minimal backup infrastructure is beyond comprehension. Its complete vagueness is the precise danger of this document. It allows and concentrates power in DDA’s hands in a manner that anything could be possible, since it is not clearly stated.

The Master Plan recognises the heritage value of the Lutyens Bungalow Zone which has to be conserved “in the process of redevelopment of this area” according to recommendations of “the committee constituted” – which form no part of the Master Plan. Large parts of the Cantonment also qualify as heritage areas and ought to be preserved accordingly, but are earmarked for “intensive development” and a “doubling of housing stock… on a conservative estimate”, to be financed through “cross subsidisation of commercial use” – mixed land use, again. Tract upon tract of the city has been rendered unliveable by the random and injudicious application of this policy – the dying colonies of South Extension, Greater Kailash, Defence Colony – but the DDA sees none of these ills, none of its inexorable power of destruction, and seeks to apply the same policy to DDA colonies, heritage, residential, walled city, urban village and new areas alike. For them, it is the urban grail; for Delhi, a poisoned chalice.

(The writer is Convenor, Urban Futures Initiative)

Published in The Pioneer, May 26, 2005





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