Housing: The Future is a Ghetto
Chitvan Gill

Cities and urban centres across the country have become the magnets that attract a rapidly increasing influx of people. Today, one of the greatest challenges facing cities is providing suitable accommodation for ever-increasing populations. And this is what the DDA sets as an objective with its proposed ‘ultimate goal’ of ‘Shelter for all’ in its housing policy. Despite pressing housing problems today with a population of just over 13.8 million, the DDA envisages ‘a balanced regional development’ and the ‘comfortable adjustment’ of 23 million by 2021. The aims are admirable but the means end up as nothing but a pot pourri of ill conceived projections.

To start with, the calculations themselves are wrong. MPD 2021 puts the estimate of ‘urbanisable land’ at 97,790.9 hectares, and separately states that 45 to 55 percent of this – that is, 53,785 hectares at 55 per cent – is for residential use. It also seeks a density of 225 persons per hectare (pph) of housing. Simple multiplication would bring this figure to just 12.1 million – and not the targeted 22 to 23 million the Plan envisages. A population of 22 million would take the density up to 409 pph. Even if 20 per cent of these are located outside the NCT as MPD 2021 somewhat improbably envisages, the density would still stand at 327. Indeed, even these figures may be an underestimate. As Umesh Sehgal, former Secretary of the National Capital Region (NCR) Planning Board, points out, a more credible projection is “60 million people in the NCR...” He adds further, “It is foolish to expect that these will be evenly spread out. We will have 30 million in Delhi and the remaining 30 million somehow spread around Delhi.”

There is a revelatory quality about the complete shamelessness with which the DDA glosses over an even halfway-competent management of its city. In order to make sense of the vague document that is the Masterplan 2021 and its obfuscated projections for housing, it is necessary to look back at DDA’s previous efforts in this endeavour. In 1961, the DDA was handed over 19,190 hectares but till date has not been able to build houses on even half of this land. By 1968 a review of the housing situation revealed a shortage of 350,000 units, and till that year a total of only 12,000 plots and 1,350 dwelling units had been made available. Today, official figures place the housing shortage at 450,000 – and those are only official figures.

Instead of being a vigorous, imaginative document that reinvents itself with a fresh approach towards tackling the pressing problems of housing, the Master Plan treads the same tired ground, advocating more of its 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. Indeed, MPD 2021 baldly states that the existing slums will stay and will, in fact, be ‘regularised’. 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’?

The next ‘solution’ proposed by the Master Plan is “to find ways by which the population growth in Delhi can be checked.” This is to be achieved by sampling assuming the 20 per cent of housing needs can “potentially be satisfied by the development of accommodation in the adjacent NCR cities”. The careening pace of Delhi’s ‘urbanisation’ sees close to an annual influx of 500,000 migrants a year, and this is only estimated to increase. A deflection would only occur if the cities around Delhi magically reinvented themselves and sucked in the influx. That possibility is remote within the coming decade, and indeed, Delhi’s population explosion has run parallel with the dramatic growth of population in all the neighbouring cities. Where is the planning reflected in a ‘hope’, a ‘premise’?

Another of the Master Plan’s ‘assessments’ is that 40 per cent of housing needs would “potentially be satisfied… through redevelopment and upgrading of existing areas of Delhi. The study on holding capacity also supports that 40 per cent of additional housing needs may be met in the present urban limits of A to H divisions and in the sub cities of Dwarka , Rohini and Narela.” 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, for instance, have already been commandeered to a carrying capacity far in excess of original projections. Nowhere is there a clearly drawn out method of the means and instrumentalities that will be undertaken to achieve this well nigh impossible plan.

It is useful to look at the context within which this ‘densification’ of ‘existing areas’ is proposed. MPD 2021 speaks blandly of 225 pph across Delhi’s ‘urbanisable land’; no details or projections of their spatial distribution are given. But the current figures for population densities are startling to say the least. According to one study in 1991 while the number of people residing in the NDMC area was 6,882 per sq. km, the corresponding number for the MCD (urban) area was 16,643. In parts of South Delhi, the density can be as low as 1,300 per sq. km., but moving towards Old Delhi or East Delhi, the average density was already approximately 80,000 persons per sq. km. in 1981. Some resettlement colonies have densities of 700,000 a figure which works out to almost 102 times that of the NDMC area. Yet the Master Plan appears to suggest that all existing areas are somehow targeted for ‘densification’.

The plan goes on to declare, “Even if the assumptions regarding the extent of housing that could be met in the NCR or by redevelopment of the existing areas, as stated earlier, actually materialize, there would still be a need for development of housing to the extent of at least 50,000 DUs (dwelling units) per annum in different categories.” ‘Actually materialize’! You are admitting the rather dubious and quite unreliable calculations of your own Plan?

The complete confusion of thought and the external factors that govern planning are well demonstrated in the attempt at explaining the issue of ‘unauthorised colonies’. MPD 2021 notes: “The issue of existing unauthorised colonies has engaged attention since the mid–seventies when a policy for regularisation was formulated. 567 out of 607 listed unauthorised colonies were regularised till October 1993 but many more unauthorized colonies have come up since then. 1,071 such colonies were identified in a survey conducted in 1993, but in the absence of consensus about how to deal with them and go about the process of regularisation, their number would have grown further… Based on an aerial survey carried out in march 2002 guidelines for the regularisation of unauthorised colonies had been prepared but these have not yet been finalised for implementation” (emphasis added). Such indecision, such incompetence and such incoherence. It is alarming to see so abject an admission of an administration’s inability to deal with the dynamic of urbanisation. And the future of our city lies in such hands!

The DDA has been referred to as “the largest real estate agency in the world, with over 50,000 acres of prime metropolitan land at its disposal”. Yet despite these phenomenal reserves of land holdings the city finds itself in the predicament it is currently in. And it is the skewed policies of the DDA which are almost single-handedly responsible for this state of affairs. In a survey conducted by the Hazards Centre, it was found that, while the planned targets set for the rich were achieved more than three times over, only 40 percent of the low-end Janata flats were occupied by the poor, and that 81 percent of low income group housing was owned by the middle-income and rich groups. Despite 23,000 applicants waiting for housing allotment on November 2002, some 22,000 of these for Janata and Low Income Group (LIG) flats, the DDA announced it would take up schemes only for High Income Group (HIG) flats and that the Janata flats would not be constructed anymore. The one room Janata flats cost a minimum of Rs. 2 lakhs , while a two-bedroom flat would cost anywhere between Rs. 9 lakhs and Rs 16. lakhs . According to the 2001 census there were 33.80 lakh census houses of which 30.02 houses were occupied and 3.78 lakh were vacant. Out of the occupied houses only 23.16 lakh (78.18 per cent) were being used exclusively for residential purposes.

The numbers forcefully demonstrate the rot that the DDA has brought to pass. Again, according to another report, in the 58 modifications made to the master plan from 1990-98 pertaining to 5,007 hectares, land use was modified to ‘manufacturing’ in 4 cases, totalling 38 hectares, while land re-designated for ‘residential areas’ was 2,782 hectares, and 200 hectares were changed to ‘commercial’ use. Yet little of this is translated into housing for the poor. A study in contrasts reveals that in 1994, there were 4.8 lakh dwelling units in a total area of only of only of only 9.5 sq. kms – the total area that was occupied by slums was no more than 1.5 percent of the total urban area of Delhi. Where did all the re-designated ‘residential’ land go? Evidently to the rich. Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh had rightly commented that, “The DDA has emerged as the biggest violator of the master plan”.

And as the DDA fails comprehensively to create the housing and infrastructure for which it had acquired land from farmers and private owners, it is left to a desperate populace to scrape together ‘dwelling units’ on vacant lots, forced to breaking the law and to become squatters by the criminal inefficiency of the DDA.

It is a fatal flaw that, though it has been given the authority of a document such as the Master Plan, legal and binding, DDA has been totally unable to implement its rules and provisions. When more than half the population of Delhi lives in ‘illegal makeshift’ and unplanned shelters, which are, by and by, ‘regularised’ you are creating self inflicted chaos. The notion of planning holds no meaning in such a scenario. Significantly, by 1994 1,561.66 acres of land belonging to the DDA had been occupied by 290,678 jhuggies, out of a total of 2,229.72 acres under such occupation, all on land belonging to other Government agencies.

The flip side involves the DDA watching inert on the sidelines as slums and JJ clusters grow to assume mammoth proportions, and then suddenly swooping down and demolishing them, evicting their residents. If the squatters can be penalised, why not the DDA for failing to do its job in the first place?

MPD 2021 admits that the failure of the implementation of the earlier Master Plans has been instrumental in the creation of unauthorised / regularized colonies, but its solution is an abdication of responsibility, as it advocates bringing in a ‘greater element of private sector participation, particularly in the development of housing’. That the private sector has diligently avoided all involvement in the low-cost housing sector in the past is no deterrent to such a proposition, as MPD 2021 adds “incentives by way of higher FAR, part commercial use of the land an if necessary and feasible, transfer of Development Rights.” Further incentives come in the shape of a provision that allows 10 per cent of the built area in the proposed ghettoes for the poor to 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, as the ‘private sector’ is invited to engage in this process in a ‘cooperative resettlement model’ that would further erode the tenuous ownership rights of the poor. It does not require extraordinary intellect to figure out the consequences of these clauses in conjunction, setting up an explosive recipe for free wheeling chaos.

The retreat of the DDA from housing for the poor and the handing over of this responsibility to organisations that are not particularly concerned about the interests of the poor, but rather the exploitation of land for commercial uses, could prove ruinous for the intended ‘beneficiaries’. MPD 2021 also sees a role for NGOs in this process, another recipe for disaster if past experience can be relied on. NGOs are largely funded by international agencies, and also tend to be fairly clueless about ground realities – where they are not, in fact, themselves compromised. Given the situation, the individual poor would be powerless to withstand forces arrayed more against him than in his favour.

The proposals for creation of new housing for the economically weaker sections (EWS) start off by invoking that all encompassing panacea to all of Delhi’s problems – the NCR. Once again it is imagined that a part of resettlement of squatters can be accommodated in ‘adjacent NCR areas’. The means and instrumentalities for making this possible are never spelt out. New housing within the city is once again farmed out to agencies as well as private and corporate bodies with the rider that, for every housing scheme taken by any agency, “10 percent of the saleable net residential land should be reserved for EWS housing and pooled on a zonal basis to have its even spread in different parts of the city and not concentrate in one place.” The guidelines for this section allow for maximum densification with a commercial component of up to 10 per cent.

Under ‘new housing areas’ it is stated that 50 to 55 per cent of all new housing would be in the form of one and two room units with average plinth area of 25 sqm to 40 sqm. MPD 2021 asserts that cost considerations preclude the possibility of building high for the poor – perhaps the idea of installation of Lifts for the poor was considered offensive – a curious conclusion in a situation where the cost of land is perhaps the most significant element in housing. Since this is assumed to be the case, however, under the new rules, these units can only go up to four stories. At one stroke, you have created more than 50 per cent of housing in the city as nothing but one and two room tenements going up four floors, with plinth areas of 25 to 40 metres! DDA’s warped wisdom is further displayed in its ‘norms for utilities’ for EWS 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.

And the master ‘eureka moment’ is in the new strategy for ‘redevelopment’ and ‘upgradation’ of existing areas. Developed DDA colonies, group housing cooperatives and existing EWS housing can all be ‘densified’ through ‘redevelopment’ by forming cooperative societies or self-managing communities on the basis of self-financing and through ‘partnerships’ with the private sector. The plan leans repeatedly on big players, leaving little room for the powerless individual, and could see builders and developers moving in on settlements of the poor, easily forcing the unwilling to ‘cooperate’.

The plan goes on to spell out its design for the relocation of slum clusters. Here again we get an insight into DDA’s vision and wisdom at work. “In cases of relocation, the sites should be identified with a view to developing relatively small clusters…. Very large resettlement sites could lead to a phenomenon of planned slums.” What is planned, evidently, are semi-slums, dismal huddles of dwellings for second class citizens – the poor, after all, cannot live in colonies that are well-planned and aesthetically pleasing. So not too many of the proposed four-storied stacks of concrete boxes should be built up in one place lest they end up looking like slum colonies. By keeping their numbers down, DDA hopes you will not notice them.

Densification and more densification is the only strategy to solve all housing problems that plague Delhi in every economic segment. The only time concrete plans are articulated for the development of housing is when norms for increased FAR, for ‘densification of existing areas’, are defined. In this city today even the most well off colonies are feeling the strain of an infrastructure stretched to its limits, to all appearances, the city can barely contain its present population. But these same areas have been earmarked for further ‘densification’? Everywhere, at every turn, there is an impression that the welfare of the city is at stake with this ill-conceived plan, as the Master Plan seeks to build, build and keep building, creating not a ‘world class city’ but one that is rendered even more chaotic than it already is. All the stops have been pulled out to make Delhi as ‘densified’ as possible. How DDA will reconcile ‘densification’ of the magnitude it proposes with even minimal backup infrastructure is beyond comprehension.

But within all this, behind all the ‘guidelines’ and ‘norms’ what comes through is nothing but a sense of complete vagueness, with no solid projections and plans. This is the precise danger of this document. It allows and concentrates power in the hands of the DDA in such a manner that anything could be possible, since nothing is clearly stated.

Take the case of the bungalow area. The Master Plan recognises that the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (LBZ) area has a heritage value which has to be conserved “in the process of redevelopment of this area”. It goes on to state that “the strategy for development in this zone will be as per the recommendations of the committee constituted.” These are plans that should have been spelt out in MPD 2021, not left to vague strategising by some committee.

Similar plans are afoot for all Government and cantonment areas. Large parts of the Cantonment qualify as heritage areas and should be preserved accordingly. Instead, MPD 2021 earmarks these “prime lands” 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!

If one has to pin point a single reasons why Delhi remains a city that has a certain charm, a surviving appeal, it is due to the presence of such areas, the loci of planned low density. Delhi’s ruination can be traced directly to the pernicious policy of ‘mixed land use’ imposed on areas planned under exclusive zoning norms. 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, earlier, the walled city, Karol Bagh – 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 a film-maker and Convenor, Urban Futures Initiative






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