Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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Upgrading Of Infrastructure In The Delhi Urban Area An Urgent Need

The absence of adequate community facilities such as schools, health centers, hospitals, and open spaces for community functions and children’s play space, is a major shortcoming in all low income concentrations

From 1995 onwards, both the DDA & MCD have collected a colossal sum of money in the form of betterment charges for the increased builtup area across the city. As there has been no implementation of enhanced infrastructure what has happened to this money? Some answers are called for.

With the onset of the monsoons the pictures of flooded streets, caved in roads, sewage flowing on the streets, roads and pavements dug up for the laying and repair of infrastructure services, are a regular feature in daily newspapers. All this coupled with garbage and building material waste dumped in every available open space, is contributing to downgrade the quality of life in most parts of the capital. The civic authorities responsible for development and maintenance are busy playing the blame game, and passing the buck from one agency to another. The sad part of the scenario is the fact that over time the situation is only going to get worse, with no current relief in sight.

Until the 1970s Delhi was a pleasant livable city with a reasonable civic infrastructure, good roads, a fair amount of open space around monuments, plenty of parks, and a scattering of shops within easy reach providing for one’s daily needs. The residential areas were low rise with comfortable access roads and pedestrian footpaths. The Delhi Master Plan 1961 had defined the basic structure of the city and also sketched out the city limits which was to be surrounded by an impenetrable green belt. In the earl seventies the city sprawl began to slowly extend to the outer limits, but most residential structures were limited to a maximum of two stories and a barsati. The need for more space was however being increasingly felt. The population was slowly increasing but it had not reached the designated total of fifty lakhs.

In the early eighties a series of resettlement colonies were built by DDA in different parts of the city to accommodate people from the low income group, living in slums. These colonies had minimum size dwelling units on ground plus one floor. A few colonies were built higher with ground plus three floors. These resettlement colonies accommodated a large number of people, with very basic services, and minimal community facilities. As can be imagined because of the steadily increasing demand for affordable dwelling units across the city, these colonies along with many urban villages began to grow at a much faster rate as compared to other parts of the city.

In 1990 the Perspective Plan for Delhi revised the estimated total population in 2001 from 50 lakhs to 128 lakhs, but in reality it grew to 138 lakhs. The rate of growth steadily increased, and the Delhi Master Plan 2021 notified in 2007, revised the estimated total population in 2021 to 230 lakhs. In order to provide for this increased population growth it was decided to allow a higher density of construction, but no basic changes were made in the Master Plan even though in several areas substantial developments had emerged that were clearly in violation of plan stipulations. Middle and upper income group colonies began to feel the need for more space and in 1995 the building byelaws were modified to permit th construction of higher structures on all residential plots across the city, with a ground floor for parking, and four floors above.

The ground floor was to be a stilted area of maximum 8 feet clear height to be used for parking, and the maximum height of the building was restricted to 50 feet. This one single change in the building regulations has had the maximum impact on the character of the city, as can be seen from the constantly changing skyline. From the point of view of meeting increased space demand this was an inevitable development, but this also called for a re-planning of the city structure along with upgrading of all infrastructure services, which has still not been done. In the process of sanctioning construction of the increased area the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the DDA, has collected from each plot owner, a betterment charge of Rs 150/- per sq. metre of plot area, plus a levy of Rs 450/- per sq. metre for additional FAR area, plus compounding of FAR as per the category of the colony, for improving infrastructure services. In the case of group housing societies in addition to the above they were required to pay Rs 70/- per sq metre peripheral charges. Considering that almost 50 per cent of the plots across the city have taken advantage of the revised regulations, the authorities have to date collected substantial funds but the upgrading of infrastructure services has not been commenced. What has the DDA and MCD done with all the betterment charges paid by plot owners over a period of twenty years? Are they in fact waiting for the infrastructure system to actually collapse before taking any action? Surely they need to be made answerable for this serious dereliction in fulfilling their responsibilities.

With the increased constructed area in residential plots across the city the density of population has also increased, putting pressure on all services But to date no upgrading of services has actually been implemented. As more and more plots opt for the permissible increase, this will inevitably lead to the gradual collapse of the complete services infrastructure. The problem is a cause for concern, and calls for urgent action on a crisis basis. However, the authorities concerned continue to remain blissfully unaware of the seriousness of this situation.

One of the clearly noticeable outcomes of the increased development has been the enormous increase in the number of cars in all residential areas. The ground floor stilted parking areas in most cases is put to other use, and cars are parked on the adjoining access roads. All pedestrian footpaths have disappeared, and this space has been taken over by parked cars. This is the situation in all middle and upper income group residential areas. Low income concentrations are also not exempt, and in fact the problem is more serious in these areas, as the access roads are already narrow, and with steadily increased additions, widespread encroachment on adjoining streets is a common phenomena. Pedestrians in most such settlements struggle across parked bicycles, motorcycles, and even cars to reach their homes. In almost all residential areas the original planned layout has lost all meaning, and chaotic conditions prevail.

It is of interest here to take note of the fact that the bulk of the increase in the population approximating 60 per cent of the total, consists of recent migrants, who constitute the economically weaker section. In their search for affordable housing they automatically gravitate towards existing low income concentrations, located in urban villages, resettlement colonies, or unauthorized developments. As a result, almost all such residential area have seen massive expansion, in the form of illegal additional floors, extending up to five floors of minimal walkup dwelling units. In the process, building byelaws have been ignored, prescribed setbacks have been encroached upon, and access streets have been reduced to minimal width – in some cases barely five feet across. Balconies have been built above the streets and there is a tangle of overhead electrical cables creating dangerous conditions. Many of the urban villages and unauthorized colonies do not have proper infrastructure services and overall conditions are squalid and unhygienic, no better than that existing in slum clusters. They however provide affordable shelter to a large majority of the city residents.

The absence of adequate community facilities such as schools, health centers, hospitals, and open spaces for community functions and children’s play space, is a major shortcoming in all low income concentrations. This is something that is just not recognized by the authorities concerned, and no attempt is made to take corrective action. A good example illustrating this is the resettlement colonies of Patparganj and Trilokpuri located near Sanjay Lake in East Delhi. DDA is in the process of improving the area around the lake as a major recreational park. An empty pocket of land measuring approximately 25 acres at the Eastern end of the lake is being developed as an upper income residential complex with multistory towers. DDA hopes to generate considerable revenue from the sale of space in the proposed development.

The fact that the surrounding residential areas lack proper community facilities is not a matter of concern. There is no proper shopping center in the vicinity and on weekends hawkers with mobile trolleys, extend for a length of more than a couple of kilometers along the peripheral road, providing a much needed service. Considering the density of population i and around this area, the site by the side of Sanjay Lake would have been ideal to develop some support facilities for these residents. The area around Sanjay Lake is at present largely used as a recreational area by people living in the surrounding settlements. To propose high end, multistory residential towers in this location is clearly absurd. One would expect that politicians and bureaucrats would give priority to the improvement of conditions for the poorer section of society already living in this area, but this is not the case. These concentrations are important only as repositories of a large vote bank, to be remembered only at election time. For the moment, the creation of smart cities presents a more attractive image of meaningful development. The DDA, which is responsible for the implementation of the Delhi Master Plan, have in a series of recent notifications sought to bring about a change in the nature of development to accommodate the anticipated growth in population by allowing considerably increased density of construction in areas along metro corridors. The proposal is to allow an intensification of construction along a 500 metre wide area on either side of the metro rail designated as Transit Oriented Development (TOD), where mixed use development is to be permitted on sites of minimum 4 hectares (approx 10acres) at an overall FAR of 400. The realization of this proposal is however fraught with serious difficulties as in most such areas it is almost impossible to assemble such large parcels of land, currently held in small pockets by several different owners. The major problem however, is the absence of a coordinated detailed plan for development of the entire area along the transit corridors. It is essential to first define a clear system of access roads, along with a unified layout of infrastructure services, before construction is taken in hand. DDA is in fact expecting the individua developers to plan such an urban design framework, for their individual parcels, which is clearly not practical.

The original green belt defining the outer limits of the city has been breached and group housing is now being permitted on the erstwhile farmhouse areas. Here also no proper plans have been prepared for a future traffic and services infrastructure. Individual developers are expected to plan and implement the system on their own individual pockets of land. Here again, the authorities have clearly abdicated their responsibility for the systematic design and control over future development. It is time that the central government and the Ministry of Urban Development woke up to the fact that organizations like DDA and MCD now need to be replaced by a completely new Planning and Urban Design Authority to plan and oversee future development, on an ongoing basis. Otherwise it will not be long before the whole fabric of the national capital begins to fall apart.

In order to realize the future vision of a more densely built city with intensive highrise development, a detailed plan for the upgrading of services on a citywide scale is an urgent need. An important beginning can be made wherever large areas are available, enabling prompt implementation. The large areas of obsolete government housing in the central areas would be a good starting point, which can then be gradually extended area by area. Unfortunately government agencies that control such land are reluctant to release this hold in favor of comprehensive development that would serve larger sections of society. The politicians and bureaucrats who have safely ensconced themselves in the luscious surroundings of the smart city of Lutyens’ Delhi are quite oblivious to what is happening in the steadil growing urban areas beyond their confines. Unless there is a decisive shift in priority with concentration on meeting real need, the future is grim, and for some time to come there will be a steady deterioration in urban conditions across the city.

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urbanisation city planning Lutyens’ Delhi dda mcd