DDA’s lesson: Cheap housing in Delhi doesn’t have to be shabby
DDA’s housing schemes have been marred by lack of facilities and overpricing over the last few years. The civic agency not only failed to ensure affordability but also faltered at improving the quality of the housing stock.columns Updated: Jul 11, 2017 13:50 IST
In Delhi, where a third of the population has been pushed into poorly provisioned illegal homes and another large chunk is priced out of the city for want of affordable housing, getting a DDA flat is nothing short of winning a lottery. But the game of chance does not end there.
The DDA launched its latest housing scheme last week and the rush for forms is understandable. Its flats cost less than the prevailing market rates and come with the promise of essential services such as “electricity, water and sewage disposal and other infrastructural facilities that make them habitable”.
The last few years, the agency has been faltering on this promise. In 2013, those allotted flats in Vasant Kunj had to fight it out with the agency to bring their “premium” properties to a liveable condition. At least 1,500 of the 25,000 units from the 2014 scheme were returned by buyers who found them too small and shabbily built. In Rohini, there are no connecting roads, streetlights and piped water supply even after three years of allotment. Most flats in Narela are still vacant.
When DDA falters on quality control, it is a disservice to the city. Because those opting out will move to the illegal market in unauthorised colonies where plots are available at cheaper rates on easy payment and construction terms. Those looking for a “legal” address with better amenities are already shifting to the NCR towns.
DDA, which controls the biggest chunks of land in the city and is also its biggest builder, is anyway responsible for the existing housing shortage. It never built enough to meet the growing demand. And since 2001, it stopped constructing big projects despite a boom in the property market, a study by the National Council of Applied Economic Research found.
This benefitted the private builders who converted single and double-storey homes into multi-storey flats in Delhi. While the share of self-owned households increased by only two percentage points between 2001 and 2011, the property prices increased more than 10 times in a span of fewer than 10 years, the study concluded.
DDA not only failed to ensure affordability but also faltered at improving the quality of the housing stock. It is not that the agency doesn’t know any better. The old-timers still swear by the construction and design of DDA flats in Usha Niketan and Saket complex, built by architect Kuldip Singh back in the 1960s.
In the group housing category, where land provided by DDA was developed by cooperatives, there were many more architectural marvels. In 1978, Charles Correa designed Tara Apartments with buildings facing inwards to block off noise, dust and fumes from the main road. Large overhangs ensured enough light and ventilation sans overheating. All flats had large outdoor space for exclusive use.
In 1979, the Press Enclave in Saket was “probably the first ‘green’ building in modern India”, recalled architect Ashish Ganju to Forbes magazine in 2015, and was built in active consultation with the residents.
Earlier in 1975, Ranjit Sabikhi designed the Yamuna Apartment with a fine balance of private and communal space, providing as much as 65% open area.
Today, these three estates figure in the list of 62 most iconic structures built in post-independence Delhi. Surely, they could have served as a template for all future construction by the DDA. There may have been an upfront cost involved but these days DDA doesn’t sell its flats too cheap.
In a welcome move, DDA is now promising a “greener” design with earthquake-resistant buildings built with fly-ash bricks, RO-treated water for drinking, a non-potable supply for washing, a local sewage treatment plant to produce grey water for gardening and chutes to collect garbage from homes.
At its project underway in Jasola in Southeast Delhi, DDA will also provide waterproofing on walls and ceilings, covered parking, guard rooms and facilities for the support staff. One wished these features along with the basics such as functional connectivity, water and power supplies were already integrated into DDA’s standard architectural designs, but better late than never.
Let’s hope that DDA will not relapse into amnesia and add these upgrades to its template for all future projects while ensuring construction quality. After all, affordable housing does not have to come at the cost of aesthetics and sustainability in the land of sasta, sundar aur tikao.