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Politics of housing

Modi government has set up a committee for the regularisation of 1,797 unauthorised colonies. The move has been termed a political gimmick by Opposition

The season of raking up old issues and making new promises has begun, after all the General Election is around the corner. The news of the regularisation of unauthorised colonies is back in the headlines, stirring up a fair bit of political storm. There are around 1,797 such colonies, where one-third — about 50 million — of voters reside and the BJP government at the Centre has just constituted a panel to look into the issue.

The migrant population primarily stays in these ever-expanding number of unauthorised colonies. They are known to be ardent supporters of AAP but the Kejriwal government failed to regularise these colonies.

Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoUD), Hardeep Singh Puri, has administrative control over DDA. While taking the credit for initiating yet another move to regularise the unauthorised colonies, he has in the same vein, blamed the state government led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. “Thanks to the policy of the Delhi government,” Puri took a swipe, “we have not been able to regularise the colonies. The local government has again sought two years to complete the process. We are trying to solve the problem but the local government is not on board. And they blame the central government”.

On its part, the Delhi government blames the Centre, claiming that the file was sent to it two years ago. The issue of unauthorised colonies is an age old one, and for the last 15 years or so, previous governments have taken more than one initiative to regularise some of these colonies so that various civic amenities — like sewage line, street lights — could be extended. With many of the unauthorised colonies nestled in close proximity to posh neighbourhood and the looming uncertainty, the rates of property are much cheaper here. At the time of purchase of a property, instead of getting it registered, the seller transfers the power of attorney in the name of the buyers.

And because of their prime locations, some of these unauthorised colonies have transformed over the years. They have seen an unregulated growth, with some of them coming up as multi-storey buildings. Shahpur Jat has become the fashion hub while Hauz Khas Village — with multiple bars, restaurant and spas — is the most favoured destination for party freaks and expats. Last year, the apex court took serious objection, putting a stay on any future constructions in the unauthorised colonies.

When it’s not the election time, government agencies come down severely, mostly under the pressure of various courts. Recently, after a two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court headed by Justice Gita Mittal pulled up the government, Delhi Pollution Control Committee ordered the closure of 22 bars and restaurants at Hauz Khas Village for they didn’t have the mandatory approvals under pollution laws.

The unauthorised character of these localities tempts people to carry out business without meeting statutory requirements. There are a host of examples — like a few weeks ago, the owner and the manager of ELF Cafe and Bar was detained by Delhi Police for running the bar, allegedly, without a liquor license. Also, 170 bottles of liquor were confiscated, which were allegedly sourced from Haryana and various military canteens.

In 2015, soon after coming to power, the AAP government forwarded the proposal to regularise unauthorised colonies to MoUD. One of the integral steps for regularisation is to get the survey done. Shiela Dikshit got a survey conducted almost a decade ago, but the data is redundant as the number of unauthorised colonies have mushroomed since then.

To map unauthorised colonies is not an easy task. Last month, the Delhi government sanctioned mapping using drones.  Since 2015, as many as four methods have been employed for mapping — survey was carried by teams of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Survey of India and Geospatial Delhi; the Total Station Mapping (TSM) method was used for demarcation of boundaries of 893 unauthorised colonies — but had little success. In November last year, the central government gave CBI the permission to prosecute Delhi’s Health and Urban Development Minister, Satyendra Kumar Jain, in a case related to the alleged possession of assets, disproportionate to his known sources of income. Jain reacted saying that the charges are “laughable and beyond comprehension” and added, “The Ministry of Home Affairs says I tried to regularise unauthorised colonies. Yes, I’ve done that, it was part of our manifesto. Modi ji doesn’t want people of unauthorised colonies to live in Delhi.”

Bhupinder Singh Rawat of Jan Sangharsh Vahini has been a vocal activist in favour for regularisation for more than three decades, he calls a spade a spade. The Shiela Dikshit government regularised some colonies, where restrictions on sale and purchase of properties were lifted, but for all practical purposes, this proposal just before the elections is a political gimmick. Rawat is fairly certain that nothing will come out of this.

“Neither of the two incumbent governments — at the Centre and the state — are serious about it. They are not competent to regularise unauthorised colonies. It requires an amendment to the Master Plan, which can only be done by the parliament,” points out Rawat in Hindi, “And now that the poll dates have been announced, only the new government after the elections will get to act on it.”

Rawat describes in detail some of the lacunae in the way the city is planned for the future. The making of a master plan for twenty years is a closed-door process, lacks transparency and therefore many of the places that are indicated as a green belt, or a forest, or the land earmarked for construction of roads and other civic infrastructure are actually occupied by unauthorised colonies. Nearly 200 such unauthorised clusters encroach the forest land and half as many on the land are owned by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Further, the number of unauthorised colonies is growing, which is reflection of the failure of the Delhi Development Agency (DDA) and other agencies that were supposed to provide cheap housing, Rawat explains. He feels that there’s a sinister plot by the powerful builders’ lobby. If Delhi’s unauthorised colonies get regularised, then the residential projects that are being built in and around Delhi by private players —some of them are already in the red — will suffer erosion of market, alleges Rawat.