Several reforms introduced in the recent years to augment efficiency, improve responsiveness, and weed out corruption in Delhi’s three municipal corporations have remained unproductive. Apart from putting various services online, one of the big-ticket initiatives undertaken was simplification and faster approval for building plans. However, due to procedural issues, lack of enforcement, and shortage of staff, it has hardly made a difference on the ground --failing to curb illegal constructions.
Statistics show that the number of approval granted by the corporations has constantly been falling since 2012-13, which means just a few people were applying for approval of their building plans. In 2011, the unified MCD launched online building plan sanction system. It approved 740 plans. Though the number crossed 8, 000 (highest so far) mark the next year but it started declining by 2013.
Following the ‘ease of doing business: construction permits’ project by the Central government, the three civic bodies stopped accepting offline requests for building plan and made the process completely online in April last year. From April 8, 2016 to March 20, 2017, the civic bodies have sanctioned 2,342 maps.
According to an estimate, only 5 to 10% of the total population in the city obtains building plans and nearly 80% of the construction is either unauthorised or doesn’t match with the approved plan.
A former senior municipal corporation official, who was closely associated with digitisation of services including online sanctioning of building plans, said until the approach is changed and proper enforcement of law is not guaranteed, the system cannot improve.
“Vested interests do not allow the reforms to take root. The 30-day rule exists on papers, when an application is submitted, they keep raising objections until one doesn’t succumb to their ‘demand’,” he said.
Citing one of the shortcomings in the procedure, he said a person, who intends to build his house, has to get plan prepared and submitted by an architect empanelled by the municipal corporations. “There is no fixed charge to avail architect services and the fee is decided by them,” the official said.
He said implementation of building by-laws in several areas of Delhi is tough given the unplanned growth of the city. “No building plan can be sanctioned in the Walled city, rural and unauthorised colonies because they just don’t fulfil basic requirements for approval. As per the provisions, there should be certain width of road or space in the area to move rescue vehicles in case of any disaster. This is one of the big issues in Old Delhi, where lanes are just three feet wide. So, a plan cannot be approved there. Rules will have to be tweaked,” he said.
In this case, the owner has to resort to unfair means and this is one lacuna in the rules, he said.
Omesh Sehgal, Delhi’s former chief secretary, said the rules should be amended and the number of documents required for sanction of building plan should be rationalised. “If one goes for seeking the approval for building plan, the system asks for various sets of papers and if you don’t submit, it does not accept your request. Your agony does not end there, the officials keep harassing you thereafter on one pretext or another,” he said.
The other area of concern is deviation from sanctioned plan or illegal construction. On occasions, it has been seen that even after approval from the corporations, people alters plans. An official of the engineering department of North Delhi Municipal Corporation said random inspection of the site is conducted to check whether the owner adheres to the approved map.
“This is where the problem starts. No reform will help without enforcement. I have hardly seen severe action against any engineering or building department officials and councillors. Just to maintain records, token or cosmetic demolition is done. When the Delhi High Court ended the system of monitoring of unauthorised construction through court commissioners in 2009, it was promised by the MCD that action will be taken against the top official of the zone if any violation is found. Have they even filed a complaint against any senior officer?,” said a councillor, requesting anonymity.
Dr Aqil Ahmed, incharge of ‘ease of doing business: construction permits’, however, denied any discrepancy and scope for malpractice in the online system. “We have successfully been approving plans in record time. We have cleared a plan in 27 minutes. Earlier, it would take around 18 days. We have fixed 30 days as the maximum time limit for the process to be completed,” he said.
He said now it is impossible to hold a plan without a reason for long as the entire system is monitored by the union government and only 1-3 % applications are rejected because of discrepancies in documents pertaining to the title of the plot.
On engagement of an architect, he said, “Because, a common man does not have proper understanding of by-laws, hence a building plan is required to be submitted with the help of an architect. For the purpose, the corporations have empanelled around 1, 040 architect.”
The experts involved in research and policy making on urban development also say the municipalities can’t be squarely blamed for this as overnight changes are not possible.
Jagan Shah, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), said it requires public participation and needs joint concentrated efforts by all stakeholders.
“Managing the city covering the area of around 1, 400 square kms area is not an easy task. There are several posts of inspectors, which are vacant for years. The job of filling vacancies is with some other agency…And People should also understand if they need services, they will need to follow rules,” he said.