How Delhi’s urban villages turned into ‘no plan land’
Successive plans excluded Delhi’s urban villages from civic control and virtually turned them into islands. Haphazard construction and unchecked commercialisation only added to the civic mess in these 135 localities spread across Delhi.
The sprawling fields in front of Sultan Chauhan’s 20-room house in Hauz Khas village doubled up as playground when he was a child. But today, the fields have been replaced by a congested row of buildings that has cropped up in the last three decades.
At 75, the frail old man with a flowing white beard reminisces the “good old days” even as he witnesses open spaces swallowed by urbanisation, inch by inch.
“Now, every time I step out, I fear I am going to run into an accident,” Chauhan said, explaining the gentrification that his ancestral village has undergone ever since his birth in 1942.
Swallowed by metropolis
Hauz Khas Village lies tucked in a backyard that consists of a medley of boutiques, plush restaurants and noisy pubs. It is one of the 135 urban villages of the National Capital where the unplanned and unrestricted boom of residential and commercial establishments and the absence of adequate amenities attracted no authority’s attention.
“If I walk towards Aurobindo Marg from my house, I can’t see the skyline over my head. It is now hidden under building floors,” said Chauhan, sitting in House Number 43, perhaps the only unaffected building among the 80-odd households in the village. As fate would have it, his only son Liyakat Ali is also into the property business.
Be it Hauz Khas Village or the five urban villages in Kotla Mubarakpur — sandwiched between Defence Colony and South Extension — the situation of urbanised villages remains more or less the same across Delhi.
Agricultural land of these villages was acquired from farmers after 1911 to set up the National Capital in Delhi.
Now, narrow unpaved roads form a maze bisecting rows of multi-storey buildings where even three-wheelers struggle to navigate. Tangled electricity wires hover overhead and garbage can be seen flowing out of sewer lines.
Due to its proximity to Delhi’s urban centres, cheap rentals and shopping centres, people with business interests entered the villages and now tenants outnumber original residents.
Sitting on a cot on the narrow alley leading to his double-storey house in Jood Bagh, Chaudhary Prem Singh said he cannot see his great-grandchildren suffocating in the shrinking neighbourhood where he was born 70 years ago.
“Look at the unending market that has come up to Arya Nagar. There are cars piled up on both sides of the road. Is this place even worth living anymore?” Singh said between puffs of smoke from the long-stemmed hookah. A retired government official, Singh lives with his family of 15 in the six-room house built in 1989. With a population of 2,000, Jood Bagh is one of the five urbanised villages of Kotla Mubarakpur.
When Delhi was being set up as the national capital in 1911, the population of its urbanised villages was included within ‘Lal Dora’ — a term that referred to the boundary of villages within which laws of corporations or urban authorities were not applicable.
But as human settlements expanded, the extended population was included in a new peripheral boundary called ‘Phirni’, while the area between the Lal Dora and Phirni was termed ‘Extended Lal Dora’.
“They (authorities) marked Lal Doras and let all illegal developments take place inside,” said Dunu Roy of the Hazards Centre. “As we move towards master plan 2041, many things in the 2021 plan like monitoring have not even been touched.”
According to a 1957 notification, Lal Doras were exempted from the building bylaws and other regulations of Delhi Municipal Act. On August 24, 1963, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) passed another notification saying no building permission was required for construction in Lal Doras.
While the previous two master plans (1962, 2001) left out the villages, the existing Master Plan Delhi 2021 has laid down norms that say these villages would be governed by special regulations but will remain exempt from sealing.
“For villages which have been notified as urbanised, any construction has to be carried out in conformity with the building bylaws of the local bodies and Master Plan of Delhi 2021,” said JP Agrawal, principal commissioner, housing, DDA.
According to Tejinder Khanna Committee report submitted in 2006, special building bylaws were supposed to be framed for these villages.
Congress leader Ajay Maken, who was Union minister of state for urban development when 2021 Master Plan was
being implemented in 2009, said civic amenities have not reached the villages for want of space.
“Agricultural land was acquired from farmers at low compensation. And in return, the development done was insufficient. Livelihood problems are acute as the compensation that most of them got has been exhausted. So, their means of livelihood is rental income because of which the villages have been converted into rental units and small scale industries,” he said.
In these villages, water, sewer and electricity are the responsibility of the Delhi government while the local bodies maintain drains and lanes.
The haphazard growth in these villages appears largely irreversible.
Time and again the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has made different announcements on sealing or demolition of illegal constructions.
Officials said properties in urbanised villages that were constructed before 2007 have been given protection under the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act for Urbanised Villages 2008. But any property which has been constructed after that is liable for sealing and demolition, they said.
“The Master Plan 2021 provides protection to properties in urbanised villages as building regulations for these areas had not been notified. But confusion persists over buildings constructed after 2007. So, we cannot do much,” said an official who did not want to be named.
Recently, the Union cabinet cleared the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (NCTD) (Special Provisions) Second (Amendment) Act, 2017.
The Act provides immunity of three more years (beyond the December 31, 2017 deadline), to all properties with unauthorised constructions including commercial establishments in residential areas, high-end boutiques and showrooms in urbanised villages such as Shahpur Jat and Hauz Khas Village. “Unless Delhi has a town planning department like other states, we should stop hoping for improvement in these hubs of illegal construction,” said AK Jain, former DDA planning commissioner.
No record of population
In Pillanji, the only urban village in New Delhi area, rows of multi-storey buildings have come up after the land of dairy farmers was acquired in 1911. However, no one knows how many people have been added to the original 4,000 residents of the area.
Pillanji saw some development in terms of sewer lines and roads as part of an initiative by MP Meenakshi Lekhi, who adopted the village for development.
“There is no record of how many people live here,” said Harish Chand, a 60-year-old resident who is the fourth generation resident of the 600-year-old village. “There was a time when we were fascinated if a car passed by. Today, there is no space for humans to walk.”
Parts of this urbanised village were acquired for housing government employees in Sarojini Nagar. Today, like any other urbanised village, it is more commercialised than residential.
“Some people stayed back, some have left. The original inhabitants, who were largely dairy farmers, exhausted the compensation money as families grew in size. There were no resources and they kept adding floors to the buildings,” said Chattar Singh, an old resident of the village.