• October 1, 2020 12:25 am

Reporting From Delhi

Public land, private profit

BySashikala VP

Aug 7, 2020

DDA’s land deals are under scrutiny again. But they are stonewalling attempts by a law firm to access the papers that could expose wrongdoing 

The notorious Delhi Development Authority (DDA), known for rigged lottery system to allot houses and substandard housing construction, has a new challenge to its image. Its land dealings are now under scrutiny, thanks to a law firm called Black Robes Legal.

The firm decided to look into the DDA’s terms and conditions in allotting land to private hospitals, private unaided schools, private unaided universities and colleges, gaushalas, cinema halls, shopping complexes, and parking lots. It filed an RTI to demand copies of the agency’s orders, minutes of meetings, action taken reports, correspondence and communications. This was back in 2018.

They were refused the information on the pretext that they involved a third party.

Why did the legal team decide to pursue the DDA with RTIs? Mohit Kumar Gupta, who is leading the case, tells Patriot that back in 2015, they were approached by distraught parents, who had lost their 10-year-old daughter by what they believed was medical negligence. The hospital accused of this was RLKC Hospital and Metro Heart Institute, situated at Pandav Nagar, New Delhi.

They would also regularly be approached about the difficulties being faced by parents to get their ward admitted to school. “It was decided to investigate the dealings of the DDA in allotting of lands to entities for entertainment, unaided schools and public hospitals. I thought I would look at the land terms and conditions, because on that basis, the entire structure of these organisations stand”.

When the information was not supplied through the RTI, Gupta approached the Central Information Commission who on June 23, passed a decision for the Vice Chairman of DDA to depute an officer “to enquire into the matter and fix accountability and responsibility on the delinquent officer (Assistant director Vivek Chaudhary) and submit its report within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this order depending upon the condition for containment of the Coronavirus pandemic in the country or through email to the complainant under intimation to the Commission.”

But till now Gupta has not heard back on the inquiry. We tried reaching the Vice Chairman’s office on the same, and were directed to the RTI department. They had not responded till the time of filing this report.

Gupta will now be filing for a compliance report with the Central Information Commission. He tells us that when the matter was first heard by the Chief Information Commissioner, Bimal Julka, he asked the DDA whether this information constituted public interest information, “which it is” Gupta adds.

And while he does not have information which pinpoints there was wrongdoing on DDA’s part with the land allotted to the said hospital, or any other private firm, he points out that the only way this can be discovered is if they look at the documents, “But they are doing everything to prevent the documents being shared.”

Interestingly, Gupta says the DDA on the very same day as the hearing at CIC, informed them of 1,400 pages of documents which contain the details they were seeking. “They said you are welcome to inspect it when you want. But they need to catalogue them and specify the files. Why should I come to you? Why not put it on the website so anyone from the public can check?”

He cites last month’s order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the matter of Ambience Mall, Gurgaon as an indicator of how wrongdoing in public held land takes place. The High Court in this matter directed the CBI to probe the matter of construction of Ambience Mall on the land meant for a housing project.

 Matter of space

Another matter which has been pending for years is one from Alaknanda, where a group of residents came together to form the Citizens Alliance. This was after the DDA sold off about 4-acres of land to Reliance Industries for Rs 304 crore. The residents discovered the plan was for a hyper mall at a spot they had believed was a community space where DDA would build a sports centre.

We spoke with Suchita Meena, the General Secretary of the alliance who told us about the petition which was filed before the Delhi High Court in 2014.

The Delhi High Court then in 2016 asked the DDA to constitute a committee of stakeholders to consider the apprehensions of the petitioners.

Currently, Meena tells us, the DDA have approached the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) to carry out a traffic congestion report which is awaited. “The DDA have (earlier) shown a fictitious 90-metre road in the maps which they said would smoothen the flow of traffic. However, a joint inspection with the RWAs and the DDA officials clearly disputed this claim”, she adds.

A study by Indicus Analytics, an economics research firm founded by Laveesh Bhandari, a member of Citizens Alliance, found serious issues with the plans of building the commercial structure and the existing ground reality.

One of the points raised was that the mall would require 7,200 car parking spots on weekends while the plan was to have just 500 parking spots, which would then create a major traffic snarl.

The residents also pointed to the school which would have shared a boundary with the mall if it were to be built.

It has been a victory till now for the residents. “It has been six years and we have managed to stall the construction,” Meena tells us.

(Cover: The RTI demanded the terms and conditions by which DDA allotted land to private hospitals, schools, malls and movie halls //  REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE: Getty)