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Arrested development

The Delhi Development Authority has failed to implement the Master Plan, writes Ranjit Sabikhi.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2006 00:18 IST

The Delhi Development Authority has not only failed to implement the Master Plan, but has also exploited Delhi’s citizenry for years. If the city’s present woes can be solved by disbanding the DDA, so be it.

For the average citizen of Delhi, the tussle between the government and the judiciary presents a somewhat unpleasant spectacle. Many may believe that the court’s intervention is timely and will help to prevent the city’s descent into chaos. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen and the situation will not improve. Outwardly, the court is upholding the rule of law. It is helping to enforce the Master Plan of Delhi (MPD), a document to control and regulate the growth of Delhi. While this is true, the MPD has lost its validity and is reduced to a set of paper controls.

Delhi’s first Master Plan became law in 1962. It defined a framework for control and planned for what it could reasonably foresee as the needs of the city for the next 10 years. The plan intended to initiate a more organised and rational basis for future growth. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was made responsible for the implementation of the MPD, a responsibility that it has failed to discharge effectively.

Over the years the situation on the ground has changed considerably, but the MPD has not been modified to reflect the changed conditions. A partially revamped MPD 1962 was trotted out as MPD 2001, and the same with minor changes appears as MPD 2011. It would be a pleasant surprise if the promised MPD 2021 is substantially different in concept. An important mandate of the DDA is the development and sale of land. It was intended that, along with implementing the plan and developing land, it would set up an efficient framework for the city’s growth. Unfortunately, this framework is anything but efficient. The DDA is black-marketing land, ensuring that supply is always less than demand for all categories of need. This is one of the prime factors responsible for the prevailing exorbitant land prices in the city.

By its own admission, the DDA has failed to implement large sections of the MPD 1962 that was slated for completion in 1981. The 1990 document for MPD 2001 records that of the 15 district centres proposed in MPD 1962, only three were completed and three others were in the process of development. Today, the situation is not very different and extensive shortfalls remain. As a result, a large section of the retail and commercial needs of Delhi has been forced to find an outlet in Noida and Gurgaon. Shoddy implementation of the plan has led to the extensive misuse of residential premises for commercial purposes.

The major activity of the DDA has been the sale of land by auction. Considerable profits have been realised from such sales, all of which have been deployed to maintain a bloated and corrupt bureaucracy. The DDA’s claim that it is providing housing for low and middle income residents is no longer tenable. The last substantial chunk of housing development was implemented almost 20 years ago. Recently, the focus has been on the development and sale of land, with both planning and actual construction of projects being sidelined. Less than 50 per cent of last year’s budget was reportedly spent on the implementation of projects, and the balance budget allocation has lapsed.

The DDA has, by and large, been on a money-making spree. Apart from the sale of land, effective exploitation of the power that emanates from the control of development also provides handsome profits. This explains why over the years no major change has been made in the land-use structure of the city. More land for commercial development could have been made available, but it was not. Alternatively, the MPD could have been changed to reflect trends. But even this was not followed. Things have now come to a head, and with the extensive sealing of properties, public anger has been roused. Where was the DDA all these years when extensive misuse was taking place? Why was no action taken to check this misuse? The DDA has no proper answers. The only effective answer for Delhi’s citizens would be a complete change of attitude and a renewed commitment to their welfare.

Even without the Urban Development Ministry having decided on how it intends to regularise the misuse of premises in the city, the DDA has already conveyed through the media the charges that it intends to levy on various categories of misuse. If these charges are levied, there will be a massive outcry against these proposals from shopkeepers, professionals, businessmen, residents and people from all walks of life.

The DDA’s proposals constitute not only a one-time change of use-charge but also a massive ongoing annual charge on a square metre basis. This is preposterous. If the MPD is to be revised, then a one-time collection of use-charge is understandable. What justification is there for the DDA to levy an exorbitant annual charge on these premises? What services do the DDA provide to justify such an outrageous proposal?

The DDA has abandoned the leasehold system that prevailed in the city and replaced it with freehold, for which it charges a substantial amount. What it now proposes is a perpetual additional lease charge. The MCD already charges an annual commercial rate of house tax on these properties. Now, the DDA also wants to extort whatever it can. If stopping the extortion spree means disbanding the DDA and setting up a structure for planning and development, so be it.

The first Master Plan for Delhi was not prepared by the DDA but by the Town Planning Authority (since disbanded), with the help of a group of foreign and local architects and planners assembled for the purpose. The same process can now be followed by co-opting a group of professionals under the aegis of the Ministry of Urban Development, along with representatives of agencies concerned, like the MCD, NDMC, DUAC and the RWAs. Such a body can produce a more effective and meaningful plan for the city. The time is right for taking serious corrective action, and perhaps, the Ministry of Urban Development will recognise this, before concerted public reaction forces it to do so.

Ranjit Sabikhi is a Delhi-based architect and planner

First Published: Nov 09, 2006 00:18 IST