Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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Alaknanda Mall: DDA’s Callous Disregard Of Citizen Protests

Over the years DDA has become a concentration of administrators focused on the commercial exploitation of land. They have lost complete control over the need to track actual development on the ground, recording it in detail, and helping to correct and control serious shortcomings

It is time that the Ministry of Urban Development took serious note of the anger in the minds of a large section of the population of the Greater Kailash II, Chittaranjan Park, and Alaknanda area that have come together to protest against the proposed building of a Mega-mall on the site of the Alaknanda Community Centre. The Delhi High Court’s reference of the matter to a group of bureaucrats from DDA, PWD and the Delhi Police, that did not include citizen representatives has led to greater disquiet – simply aggravating the situation. Although serious discrepancies in terms of the Delhi Master Plan have been pointed out, the DDA planners have chosen to ignore the matter without giving any credible explanation. The extent of arrogance displayed by the DDA official in a recent television interview, when questioned on the minimum 4 hectares required by law for a Community Centre, stated that this is not a set law and a way can be found around it. This clearly shows callous disregard both for gazetted law and for public opinion.

It may be of interest to mention here that the current protests against the proposed mall, is the result of cumulative dissatisfaction amongst residents built up over a period of time, where the various concerned authorities have failed to take action on a series of different disruptions to life in and around the area. These include the building of a median on the 80 feet wide Alaknanda road connecting from the outer ring road at Savitri Cinema to the Tara Apartments, with no breaks for regular pedestrians and school children. Although it was pointed out that UTTIPEC guidelines for size of median, provision of pedestrian crossings, etc. were not being followed, all objections were ignored causing serious traffic disruption, and the road remains incomplete to date. Existing pedestrian footpaths have disappeared throughout all residential areas, with the space being taken over by parked cars or private gardens. Attention has also been drawn to pedestrian footpaths being obstructed by unauthorized vendors and hawkers. The worst conditions are to be found around food outlet stalls constructed by MCD, which do massive business providing food to lower income group people in extremely unhygienic conditions, with no water connections, and no proper arrangement for the disposal of sewage and waste food. The authorities concerned have to date made no attempt to provide proper space for hawkers and vendors. Citizen awareness of such issues has grown over the last five years, with several appeals for corrective action, but the multiplicity of authorities dealing with these matters have just tended to pass the buck amongst themselves without doing anything. The citizen protest to the proposed mall must be seen in the context of this growing despair and anger, which if not dealt with by detailed planning, upgrading of services, and proper implementation and control, will soon spread as a virus of discontent with concerned authorities across the city, leading to serious disruption.

The Alaknanda Mall is proposed to be built in an area of middle and low income housing which was planned and built by the DDA in the early eighties, on an area of land to the east of Greater Kailash II adjoining the Jahanpanah City forest. This consists of a number of individual group housing complexes of four storey apartment blocks, with a few plots being allotted to co-operative group housing societies. At the time of their implementation no proper community facilities for the residents were developed. However the DDA allotted land for 4 separate schools within close proximity to each other within this area, despite the Delhi Master Plan 1961 having recommended that a specific number of schools be distributed in areas constituting population units of 40,000 to 50,000 residents. The location of the school sites was not carefully considered in terms of access for students, or for the parking of school buses. Today all these schools have grown in size and in the mornings and afternoons, cars, buses and other vehicles cause a major disruption of traffic on adjoining roads. With the complete absence of pedestrian footpaths large numbers of young students pour out walking on to adjoining roads, endangering their lives and disrupting traffic.

The group housing development forms part of the DDA Zonal plan for Zone F9 within which an area of approximately 4.2 hectares was earmarked as a Community Centre, to provide communal facilities for residents. This plot was left open and not developed along with the housing, as a result of which the space was taken over by squatters, and an unauthorized jhuggi-jhompri settlement came up. In 2002 DDA had the site vacated, and appointed a local architectural firm to prepare a plan for the Community Centre as per the provisions of the Delhi Master Plan. The plan was duly prepared and submitted to DUAC who gave conceptual stage approval on 11th December 2003, subject to the preparation of a traffic system analysis, which should address destined traffic as well as generated traffic. The proposed plan was well conceived consisting of a number of lowrise blocks with pedestrian linkage on all sides helping to integrate the complex with the surrounding residential development. This was in accordance with the DMP 2021 stipulation that “the Community Centers should be conceived as shopping and business centers catering to the needs of the population at community level”. This approved plan was however not implemented.

The matter remained undecided for more than two years and on 9th January 2004 in a meeting the DDA Deputy Director Commercial proposed,
“it is submitted that as the Community Centre has been freed from encroachment long back and to exploit the prevailing bullish real estate market the Community Centre at Alaknanda can be disposed as single unit plot.”

It is surprising that none of the DDA architects and town planners objected to this outrageous proposal, as this constituted a complete subversion of the Master Plan stipulation for a Community Centre. The Deputy Director was suggesting that DDA should opt for generating maximum revenue, sidelining the needs of local residents. As per the Delhi Master Plan a Community Centre should be conceived as a concentration of various public facilities that meet the daily needs of residents and their families. These include retail shopping, restaurants, health facilities, post office, police station, banks, etc. The earlier DDA proposals were based on this general precept, but the 2005 plan in complete contrast proposed concentration of development in a large corner plot of approximately 3.77 acres as a shopping mall, giving total flexibility to the purchaser for architectural design. In addition the plan included seven other smaller plots with proper design controls that were to be sold by public auction to developers. The plan also incorporated a petrol pump, and a community hall in a corner of the site.

A revised proposal was accordingly submitted to the DUAC on 11th August 2005. DUAC gave their approval to the revised community center proposal on 27th November 2012. The fact that the revised proposal had the following serious discrepancies had been overlooked.

a) The Delhi Master Plan 2021 clearly specified the site requirement of 4.0 hectares for a Community Centre, whereas the site area of the community centre on the submitted plan was shown as 3.3 hectares. It may be mentioned that the Master Plan for Delhi is a statutory plan under the Delhi Development Act 1957 and has the force of law. The provisions of the Delhi Master Plan cannot be arbitrarily changed. This has been recorded in a judgement of the High Court, pronounced on October 18, 2012, in which it observed “The law imposes an obligation upon the Development Authority to strictly adhere to the plan, regulations and the provisions of the Act”. The submitted plan is therefore invalid.

b) The site plan of the community center and its surroundings as submitted by DDA to DUAC is not accurate, and is not based on a proper survey of the site. The adjoining road system shown both in the Zonal Plan for Zone F-9, and in the plan submitted to DUAC, is not correct. The 24 mts wide road along the side of the site, extending past the NRI Housing complex is shown connecting to Isu Munjal Road in Chittaranjan Park – such a connection in reality, does not exist. In fact there are three other roads shown on the plan, which are also not there on the ground.

c) The Traffic System Analysis submitted to DUAC was based on the earlier plan dated 2006, and was not relevant in terms of the revised Community Centre plan. This was confirmed in the letter dated 16th July 2013 from Mr Jeewan Mittu, the Traffic Consultant, where he clearly stated that because of the considerably increased area, and the change in the mix of activities, including the provision of a Mega-Mall substantial changes in footfall, traffic generation, and parking demand, were to be expected, which called for a new transport impact assessment. This new transport impact assessment has not been carried out to date, despite schools having expressed their concern and the traffic police having recorded their objection..

d) The photographs submitted to DUAC for approval of the proposed mall are clearly deceptive and do not show the surrounding residential development, including the adjoining schools. The photographs of the site have been taken from within a high boundary enclosure, giving no indication of the impact that the proposed mall would have on the existing development.

Based on the revised Community Centre Plan DDA sold the large corner plot, along with three of the smaller plots in a public auction on 29th March 2007. The corner plot was bought by the Reliance Group for 304 crores, who proposed building a 674,000 sq ft. shopping mall along with parking space for 1035 cars. The three smaller plots were bought by Muthoot Group, who joined the plots together, and constructed and occupied, a single office block on the site. To date other than the community hall, no communal facilities for local residents have been developed.

On hearing that DDA had gone ahead and auctioned the plots, local residents of the area soon realized the implications of the proposed development and got together to protest. They wanted to find a way to stop the building of such a large structure in this well developed residential area, on a site in the vicinity of four functioning schools. Several local RWAs joined together to form the Citizens’ Alliance, who filed RTIs on the basis of which, it was clearly established that the DDA had bent several rules and regulations in pushing through this proposal. A writ petition was filed in the Delhi High Court in 2013 stating that the mall with an anticipated footfall of 15,000 persons per day, along with the large influx of cars, was likely to create chaos. The Citizens’ Alliance also brought the above misleading issues to the notice of DUAC asking for a review and requesting withdrawal of the approval already given.

It is unfortunate that DDA has failed to prepare Local Area Plans for different parts of the city. Had a detailed Local Area Plan been prepared along with the Zonal Plan as per the Delhi Master Plan stipulations, the present unfortunate confrontation between residents and the local authorities would not have occurred.

Over the last twenty years DDA has failed in fulfilling its responsibility to systematically plan and monitor the future development of the city. It has largely focused on the generation of maximum revenue from the sale of land. After notification of the Master Plan Delhi 2021 in February 2007, instead of increasing its cadre of qualified urban designers, town planners and architects in order to do detailed planning of the different areas on an ongoing basis, it has actually downgraded and downsized its architecture and planning section, rendering them incapable of keeping track of actual development across the city.

As per the Master Plan there are three specific levels of planning that are fundamental. Firstly, the definition of the broad outlines of future growth as per the Master Plan, secondly the preparation of Zonal Plans for defined zones, and lastly the detailed Local Area Plans. DDA prepared a detailed Master Plan Report for MPD 2021, which was duly notified. However this has itself been completely altered by a series of changes, separately notified over recent years. The Zonal Plans prepared by DDA are simply enlarged diagrams of the Master Plan proposals and do not contain information relating to the traffic framework integrating, vehicular roads, cycle and pedestrian tracks, and the metrorail systems. Information and details relating to the existing and proposed services infrastructure, are completely missing. As for the third level of planning the Local Area Plans, what you see on the DDA website is plainly absurd. No proper Local Area Plans have been prepared for specific areas. Hand drawn site plans, more than 20 years old, have been photocopied and reproduced. These are neither accurate nor do they contain basic updated information relating to width of roads, the existing services infrastructure available, or even how different areas are actually being used. These plans can be seen on the DDA website. It is amazing to find that accurate digitized plans of the city showing the roads, the services, and the existing built structures, have not been prepared to date.

Over the years DDA has become a concentration of administrators focused on the commercial exploitation of land. They have lost complete control over the need to track actual development on the ground, recording it in detail, and helping to correct and control serious shortcomings. This is particularly true in terms of absence of information relating to the enormous amount of unauthorized development, as also of the massive changes taking place in the concentrations of low income settlements in various different parts of the city.

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