Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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DUAC Studies Highlight Important Urban Issues

As MCD bylaws are not enforceable in urban villages, unauthorized construction in the form of additions and alterations is rampant

During the last few years the Delhi Urban Art Commission has set up a design studio consisting of architects and urban designers to do a study of ward level development in different parts of the city. These are studies of local areas to address existing problems, and also to plan for the control of future development. To date 23 specific city level studies have been completed, and a report for each has been published. It is interesting to go through these reports and to note the wide range of issues that have been addressed. These include urban villages, slum areas, unauthorized / regularized colonies, planned colonies, site specific designs, and studies of major waterways and green areas in the city. Each study is based on GIS survey plans, along with detailed physical evaluation of existing conditions.

Based on this problems have been identified, and tentative proposals for future development and control have been prepared. These are pilot studies, which would serve as a useful guide for the development and notification of Local Area Plans for all the wards in the city. It goes to DUAC’s credit to have undertaken this major task, which is really the responsibility of the DDA, the agency entrusted with the responsibility for planning and development across the entire NCR area.

Of the various city level projects, the studies of urban villages, slum areas and unauthorized colonies, are the most significant. This is the first attempt by any civic agency, to address the complex issues arising in areas where 70 per cent of the city’s population - the urban poor, live. The solutions suggested are not all capable of implementation, but nevertheless highlight problems that need to be addressed. Conditions in different slum complexes vary, depending on how long they have been in existence. Older slums are usually more closely built up, with a lot more permanent construction, and are somewhat similar to existing urban villages.

Almost all slum developments consist of self built units of minimal size. Conditions are cramped, with limited access passages, minimal open space, and inadequate basic amenities. They lack proper drainage and sewage systems, and have inadequate toilets. Over time, pressures of growth manifest themselves in the need for additional space for rent, for which an upper floor is added, accessed by a ladder in the street. Space for any kind of communal facilities like schools, health centers, or open space is generally absent. In the studies proposals have been drawn up for redevelopment of some slums located in prime areas. They suggest rebuilding in accordance with a proper plan, for more intensive use of the site along with proper communal facilities – development that would be difficult to implement because of complex ownership issues.

However, several alternative suggestions have been made, which include the gradual upgrading of services and structures, and complete redevelopment of the slum structures over a period of time. Actual change can only be possible with the direct involvement of slum residents. The studies revealed that current byelaws for the redevelopment of low income housing were unrealistic, making it difficult to achieve the recommended maximum FAR. However, changes made in the latest Master Plan 2021 now recommend larger unit sizes of 25 to 40 sq mts, with the maximum density raised to 900 dwelling units per hectare, which is more in tune with actual need, and may help to stimulate actual reconstruction.

Over the years a number of unauthorized colonies have come up in various areas on the fringes of the city, which cater largely to the needs of the lower sections of society. These have come up on farmland areas and some of these have been regularized. The condition of such colonies vary, some are better planned with a reasonable road and access system, and others are disorganized and are similar to slum settlements. Colonies of recent origin have houses that have been better constructed. However in almost all cases with the pressures of demand over time, houses have been extended vertically to four and five floors in height, as walkup structures, with individual dwelling units on each floor.

In the process setback regulations have been ignored, and the already narrow streets of 15 to 20 ft width have become further congested with projecting balconies and electrical wires strung across the streets, creating chaotic and unsafe conditions. In most such colonies there is no proper traffic plan and with the steady increase of cars and motor vehicles, access conditions keep deteriorating. This along with the absence of a properly planned sewage and drainage system, makes large scale improvement difficult to implement. Most of the studies have on the basis of interaction with local residents come up with interesting suggestions to initiate change and long term improvements.

Existing urban villages present somewhat different problems depending on their location. They are generally more densely built up and in many cases lack adequate communal facilities, and open space. Those close to the heart of the city have become the target of migrants looking for an affordable home close to centers of employment, resulting in a massive concentration of low income population, calling for considerable additional construction.

As MCD bylaws are not enforceable in urban villages unauthorized construction in the form of additions and alterations is rampant. Urban villages have also become areas accommodating a variety of different functions for which the Delhi Master Plan has not made proper provision. A number of villages in the vicinity of IIT and JNU have become concentrations of coaching centers, with large number of houses offering accommodation for transient students. Located close to the historic area of Qutab Minar, Lado Sarai has attracted a large number of artists and designers, which along with a central street of art galleries has added a cosmopolitan character to this urban village. The studies cover a number of urban villages and unauthorized colonies, making positive suggestions for improvement. These include New Ashok Nagar, Lado Sarai, Aya Nagar , Malviya Nagar, Adarsh Nagar and others. All of these make an evaluation of existing conditions, and define specific proposals for the course of future development.

The above studies of slums and unauthorized / regularized colonies highlight some of the common problems that call for urgent action:

A) Lack of traffic planning with poorly organized vehicular access and circulation. Road layouts are irregular and are of varying widths, with ad hoc parking of cars, scooters, and motorcycles, in every available open space.

B) Lack of properly planned sewage and drainage systems, as a result of which untreated sewage flows into storm water channels creating unhygienic conditions.

C) No proper arrangements for garbage removal and treatment. It is common to find garbage strewn all around collection dhalaos. Unoccupied open spaces are commonly used as garbage dumps, and also for waste construction material, and malba.

D) Low hanging electric cables overhead across residential access streets pose a serious danger to residents. e) Unauthorised five storey high residential development with narrow access streets, and projecting balconies overhead, result in reduced light and ventilation within the dwelling units.

Two other important issues addressed in the studies relate to the large scale development that would be possible with the implementation of the recently notified Transit Oriented Development (TOD), along the metrorail corridors, and also issues relating to the preservation and enhancement of water bodies, parks and green spaces within the city.

The study of the TOD along Rohtak Road is an interesting demonstration of what is possible in areas where large areas of land remain underutilized, which under the new regulations allow high density mixed use development in pockets of 2 hectares and above. The study considers some sizeable parcels of land adjoining a couple of metro stations, developing an attractive urban design proposal. The scheme separates the pedestrian and bicycle tracks along the highway on a raised level along with trees that creates a safe and pleasant movement space for residents of the adjoining high density development with a variety of mixed uses. The overall concept around a series of large landscaped courts would need to be developed further as detailed urban design, to allow for subdivision into smaller units which may be built by individual developers.

However the manner in which DDA have defined the guidelines for TOD integrated development, makes it almost impossible to implement. Originally they had notified that different land owners could pool together a minimum parcel of 20 hectares and submit proposals for approval by DDA, out of which 40 per cent of the land would be retained by DDA for the development of roads and services, and 60 per cent would be available to developers for actual building. Recognizing that it would be difficult for builders to assemble large parcels of 20 hectares and above, recent notifications have reduced the minimum size of development parcels to 2 hectares, with 52 per cent of the area being retained by DDA for infrastructure services.

What the study clearly shows, is that the implementation of such proposals will only be possible if the DDA first prepares a detailed layout for the entire 1000 metre wide strip of land along the metro corridors that has been notified for intensive development, clearly laying out the system of access roads, along with the network for all infrastructure services. Once such a layout is available, individual developers may on a more realistic basis start assembling parcels of land for actual construction. Urban design development needs a clearly defined vision, along with a planned framework for effective control and proper implementation.

Delhi is a city with a natural drainage system that carries rain and storm water from a higher elevation in the West to the Yamuna river in the East. There is a network of natural drains and nallahs that extend over the entire urban area, a network that has been disturbed and interfered with by construction at several points, in addition to the discharge of untreated sewage into these channels.

The study of the Najafgarh Waterway draws attention to this important issue, and suggests restoration of the system, along with the creation of parks, and pedestrian and cycle paths along its entire length, which apart from providing a major recreation facility, would help citizens to become more aware of this important natural heritage. Delhi has several large pockets of green space in the form of parks and lakes, in addition to the substantial poorly maintained green areas along the meandering Yamuna river.

The Master Plans for Delhi have unfortunately not defined these substantial green spaces, nor sought to link them together, or to recognize their association with major historic remains across the city. It is in this context that these studies of parks, green areas, and waterways, help to focus attention on major neglected areas of the city. There are large pockets of open space scattered across the city owned by different government agencies that remain largely unused, and are subject to steady encroachment by squatters, and for use as dumping grounds for garbage and malba. This is a problem that needs to be urgently addressed on a citywide scale.
The DUAC city level projects serve to highlight major urban issues that the capital faces.

It is quite clear that the current planning responsibility vested in the DDA needs to be withdrawn and a new planning and urban design agency set up for the proper control of future development of the city. This of course calls for the central government to take a major stand in first dissolving the present setup, in which various aspects of development are controlled by a large number of different government agencies, in different parts of the city. All future planning and development both of existing and new areas within the National Capital Region, need to be brought together under one centralized planning authority. Such an authority would be able to ensure that proper Local Area Plans are prepared for each and every ward in the city – plans which would be monitored continuously on an ongoing basis.

As the city continues to grow in size it is important that a proper framework for control be drawn up, along with a system by which all different services are continuously upgraded. Constant flexibility and change over time, has to be accepted as an essential element of future growth.

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