A house in disorder

Published : May 23, 2003 00:00 IST

The Delhi Development Authority is under a cloud following charges of rampant corruption, skewed priorities and official-mafia nexus and a series of arrests.

in New Delhi

THE Delhi Development Authority finds itself in the thick of a controversy following a series of raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation, which have pointed to corruption being rampant at every level in the DDA. Media exposes have meanwhile revealed connections between senior DDA officials and the real estate mafia, as well as the political skulduggery in land allotment.

The scandal has led to great political uproar and public outrage, provoking questions about the organisation's very existence and purpose. S.S. Shafi, who was involved with the planning of the city since the Authority's establishment in 1956, is on record as saying that the DDA has "emerged as the largest real estate agency in the world, with over 50,000 acres of prime metropolitan land at its disposal".

The malpractices include regularisation of unauthorised housing colonies, grant of approval for building plan alterations and land use pattern (converting residential areas into industrial or commercial zones) to serve the interests of a "very strong mafia which encompasses the political leadership, land owners, affluent sections and the middle classes, and the real estate sharks", asserts Dunu Roy, who runs a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that makes interventions on behalf of the urban poor. The DDA is Centrally administered and is answerable only to Parliament. Its monopoly, without any popular control, over land, and the lack of transparency in its functioning are its fatal flaws, says former Prime Minister V.P. Singh.

The widely asked question now seems to be whether the DDA's sordid internal culture can be changed at all. Bribery has become so entrenched at every level of the system that there is talk of dismantling the DDA in its present form. According to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, the solution lies in bringing it within the ambit of the Delhi government. "It should be revamped and brought under the purview of the local administration instead of the Ministry of Urban Development," she said.

Greater scope for independent scrutiny and increased public participation would go a long way in overhauling the DDA, experts such as K.T. Ravindran of the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, say. A platform of citizens' groups, the Master Plan Implementation Support Group (MPISG), points out that `development according to plan' was the DDA's mandate under the Delhi Development Act of 1957. The Delhi Master Plan, drafted in 1962 and revised twice, is the raison d'etre of the DDA, they claim. This Plan is all that stands between public land remaining so and becoming real estate.

"The DDA has emerged as the biggest violator of the Master Plan it is supposed to implement," said V.P. Singh, who was at one point instrumental in a political mobilisation of the urban poor and the displaced under a coalition called the Jan Chetna Manch. He identifies the DDA's practice of profiteering from public land as the prime cause for the anti-poor bias in Delhi's urban development pattern.

According to the planner Gita Dewan Verma, who works with the MPISG, this dangerous bias is inevitable in the absence of a blueprint that conforms to the development priorities of the city. She asserts that much of civil society action has ignored the Master Plan and settled for small as-and-when adjustments which seek far less than what is due to the people by right. "NGOs and professional trustee institutions have all played into the hands of the mafia by obfuscating implementation failures as planning failures and, now, by demanding alternative systems instead of addressing corruption," she added.

The skew in favour of up-market development is confirmed by an independent survey conducted by Dunu Roy's NGO, Hazards Centre, which found that while the planned housing targets set for the rich were achieved more than three times over, only 40 per cent of the low-end Janata flats were occupied by the poor, and that 81 per cent of low income group (LIG) housing was owned by the middle-income and rich groups. Despite 23,000 applicants waiting for housing allotment in November 2002, some 22,000 of these for Janata and LIG flats, the DDA announced that it would take up schemes only for high-income group (HIG) flats and that Janata flats would not be constructed anymore. The one-room Janata flats cost a minimum of Rs.2 lakhs, while a two-bedroom flat would cost anywhere between Rs.9 lakhs and Rs.16 lakhs.

This pro up-market development attitude is further evident in the debate over Delhi's `slum problem' and the administrative approach towards encroachers and residents of unauthorised jhuggi-jhopri clusters. In the Almitra Patel case (February 2001), the Supreme Court proclaimed that "rewarding an encroacher on public land with a free alternative site is like giving a reward to a pickpocket". However, in giving this judgment the judicial system did not seem to recognise the fact that the failure of government agencies to provide `authorised' land and housing has forced the people to encroach on public land, as a good majority of them earn less than Rs.2,000 a month. The price of land set aside for the economically weaker sections (EWS) has gone up by almost 10 times in the last 10 years, while commercial and industrial land prices have risen by only about three to four times, according to a survey conducted by Sajha Manch, a coalition of organisations working with the urban poor.

However, planning experts have a different view. Gita Dewan Verma blames it all on the all-round failure to view the Delhi Master Plan as a document of citizens' entitlements and the decision to settle for inferior alternatives in place of robust statutory provisions for slums, small industries, informal trade, schools and so on. She asserts that the 2001 Census found about four lakh slum families, which is consistent with the backlog on Plan targets of over 4.5 lakh reasonable standard EWS plots on over 2,000 hectares of land dispersed all over the city. Similarly, she claims that the one lakh non-conforming industries in the city are consistent with the backlog on 2000 ha of industrial space planned all over the city. "Yet the courts are led to believe that the poor are unanticipated, deserving only charity, not justice," she says.

V.P. Singh agrees that the current slum population was anticipated by the Master Plan, and that sufficient space within the city had been set aside for it. The current resettlement efforts are at odds with that plan and offer far less than what rightfully belongs to them, he added.

A fact-finding mission on resettlement schemes, conducted by a team from the Habitat International Coalition (an independent, international, non-profit movement of some 400 organisations and individuals working in the area of human settlements) in 2001 had vindicated this view. It observed that the evictions and relocation conditions and services flouted the current Master Plan provisions, and that there was widespread corruption and coercion in the identification and implementation of this process. Moreover, resettlement policy and practice were often inconsistent with domestic law and international human rights agreements, they noted. Both judicial and administrative measures stress on relocation to places such as Narela and Bhawana in outer Delhi, which would invariably disrupt the lives and livelihoods of the people relocated. What is ironic is that while many court directives against slums and industries are based on some part of the Master Plan, their compliance is invariably in violation of plan provisions that guarantee the entitlements of those affected. All current resettlement projects - slums or industries - subvert the Plan's explicit provisions to integrate the poor into the city in a reasonable standard of development instead of pushing them out of sight into ghetto-style habitations.

Interestingly, the Congress(I) and the Bharatiya Janata Party seem rather united in their stand on making modifications to the Master Plan rather than to its pattern of implementation. Delhi BJP president Madan Lal Khurana's "BJP Vision 2003" for Delhi as well as the Sheila Dixit government press for populist moves such as regularisation of industries, slums and unauthorised colonies, by pursuing policies and projects that offer the people less than what is theirs by right.

City development is caught up in issues related to the reordering of geography by capitalism, which planners are often unable to anticipate. However, in most cases, the disjunction between the Master Plan and the evolving urban context is used as an excuse to violate the Plan's basic tenets, which, the MPISG points out, most often results in entitlements for the poor being severely infringed and downsized.

The immediate course of action for the DDA is to set its own house in order and renew its commitment to planned development. Gita Dewan Verma says: "Dismantle or weaken the DDA, and the mafia wins. Use this opportunity to clean it up and strengthen it, and the city wins."

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