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Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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Where Do The Urban Poor Live In Delhi

The urban poor presently occupy less than one fifth of the total land taken up by residential development in the Delhi urban area. This includes the slum settlements, the resettlement colonies, the unauthorized colonies and the urban villages

Recent publicity to DDA's proposal to promote land pooling in various urban villages on the outskirts of the city in order to build affordable housing tends to give the impression that most of the poor people in the city live in large slum settlements on the fringes of the city. This is in fact not true. A look at the ward map showing the location of slums and slum resettlement areas shows that these are distributed in clusters scattered across the whole of the Delhi Urban Area. As per a recent study of housing and urban development contained in the Economic Survey of Delhi 2016-17, low income settlements have been steadily increasing over a period of 55 years, and today accommodate 6.75 million, out of a total population of over 9 million residents. They live in sub-standard housing, which include 695 slum settlements and jhuggi jhompri clusters, 1797 unauthorised colonies, and 362 urban villages. According to projections, Delhi needs 24 lakh new housing units by 2021, in order to provide proper homes for all its residents. Let us take a look at some of the settlements where the urban poor live.

Jhuggi Jhonpri Clusters and Slum settlements

Slum settlements originate from the flow of migrants from neighboring states in search of employment and livelihood. These are people who cannot afford to pay rent for available space in the city, and therefore build basic structures for their families and themselves, in the cheapest way possible. They have very basic facilities often lacking hygiene, sanitation, and clean drinking water, and in most cases have no separate space to bathe, urinate, and defecate. For women and children, the public and individual toilet facility, is an area of critical concern. Most slums are commonly found on areas of vacant land along major roads, empty spaces in urban parks, space along railway lines, and also in areas within urban villages. Surveys show that in Delhi, slums are along drains/nallahs, along railway lines, in open spaces or parts of parks, and in various other locations. They are generally located in areas within easy access of work centers.

Most such settlements begin with katcha mud structures, which over time are replaced by semi pucca, and even pucca brick structures. Surveys in 2016 show that in DUA today, 55% of slums are composed of pucca structure, 30% semi-pucca structure, and only 15% have unserviceable kutcha structure. The major source of drinking water is either a common tap or hand pump. 30% are using latrines with septic tank/flush type facility, and 22% have no latrine facility whatsoever. About 98% have covered underground drains, or uncovered pucca, or katcha, open drains. Only 1.6% of the slums have no drainage system. Local bodies are collecting garbage from 31.5% of the slum settlements. 48% have motorable access road within the slums, and 77% have a pucca road/lane or path. 16.8% of the slums have electricity for both street lighting and for household use. Drainage is generally poor, and almost 10% of the slums are flooded with rainwater during the monsoon, both within the houses, and along the approach roads. As can be seen, despite some overall improvement, much remains to be done to provide acceptable living conditions.

Unauthorised Colonies 
It is of interest to note that in 1990 there were 600 unauthorised colonies and 106 urban villages. Within a span of 27 years the number of unauthorized colonies has grown from 600 to 1797 today. The authorities concerned, have no system in place to check this vast increase in arbitrary development. There is also no planned provision to accommodate the steady inflow of fresh migrants. The officials of development authorities and local politicians have in many cases protected unauthorized settlements and saved them from demolition. Some unauthorized settlements have been initiated by village landowners who carved out small residential plots for sale, on adjoining farmland. Others were laid out by real estate developers on sizeable chunks of land in the trans-Yamuna areas like Laxminagar and Shakarpur, when land was cheap in these areas. Entire colonies were built on small plots of 100 sq yd, and 80 sq yd, with narrow 20 feet wide access roads. As per prevailing regulations, houses on such plots were required to maintain a minimum front setback, and were to have a maximum construction of two and a half floors. Over a period of time many of these plots were subdivided into smaller units to meet increased demand. Setbacks were ignored and built upon, and construction extended vertically to five and six floors, with balconies projecting into the access roads. All such individual plots have access staircases, and there are no lifts.

Local authorities periodically regularize unauthorised colonies as per government policy, by the provision of services that include piped water supply, sewage connections, electric supply, and a system of access roads. This is done essentially to bring them into the ambit of property tax. It is not clear how five and six stories of walkup residential development are regularized, when as per building regulations only 2.5 floors are permitted. The authorities concerned have not enforced building regulations, and have chosen to ignore and overlook this kind of overbuilding, which has serious environmental implications.

Resettlement Colonies
As part of the process of removing slums from public land, DDA has over the years, developed a number of resettlement colonies where individual plots with limited development were allocated to relocated families. In the early years up to 1974 in Phase I, eighteen resettlement colonies were developed on plots of 80 sq yd and 25 sq yd, providing 52,864 plots on a total area of 1479 acres. In Phase II, from 1975 to 1980, sixteen large resettlement colonies were built on a total area of 2392 acres providing 1,48,262 plots of 25 sq yd. In Phase III from 1981 onwards, only nine new colonies have been built with plots of 31 sq yd and 25 sq yd area totaling 14,915 plots.

Phase II built in 1975-76 was the biggest resettlement undertaken in which colonies were developed on fairly large pockets of land, with provision for 136 primary schools, 90 higher secondary schools, 3 colleges, 5 general hospitals, 3 fire stations, 5 police stations, 30 dispensaries, and 55 community halls/barat ghars, and other community facilities. The largest resettlement colonies were in Mongolpuri (439 acres) and the Patparganj Complex (415 acres) in the trans-Yamuna area. All colonies were provided with proper access and services infrastructure, as well as some parks, and open spaces. Smaller complexes consisted only of residential plots and had limited community support facilities.

All the resettlement colonies had small plots of 25 sq yd area (22'6"X10') on which the construction of a basic two story structure, just adequate for an individual family was permitted. However, over time with the inflow of more migrants, demand grew, and residents started adding unauthorized additional floors resulting in an almost uniform development of five floors of minimal walk up apartments in all areas. As can be imagined this has created conditions of extreme congestion, putting a severe strain on existing services. Lack of control over the quality of construction, has also made many structures dangerous as was seen in the recent tilting of a newly built five floor structure resting precariously on adjacent housing in Inderpuri. Overall congestion has resulted in several areas becoming inaccessible in case of fire or medical emergency.

Earlier resettlement colonies had plots of 80 sq yd and also 31 sq yd, which were later reduced to 25 sq yd with 100% ground coverage. Maximum two floors construction was allowed. No serious consideration was given to the implications of these arbitrary reductions of plot size. The intention was to minimize the area of land allotted for such developments to the urban poor.

Recently 45 Jhuggi Jhonpri Resettlement colonies have been granted freehold status. It has been clarified that the enforcement of freehold rights will not cover any misuse or unauthorized construction on the plots. Unauthorised construction is to be dealt with by the local body as per existing laws and MPD 2021. How exactly this will be done is not clear.

Urban Villages and EWS Provisions in the Delhi Master Plan

A large section of the urban poor live in urban villages in different parts of the city, where until recently building regulations were not applicable. As a result of this many buildings were enlarged with the addition of several floors on an ad hoc basis. Small two room apartments were added as well as several single room bed-sitters, which were affordable for students and small families. Over time most such villages have now got grossly overbuilt, and there is a fair concentration of the urban poor living in all such locations.

The Delhi Master Plan 2021 recommended that housing for the poor be provided as follows:
a)    In-situ slum rehabilitation, encouraging developers to build on the land and also provide new tenements for the slum dwellers.
b)    It was made mandatory that in all group housing projects provision be made for EWS housing / slum rehabilitation to the extent of 15% of permissible FAR or 35% of total number of dwelling units on the plot, whichever is higher.
c)    Housing for urban poor be built to the extent of 50-55% of total residential development.
d)    Low income housing types be built in accordance with new development control norms, and variable densities to make EWS / LIG housing more viable and economical.
These recommendations have unfortunately not been effectively implemented.

Although group housing built by private developers conform to the provision of the EWS component by building smaller size units as required, these are invariably sold and end up being occupied by middle income residents. There is no effective enforcement to ensure that such housing is actually used by the urban poor. In addition development agencies like DDA who are responsible for enforcement of the Master Plan, have also not ensured that 50 to 55% of residential land within the DUA be made available for accommodating the urban poor.

During the Delhi Master Plan period 1981-2001, sites and services approach based relocation was employed, in which resettlement of squatter slums was done on plots of 18 sqm and 12.5 sqm (transit accommodation) allotted to eligible persons on licence basis. Apparently this led to a number of aberrations due to which this approach has been abandoned. In the Delhi Master Plan 2021 it is recommended that resettlement whether in the form of in-situ upgradation, or relocation, be based on builtup accommodation of 25 sqm dwelling units with common area facilities, and not in horizontal plotted development. This automatically results in putting minimum 25 sqm apartments, in multistory blocks. The master plan also suggests that future resettlement colonies be developed on plots with a minimum area of 2000 sqm as part of a mixeduse development, providing housing along with necessary community support facilities. However no such development has actually been implemented. DDA's emphasis still remains on generating maximum revenue from the sale of land in all areas, as a result of which proposals for housing for the economically weaker section is not a priority.

The population of Delhi is expected to increase to 20 million within the next few decades, out of which over half will be the urban poor for whom   provisions need to be made for decent living conditions. One of the important requirements in this respect will be the provision of adequate land, along with proper community support facilities. The present approach of forcing the urban poor to live in minimal units in densely packed multistory structures is likely to have serious negative repercussions, as has been seen in similar developments in other parts of the world. In the Delhi urban area there is a stark contrast between the area of land occupied by middle and upper income group developments, and the areas within which housing for the urban poor is concentrated. This calls for urgent correction.

The urban poor presently occupy less than one fifth of the total land taken up by residential development in the Delhi urban area. This includes the slum settlements, the resettlement colonies, the unauthorized colonies and the urban villages. In order to provide equitable social conditions a fair allocation of land in the form of open spaces and support community facilities for all levels of society is called for. Space is not a constraint in the Delhi urban area, it merely calls for more comprehensive detailed planning and implementation by a single independent agency, instead of the multiple authorities that are currently entrusted with this task.


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