When home dreams crash: Anatomy of an ‘illegal’ colony in Delhi
In 2007, when sub-inspector Mahesh Kumar bought a flat in Shri Sai Kunj, a private residential colony in south Delhi’s Mehrauli, he thought his struggle to own a house was over.
Little did Kumar — posted in the Delhi lieutenant governor’s security — know that 10 years later, he would find it difficult to sell his three-BHK apartment even as the fate of the colony -- whether it will be demolished or not -- hangs in the balance.
“Ever since I moved here with my wife, children and brother, the thought of demolition has been haunting us,” said Kumar, who lived with his uncle after moving from Bihar before buying the house.
Like Mukesh, over 150 families owning flats in the colony are caught in a bind as the legal status of the gated society in the middle-class neighbourhood near Heritage school in Vasant Kunj remains uncertain.
“I pay loan to the bank. I am even ready to sell it. But no one wants to buy,” he said.
‘Liable to be demolished’
The latest blow was Wednesday’s Supreme Court order, which pointed out that the authorities allowed the ‘unauthorised colony’ to be built on agricultural land. The court made the observation on a report submitted by its own monitoring panel that said the colony was ‘liable to be demolished’.
The committee set up in 2006 was asked to keep a tab on unauthorised constructions in the capital. In 2012, however, the court asked the panel to stop sealing premises. On Wednesday, the top court said it might revive its sealing powers.
“No protection is available to the society under NCT Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) second (Amendment) Act, 2014 for unauthorised construction and is therefore liable to be demolished,” said the panel comprising former election commission advisor K J Rao, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority chairman Bhure Lal and Major General Som Jhingan.
The report said that the plot spread over four acres of land did not have any construction before March 31, 2002. The agricultural land was purchased by Shanmugananda Welfare Association for Rs 2.15 crore, as per the sale deed signed in March 2009.
“We were a group of people who wanted to use our savings and buy houses where we could stay after retirement. That is how the 198 members pooled in money in 1997 to buy the land with 198 plots,“ said BN Pancholi, president of the association who retired as a professor in Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha in 2000.
“There are 1,700 unauthorised colonies in Delhi. I do not know why they are after us,” said Pancholi, who lives alone in a four-BHK house, a few blocks away from a huge under-construction Sai temple.
‘Not even an unauthorised colony’
Before moving to his second floor, two-BHK flat in one of the five-storeyed buildings, Umesh Singh was told the ‘unauthorised’ colony would be regularised soon. But Singh, a government employee from Rajasthan, got the shock of his life when he was told that the maps of the houses had not been cleared.
“I thought living in an unauthorised colony is not an issue in Delhi. Had I known it is not even an unauthorised colony, I would never have shifted from my rented house in Chhattarpur,” he said.
The monitoring panel said in its report that the colony is not even an unauthorised colony though it had filed an application in 2007. But, it said, due to change in the layout plan, the authenticity of the regularisation claim remains null and void.
“Instead of 198 plots as mentioned in the layout plan, which it was supposed to be, the owners constructed group housing by amalgamation of plots, so the authenticity of regularisation remains null and void,” said the report, a copy of which is with Hindustan Times.
The report cites two lists of unauthorised colonies of the Delhi government with only one having the name of the colony in it. On the list, the colony is on number 506. It is one among the colonies that have applied for regularisation and are subject to a review.
Controversy’s favourite colony
The colony hit rough weather for the first time on February 12, 2013, when the committee pointed out unauthorised construction at the site.
The South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) was quick to react to seal 48 flats a day later, soon to be followed by a demolition order that was stayed by the National Dispute Redressal Commission after the residents’ welfare association approached it.
After site inspections that followed, the SDMC passed demolition order on October 14, 2011, again stayed by the Appellate Tribunal where the welfare association got relief.
Even then L-G Tejendra Khanna sought action against the illegal colony. Police after registering an FIR arrested five persons, including R Kumar, secretary of the society’s association.
“We were given a provisional regularisation certificate by the government in 2008. We built houses before that with the hope that the colony would be regularised like other ones. That is why we invested our money,” said Kumar, who is out on bail.
Since then, right under the nose of the government watchdog bodies — the civic agency, the police and the revenue department – the colony grew into a society housing 150 families.
SDMC commissioner Puneet Goel said the corporation was examining the SC order for more action.
On political agenda
The successive governments in Delhi have promised to regularise the unauthorised colonies, perhaps, eyeing their 50 lakh population.
The incumbent AAP government said in 2015 that it will start registration of 1,650 unauthorised colonies. The process remains stuck with the Union government, which wants the Delhi government to submit details of plot size and population. As many as 895 colonies were regularised in 2012 by the then Sheila Dikshit government.
Local MLA Suresh Yadav, who is helping build approach roads to the colony, said he didn’t know it was illegal.
“I got DSIIDC to get an estimate of the work required for the road. I though the colony was in the unauthorised list,” said Yadav, whose name finds place at the billboards at the under-construction site near the colony.
Property rates down
According to local property dealers, no one wants to buy the flats in the colony due to the controversy even though people are ready to sell at half the prices
“Had it not been for the illegal status, the two-BHK flat would sell at Rs 70-75 lakh in the colony. But it is available at Rs 35 lakh and no one is buying,” said a property dealer Arun Lamba.
(Names of residents have been changed)