Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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Pooling Of Land In Delhi

Land Pooling if properly implemented on the basis of a coordinated detailed urban design can help transform the city

The recent declaration of 95 villages on the edge of the Delhi Urban area as urban villages, along with the approval of the land pooling policy by the Lieutenant Governor, has generated a fair amount of excitement in the real estate sector. It is felt that with the availability of an additional 40,000 acres of land for extended urban development, and the growing need for substantial additional housing, this will provide a boost for new construction. Since the development authorities were finding it increasingly difficult to acquire land, because of the low compensation offered as compared to market value, in September 2013 they came up with the suggestion that land owners be requested to pool together parcels of land, for joint development with the Govt/ DDA, who would act as a facilitator with minimum intervention. However, until now it has not been possible to implement this, because of the rules governing construction in and around villages. It was necessary that the villages be declared as urban areas before any development could actually take place.

It is expected that with the conversion of 95 villages to 'urban villages', implementation of the proposed land pooling policy development will move to a fast track, and this has generated a buzz in the market. However, a careful examination of the proposed new land policy and the land assembly and pooling model shows that the high level of expectations in terms of fast development may be belied. There are several reasons for these misgivings.

First and foremost is the failure on the part of the development authorities to prepare a comprehensive plan for the areas involved. A detailed GIS survey map of the entire area where land pooling is anticipated would have helped to give an idea of the nature of the terrain, the existence of nallahs, and natural drainage systems, existing forests, along with details of planned and unplanned existing settlements. A plan of the area showing the layout of existing major and minor roads would contribute significantly to the planning of an integrated multi-modal transport plan for the future. On such a site plan it would then be possible to get a general idea of the nature of linkages possible for the new development, to the anticipated layout of infrastructure in these areas. Over the last couple of years, after the revised Land Policy was notified on 31st January 2015, the DDA should have collected relevant survey data for each and every area available for development. This has not been done to date, and it will, therefore, take a fair amount of time before any actual development can take place, even after landowners agree, and get together to take advantage of the proposed land pooling policy.

In accordance with the proposed Land Assembly and Pooling Model, outline regulations have been drawn up for the development of plots from 2 hectares to 20 hectares, and for plots of 20 hectares and above. Owners are expected to pool together their pockets of land and submit it to DDA who will be responsible for external development. In the smaller plots, DDA will retain 52 per cent of the area for the development of infrastructure services, and return 48 per cent of developed land to the owners for building in accordance with the development control norms (43 per cent residential and 3 per cent commercial). For the larger plots of 20 hectares and above, DDA will take 40 per cent and return 60 per cent for development (53 per cent residential, 5 per cent commercial, and 2 per cent public/semi-public facilities). Along with the surrender of the land, the Developer Entity will be required to pay the DDA Rs 5 crores per hectare, for the implementation of the proposed infrastructure as External Development Charges (EDC). Farmers who are unable to give the EDC will have to forego an additional 8 per cent of the developed land, which will mean a further reduction of the residential development area by 8 per cent. This is a clause that is not likely to find easy acceptance. For DDA to ask for upfront payment of Rs 5 crores per hectare (Rs 2 crore per acre) is not justified, as to date DDA has not prepared any development plans for these areas. If along with a proper survey of these 95 villages, plans showing the basic layout of roads and services infrastructure were available, it would have helped generate confidence in the authorities commitment to expedite actual development on payment of EDC. Without this preliminary preparatory work, there is likely to be serious resistance to making payment before land pooling actually happens.

In addition, the regulations drawn up for proposed development are not very clear, as they consist of a set of numbers, without any detailed urban design studies for specific areas along with visual presentation showing the nature of development that might be possible. How the DDA has come up with the proposal to retain 40 per cent of the land in the case of plots above 20-hectare size, and 52 per cent in the case of smaller plots, is also not clear. Considering the fact that all roads and infrastructure services within the area available for actual development have to be implemented by the developers themselves, what will the development entities get in return for the surrender of such large portions of their lands. Without plans, it is not clear what physical and social infrastructure and recreational facilities, will be developed by DDA, and there is no guarantee that these will be in place by the time the development entities start implementation of their projects. Zonal Plans prepared by DDA for most areas are diagrammatic with very little detail relating to future development. As part of the Development Control Norms for the land pooling areas, it is specified that residential FAR 400 will be applicable for all group housing on the residential land, which will be 55 per cent of the total development area. Based on a maximum density of 1000 persons per hectare, it will be possible to build a total of 24 lakh dwellings of average size 75 to 80 sq m per dwelling unit on the total available land. With ground coverage restricted to 40 per cent, this will mean that all structures will consist of 10 or more floors. It is hoped that construction on this enormous area of 40,000 acres in the newly declared urban villages, will meet the present shortage of affordable housing in the city.

Based on past experience of implementation of proposals by developers, as well as for other reasons, this is not likely to happen. Consider the fact that a large number of affordable housing units built by DDA in places like Narela, Rohini and even Dwarka, are either lying vacant or have actually been returned by allottees. The reasons for this include lack of proper infrastructure, inadequate water supply, and also poor location, far away from major centres of employment. All the zones identified for land pooling lie on the periphery of the urban area, where connectivity and the provision of basic amenities, like water supply and a properly planned sewage system are issues that need to be planned and implemented before commencing any construction. In addition, the planning and implementation of some major commercial complexes which would serve as centres of employment, as an integral part of some of the proposals, would help make the proposals more viable. This is an approach that does not fit into the current manner of functioning of DDA, which is based on extracting maximum profit before development.

The proposed development on land pooling sites stipulates reservation of 15 per cent FAR for EWS dwelling units of 32 to 40 sq m area. Such small dwelling units, as well as affordable units of 55 to 60 sq m, work better when developed around private open spaces, in maximum 4 story walkup buildings. This helps to create a sense of community, with the sharing of public space. Such development is however not possible if an average FAR
400, has to be maintained. This necessarily means that all construction will be a minimum of 10 floors or higher. When EWS units are forced into multistory structures, a disproportionate amount of built area is taken up by access passages, staircases, lifts and fire refuge terraces, which significantly pushes up the cost of construction. The higher cost, plus the location far from the centres of employment, puts such development beyond the reach of most new migrants to the city.

It is of interest to note that some fairly large pockets of land would be made available after land pooling in Zones N & L, towards the West side of the city. Zone N which has a contiguous area of 9063 urbanisable hectares covering several villages, and Zone L which lies next to Dwarka and has a total area of 22,840 hectares of urbanisable space, both lend themselves well to the development of sizeable sub-cities. With proper planning these could be conceived as mixed use complexes, providing substantial workspaces, commercial complexes, and a whole range of different types of housing, serving all sections of society. Such development, particularly in areas close to the metro system could have a higher FAR of 550 to 600, which properly planned with substantial open spaces, and green areas would create vibrant new urban nodes, with all up to date amenities. With the proper provision of facilities, they could provide employment to a fair section of occupants within walking distance in the proposed complex. Such urban centres, however, need detailed planning and urban design, along with strict enforcement and control of actual development.

It is of interest to note that the Zonal Plan for the adjoining Zone K-II in Dwarka, is the only zone within the Delhi Urban Area for which DDA had prepared and implemented a proper master plan, with a well worked out transportation and services infrastructure layout, along with the clearly marked use of specific areas. This is the minimum level of planning necessary for the proper control of future development within the areas marked for land pooling. Within the sub-city plan, a number of proportionate parcels of land could be marked out for handing over to original landowners for actual implementation as per the proposed detailed urban design regulations. Construction on such plots may well be implemented by the owners themselves, or by developers.

Land Pooling if properly implemented on the basis of a coordinated detailed urban design can help transform the city. This, however, requires a comprehensive city scale vision for future development, which is currently missing. Without advance planning in detail, land pooling may actually not happen.

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