Need for rethink on policies to solve city's housing woes

Experts suggest creating more local-level jobs to stop people migrating to city

Who is to be blamed for the mushrooming of unauthorised colonies in the city? The Delhi Development Authority or the lack of macro-level policy making?

While experts agree that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has been faulty in estimating the population pressure in the national capital in its first Master Plan, there is also a need to provide local-level jobs to handle the high level of migration into the city.

“The first Master Plan of the DDA (1962-1982) got the population estimate wrong by over 10 lakh. This backlog was not cleared even in the following plans. The demand was obviously much higher than estimated. This is why only a minuscule number of houses are available even though there are a huge number of applicants,” says P S N Rao, Chairperson, Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC).

To grapple with the current situation it is necessary that land pooling policy be taken up by the DDA on priority basis.

“Private parties can start developing the land. With real estate developers taking over, land can be acquired and developed. Haphazard development can be checked if people are given a package of good roads, parks and schools through the land pooling policy,” says Rao.

Regularisation of unauthorised colonies is another valid alternative. Though it would not be possible to have schools or other elements as a part of it, there should be proper drainage system and roads in the already existing unauthorised colonies, he says.
However, even if the DDA is proactive in providing houses in bigger numbers, it would be difficult to accommodate the “unprecedented” number of migrants in the city, feel town planning experts. There is an immediate need to think of alternatives like “leasable accommodation”.

“The bigger picture has to be taken into account. No authority can handle it if migrants come in unaccountable numbers. There is a need first to provide employment opportunities across towns. Next, there is the need to give out accommodation on lease, which again should be controlled by the government, to migrants. This needs detailed policy making, especially for cities which are seen as hubs of jobs,” says Sonali Rastogi, member of Morphogenesis, an architecture and design firm.

With a spurt in unauthorised colonies, the living conditions in these settlements have gone worse.“The unauthorised colonies are structurally unsafe. If an earthquake happens, there can be mass casualties. Also, if there is a fire, there is no space for fire tenders to enter the narrow lanes,” says architect Sonali Bhagwati.

There is a need to have proper escape routes in these colonies in case of an emergency situation, she adds.

“In order to improve the living conditions in the current scenario, it is important to add smaller low-energy sewerage treatment plants, which are easy to install. It is also important to supply clean water in these colonies. Introducing a fire hydrant in these colonies would also be a good idea,” says Bhagwati.

Developing group housing or planned housing with convenience markets, adequate space for community activities and enough parking lots can be another long-term solution.

“For this there is a need for amalgamation of individual plots into larger land parcels,” she adds.

Unauthorised colonies have come up because there are not enough affordable plots in the city. Even though there are risks involved, including colonies being razed down by the government, every year a greater number of people take the risk.

Mandeep Singh, head of the Architecture department at School of Planning and Architecture, says People buy such land as it is the cheapest available. “What can the people do? There are not enough sdeveloped areas with reference to the cost,” says Singh.

In these colonies, people can at least vertically expand their houses which they usually rent out to eke out extra income. Over time, some of these colonies gain legal status. But the hazards involved in these colonies are intact.

Parallel economy

Even though faulty planning remains the most basic problem behind the shortage of housing facilities in the capital, there is a series of issues which contribute to the “failure of planning”, say experts.

“Land at unauthorised colonies is sold to gullible people who are desperate for houses. Now if everything is well planned, how will the parallel economy run? There is connivance among the local politicians, DDA staff, and municipal corporation staff. There is no check on what is happening at the huge plots of land acquired by the DDA in the 60s and the 70s,” says an architect.

“This is common knowledge that if everything is well-planned, the parallel economy will come to a halt. So the policies need to be changed so that lands can be easily acquired at affordable rates legally,” he adds.

A centralised website can finally put an end to the woes of the people on land policies. Currently, it even becomes difficult for architects to interpret the laws.

“There should be one site with hyperlinks to other departments of the government. This should incorporate all building by-laws, notifications issued from time to time to keep people updated on land policies,” says architect Bhagwati.

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