Running Aground: how land use can destroy a Metropolis
Jagan Shah

Having ‘exhausted’ the urbanizable limits of Delhi, the DDA now finds that the city looks nothing like what it envisaged in MPD1962 and MPD2001, which were grand tributes to “the philosophy of public sector/government led growth and development.” Now, MPD 2021 contains fatuous strategies for accommodating an additional population of 4 million in the existing areas of Delhi, where there are presently 11 million, not including the 3 million it has already permanently condemned to living in slums, JJ clusters, unauthorized colonies and overgrown ‘villages’ (and another five million in ‘new’ areas). This is based on dubious projections of “holding capacity” for seven zones of the city and ‘urban extensions’ in Narela, Rohini and Dwarka. But while it somehow marshals the requisite numbers, DDA’s strategy for manifesting its arithmetic on the ground elicits more than mild trepidation.

The meat of the new plan is contained in two expeditious policies recommended by DDA’s infamous Malhotra Committee: mixed land use and densification through redevelopment. The former permits the conversion of residences to commercial use, casually overturning the logic of segregated land use that has held sway over the city for fifty years. The customary list of prohibitions includes such vague categories as ‘storage’ and patently unjust ones like ‘cycle-rickshaw repairs’. Other prohibitions can be notified “from time to time,” advancing another License Raj, a universally condemned instrument of authoritarianism.

MPD 2021 will make Delhi a playground for developers and their ‘schemes’. Riding piggy-back on the Delhi Metro, the DDA will create a kilometer-wide belt of ‘densification’ running through the whole city, without figuring out how such a linear development will negotiate existing zonal segregations. If property owners in industrial and residential zones are able to consolidate 4 hectares of land — individually or by forming cooperative societies — they can submit a ‘redevelopment scheme’ in which enhanced FAR, upto 150% of existing FAR, will be sanctioned. By providing ‘social infrastructure’, meaning anything from a temple to a clubhouse/gambling-den, they can claim ‘Transferable Development Rights’ and trade them in for further relaxation of FAR.

If you are already misusing a residential property for industrial purposes and find 70% of your neighbors doing the same, you can form a cabal, prepare a redevelopment scheme covering 4 hectares and get free-hold industrial plots in return. You can ‘cluster’ your plots into minimum 3,000 sqm and claim extra FAR. The DDA will even let you include the service lanes, though these will not figure in your FAR calculation; but that doesn’t matter, because the market value of your property will be on the ‘super area’. The policy of “accommodation reservation” allows you to build hospitals and schools as ‘public’ functions, without inclusion in the FAR. Your profits are entirely private, of course.

For the payment of ‘additional charges’ and ‘appropriate levies’, DDA is fully willing to contravene social justice and equity and dole out “de-facto tenure rights on the land and access to services” to those who would embrace its mixed-use strategy, especially to property owners in ‘unauthorized colonies’ and urban villages, which are now called “vital contributors to the economic life of the city,” never mind that they are villages no more, only viruses destroying the city fabric from within. It calls this Public Private Partnership.

DDA’s callous undoing of planned land-use is implicit in every page of MPD2021. 7,777 hectares of the Aravali ridge has been designated as a Regional Park but delays in notification and determination of the actual area “owned by various agencies – DDA, CPWD, NDMC, MCD, Forest Department and the Ministry of Defense,” means it is doomed. The ‘green belt’ surrounding Delhi has all but vanished but another one is planned, even though DDA has observed that “areas earmarked as rural/agricultural … have virtually lost their original character.” The DDA will ascertain “potential for reclamation” and designate “appropriate land uses” for the Yamuna. The Riverfront Development Plan is shrouded in secrecy — there is only a thumbnail plan on their website — and has the makings of another Taj-Corridor-like scam.

People who have paid for subsidized residential land can reap commercial-rate profits all over Delhi. In MPD2021, DDA would treat this problem as a virtue. But favoring the propertied classes violates the anti-discriminatory ideals of the Constitution of India, to which the DDA and its Ministry are supposedly beholden. It has turned the planning exercise into a farce that the common man gawps at helplessly, wondering where to fit in. The DDA takes the issue of land lightly, despite centuries of history that remind us of the evil that men do for property. The DDA admits that the time has come for “introspection, which could lead to the development of sound basic policies and strategies”; but if MPD2021 is the result of introspection, then they’re chanting the wrong mantra.

(The writer is Director, Urban Futures Initiative)

An edited version of this article was published in The Pioneer, May 27, 2005





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