Residents of Delhi for 69 years, they still await ownership rights of their houses
Khairati Lal, 88, was 15 years old when he came to Delhi with his parents from Jhang-Maghiana (now Jhang district) in Pakistan during Partition. The footpath near Parda Bagh in Daryaganj was his home for years as his family struggled to make a fresh start.
Fifty families, including Lal’s, were given temporary accommodation by the central government near Parda Bagh in 1950. “The government had constructed small houses made of thick cardboard for us. It was known as Gatta colony. We were later allowed to reconstruct and add new floors,” recalled Lal, who had a shop in the area.
Located along Shantivan Marg in the Walled City, the houses are constructed in two lanes with Red Fort and Jama Masjid in the vicinity. Over years, people constructed additional floors. Shops came up along the main road.
Almost six decades later, Lal is yet to get ownership rights of the house his father had built. Reason: The land was earmarked as a “green” or “recreational” space in the first Master Plan of Delhi (MPD) prepared in 1961.
“We had requested all politicians who came to our colony seeking our support during elections to help us get ownership rights of our properties. But no one helped us,” said Lal.
Last month, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) approved a proposal to grant ownership rights to thee residents. Kamaljeet Sehrawat, leader of the house, SDMC, said, “It was due for a long time. They will have to pay as per the prevailing circle rates. Original allottees will be given 40% concession.” The SDMC will charge Rs 16.2 lakh from original allottees and Rs 27.1 lakh from others.
SDMC’s order is a result of a two-decade battle for ownership rights started by Pankaj Bhatnagar, president of the Parda Bagh resident welfare association. Since 1998, Bhatnagar has been running from pillar to post to rectify the what he said was an “anomaly” in the MPD.
His struggle compelled the government to rectify the anomaly in the MPD-2021 but Bhatnagar is not happy with the rates the corporation is charging. “It is not our mistake that the area was notified as green initially. The government rectified the anomaly when we raised the matter. Why should we pay such high cost?” he said.
In 1979, Bhatnagar says, the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) had recommended change in land-use of the area from green.
“But the change was never made. In 1998, I approached then urban development minister (Jagmohan) for help. The MCD was asked to prepare a redevelopment plan,” said Bhatnagar, who works with the income-tax department.
The civic agency prepared the redevelopment plan in 2012, which was approved in 2016.
Following his efforts to get ownership rights, the urban development ministry (now housing and urban affairs ministry) notified a change in land use of the area in 2016.
“It has been a long, frustrating journey to get our basic rights. I approached the Delhi High Court in 2004 and 2006 to get the matter resolved. It was a clerical mistake while preparing the first master plan because of which we suffered for over seven decades. It took so long to rectify it,” said Bhatnagar, whose grandfather came from Pakistan.
Parda Bagh is not mentioned in the government’s list of rehabilitation colonies. The central government had given land to refugees in all the more than 35 rehabilitation colonies such as Rajinder Nagar, Tilak Nagar, Jungpura, etc., on a long lease. In the 90s, the urban development ministry started the process to convert leasehold properties to freehold. “Residents of all rehabilitation colonies were allowed to convert their property to freehold after payment as per government rates,” said AK Jain, former planning commissioner with DDA.
Parda Bagh was not eligible. The government handed over the area to the erstwhile MCD in 1964 as it was earmarked as green in the MPD.
Due to the delay in getting ownership rights, nearly 50% of the original allottees sold their properties on general power of attorney over the years.
Unable to reconstruct their house as corporation does not sanction building plans here, Lal’s family recently shifted to a rented accommodation in East Delhi’s Geeta Colony. “The house (at Parda Bagh) is small and our family has grown. The house needs repair. We want to rebuild it, but it cannot be done till the government gives us ownership rights,” said Manju, Lal’s daughter-in-law.
Their neighbour, Shanti Devi (80), continues to live in the small house with her two sons. Devi had come here from Jhang-Maghiana in Pakistan after her marriage. “I must have been 12-13 years old then. My first son was born on the pavement here. Though the house is small, I’ll not leave this place. This is my home,” said Devi, clueless about the ownership rights issue.
Lal, who needs support while walking, regularly visits the area to spend time in his old house and meet old friends. “I hope we can reconstruct the house soon so that we all can come and live here. He (Lal) misses this place a lot. This is why I get him here every week. He likes to spend time in our house,” Manju said.
Bhatnagar says the struggle will continue and they will not pay as per the present circle rates. “The UD ministry had directed MCD to prepare the redevelopment plan in 1999, but it was finalised only in 2016. Is it our mistake? It is unfair to charge us as per the prevailing rates. We will approach the Delhi High Court for relief,” he said.