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Without renewal, expansion only adding to urban mess

columns Updated: Jun 06, 2012 14:01 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times
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Six years ago, I decided to take a shot at the property market in Delhi before looking out to the NCR for options. I liked a few DDA flats. They were spacious and well located. But built 25-30 years back, they were in such a bad condition that even banks were reluctant to give a 20-year home loan.

When my colleagues in HT set out to do a special series on the condition of DDA flats three years back, they found many such stories. Even if the flats were maintained well by the owners, the common areas — staircase, terrace and back alleys — were collapsing. With the DDA giving up all responsibility after it sold the flats, it was clearly nobody’s concern.

Residential colonies that came up in the 1950s to resettle families displaced due to the Partition, and those developed in south, north and west Delhi by private developers, may have changed in character with new builder flats coming up. But their supporting infrastructure is crying for an upgrade.

Even in New Delhi, the century-old brand new segment of this 2,000-year-old city, the infrastructure is about to expire. In the Lutyens’ zone that has possibly the best civic management in the country, the alarm bell rang last month when there was so much stink from a sewer in the Parliament building that the Rajya Sabha proceedings were adjourned.

The sewage lines laid by the British have not been changed since. In the rest of the city, the last overhauling exercise happened in the 1980s. While roads crumble in absence of storm water drains, there is little difference between Sangam Vihar and Greater Kailash when it comes to chronic sewage backflow.

Urban renewal is part of any modern city’s planning. In Delhi, the concept is as old as the Master Plan itself. The MPD-1962 projected ‘urban renewal as a strategy of redevelopment, rehabilitation and conservation” in the context of Shahjahanabad and the extension of the walled city. The plans that followed included other conservation zones and special areas such as Karol Bagh.

The current plan, which is presently being reviewed, even authorises redevelopment of newer areas that are in “poor urban form”. It calls for a complete civic overhaul, increasing the floor area ratio to allow taller buildings, possibly in cluster courts or group housing, to be developed by private parties.

But plans remain on paper. All Delhi has seen so far in the name of urban renewal is the restoration of Connaught Place. Instead, the focus has been on greenfield development by unlocking new areas in the outskirts of the city for residential and commercial use, triggering a land rush. This is when the Master Plan clearly says that 40% of Delhi’s land requirement can be met through re-densification and redevelopment of the existing areas.

The first Master Plan gave authorities 20 years to redevelop the Walled City. Today, roads have caved in, hundreds of dilapidated buildings have become death traps, and sewerage system is either non-existent or choked. In many katras, hazardous industrial units run illegally.

AK Jain, who was a planner with the DDA for 30 years, recalls that the only time two old city pockets, Dujana House (near Jama Masjid) and Turkman Gate, were redeveloped was during the Emergency years. If the Walled City has been waiting for 50 years, there is little hope for the rest of the city, which has found a mention in the Master Plan only recently.

In 1858, the year of the big stink, functioning of the House of Commons was affected, forcing a total overhaul of the London sewer system. Maybe a few more adjournment of the Upper House will set the ball rolling in Delhi.