In Janakpuri west, all that Nitin Khurana, a retired government official, wants from the municipal corporation is better drainage system so that he does not have to wade in knee-deep water in the rainy season.
It’s an affluent area but Khurana dreads stepping out of his house when it rain.
A few kilometres away in Punjabi Bagh, businessman SK Grover has different woes. The roads in his west Delhi’s upscale locality are wide, but are swept only once a day. “Our streets are cleaned every morning, but they turn dirty by the evening. The South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) must ensure that the sanitation workers are deployed in the evening as well,” says Grover.
While there is a stark contrast in the demands of voters in west Delhi areas ahead of the municipal elections scheduled on April 23, what binds them is their common concern --rampant illegal construction in residential and commercial areas.
Middle class neighbourhoods such as Patel Nagar, Rajinder Nagar, Rajouri Garden and Moti Nagar were the epicenters of sealing and demolition drives undertaken by the unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi in 2005-06. Dozens of buildings erected illegally or shops operating out of residential areas were bulldozed following the reprimand by the Delhi High Court. The action had triggered a series of violent protests across the city. In north-east Delhi, the police even had to resort to firing in which three persons were killed.
Following the continuous protests, the government issued a notification clearing more than 2,000 roads for mixed land use and streets in several categories of colonies across the capital. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) also made several amendments in Master Plan 2001 allowing offices in basement for selected professionals.
Over a decade later, many of the shopkeepers in central and west Delhi breathe easy with the government bringing in new rules that made it legal for most of these businesses to operate. “There was much furore back then. But the mixed land use policy has brought relief for the shopkeepers and revenue for the government,” says Harish Sachdeva, President of Patel Nagar Market Association.
But the policy has also taken its toll on the civic amenities in these areas, say residents. While the residents have learnt to live with encroachment that does not spare even half the road for commute, lack of parking space, poor sanitation, and safety concerns are things they cannot compromise on, they say.
“It is a daily battle for my tenants and me to park our cars. The shopkeepers occupy all the space throughout the day and quarrels over parking space are common. The municipal corporation has failed to arrange separate parking space for the shopkeepers,” complains Naresh Singhal, a resident of West Patel Nagar.
Bhim Singh Sharma, councilor from West Patel Nagar, acknowledges that parking has been a major concern in the area, but there was no land available for a new parking lot. “The only option we have is to build parking space under public parks, but we have not been able to convert this concept into reality,” he says.
In the more spread out neighbourhood Rajouri Garden in West Delhi, one expects the problem to be better than the crammed Patel Nagar, but with floors being added in buildings and families owning multiple cars, parking issue galores in this area too. A multi-level parking with capacity of 234 cars space was inaugurated in February, but that is not enough to meet the need of the area.
“To deal with the parking menace, we are going to speak to the owners of the few malls that fall within our jurisdiction. We will request them to allow our residents to use the mall parking during the night hours. Parking in the daytime, particularly in the markets, will remain a concern,” says Subhash Arya, councilor of Rajouri Garden.
Rajouri Garden residents also complain about builders constructing multi-storey structures without necessary permissions. “Most of the buildings coming up here do not comply with building plans,” alleges Rajeev Behl, a Rajouri Garden resident.
PK Pathak, president of ‘Chintain’ Residents Welfare Association in Rajouri Garden, blames builders and civic body officials for the menace and says his pleas to stop it go unheard. “Those flouting the rules tell me to mind my business or fight with me when I raise these issues,” says Pathak.
However, Subhash Arya refutes allegations of unauthorised construction in his area. “Families have been growing, so they build extra floors to accommodate extended family. But they go through the proper legal procedure. At the most, they may make minor changes to the approved building plans,” says Arya, adding neighbours should not have problems with what people do with their own property.
But the common complaints made by residents of the area that they do not get approval for construction until they use ‘unfair means’. “I just needed to carry out repairs at my home. I had to bribe the official of the building department. There was no other option to get my work done,” alleges Jagjeet Singh, a resident of Mukherjee Park in Tagore Garden ward.
Most of these wards boast of abundant parks and gardens, some of them well maintained, but the same planning is not visible once residents exit these parks. “If the usual encroachment of roads is not bad enough, we have to also bear with the weekly local pavement markets. They are a necessity, but the civic authorities should allot a separate area for it so that our daily life is not affected,” says SC Sethi, a resident of Janakpuri West ward.