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Vote-bank politics to blame for the urban mess in Punjab

HT Roundtable | The rapid-fire haphazard urban development in Punjab is in focus as the Capt Amarinder Singh government gives finishing touches to a policy to regularise thousands of illegal colonies as part of its populist poll promise

cities Updated: Jun 27, 2018 11:45 IST

There can be no two views about illegal colonies — the state has 8,000 unauthorised sprawls at the last count — being an urban nightmare in Punjab, but consensus eludes the Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress gover nment on the approach needed to tackle the recurring problem. Local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and housing and urban development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa sharply differed on the one-time settlement policy — 5th such intervention by successive governments over 25 years — to be unveiled by the Punjab government by

Bara saukha jeha elaaj hai... sarey hal ho jaan gey, das saal ess mulak cho votan hata deo (There is a simple solution… , do away with vote politics for 10 years, then everything will be solved). Can’t guarantee that the upcoming policy is the final settlement.-Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, housing and urban devp minister

July 7 for regularisation of unauthorised settlements in the state. The two ministers were speaking at a roundtable discussion, ‘The Mess Called Urban Planning’, organised by Hindustan Times on Tuesday. The panel that also included BJP leader and former local bodies minister Manoranjan Kalia, retired chief town planner Rajinder Sharma and former director town planning MS Aujla threw up a slew of suggestions during the 65-minute discussion moderated by Executive Editor Ramesh Vinayak on the steps needed to stem the rot.

Q: HT to (Sidhu): Punjab is the sixth most urbanised state. This has led to haphazard growth and illegal colonies putting immense stress on urban infrastructure.

To put it succinctly, we have failed to prevent and prepare and we have always repented and repaired. The reason: This policy has not come for the first time, but for the fifth time in last 20 years. That means this is not a one-time settlement. It is a progressive settlement. The colonies are left open-ended. There is no closure certificate. Manifestos say this needs to be done for welfare of the poor on as-is-where-is basis. But if in the name of poor someone tries to do business, it cannot be termed as one-time settlement.

The basic question is why could we not replicate another Chandigarh? The capital city is an example if you look at roads, their width and open spaces. It is choice, not a chance that determines your destiny. What is the choice? Are you going to be facilitating those people who are doing planned development and develop 55% area and leave the rest for roads or those who are constructing 90% of area available to them and leave 10-foot wide roads? What is happening is that over a period of time, vote-bank politics has overshadowed planned development. There are more colonies than there is actual demand for. Agriculture land is shrinking. Also, planned developers are not being facilitated and those developing unapproved colonies sell their plots and run away. It is our duty to help poor people there. We must facilitate those standing last in the queue.

There is no mess in planning; mess is in urbanisation and implementation. Private colonisers were involved because the government was unable to cope up with the pressure for housing.-Rajinder Sharma, retd chief town planner

The previous (SAD-BJP) government got Rs 75 crore from the Prime Minister Awas Yojana and not a single house was constructed. The entire money was diverted. The Centre wants utilisation certificates, asking us where the money was spent. We are creating downtown situations for people. Let me give you an example from Zirakpur. When a poor man buys a plot in a locality with 10-foot wide streets due to affordability, he finds that the plot has been sold five times and he has been cheated. We don’t have inventories. We need to do satellite mapping to find out whether 40% area is occupied in a colony and poor people are living there. We are coming out with a foolproof method where we are going to involve resident welfare associations.

Q:(To Bajwa): In Punjab’s history, you are the first minister to have both urban development, housing and rural development. If illegal colonies are regularised, there will be a similar situation after five years. What is the long-term solution?

No one can take any guarantee that this is the final settlement. And, this should not even happen. The Constitution was drafted in 1950 and there have been so many amendments thereafter. There are changes in thinking and changes have to be made accordingly. At times, there are deficiencies in policies which have to be removed. We are talking to all stakeholders, including representatives of authorised colonies and unapproved colonies, before bringing out the policy. But, urbanisation is dynamic process. We can’t promise that the new policy on regularisation of unauthorised colonies will put a full stop on this trend. As for unplanned colonies, what we are dealing with did not happen in our time. Due to vote-bank politics, we made certain commitments in our manifesto and it is the duty of our party to fulfil those irrespective of whether it is right or wrong. This doesn’t mean that we are going to be unfair with ones developing planned colonies. What is unfortunate is that 80% of those developing authorised colonies also have unplanned constructions over 100 acres behind the planned colony in 10 acres. They try to take advantage on both sides. The cabinet will clear the policy by July 7. We will try that in our five years, we have just one settlement policy.

Q:(To Kalia) What is the reason for mushrooming of illegal colonies? What is the solution?

The urban planning department has failed to keep pace with the demand for planned colonies. Urban planning has not been carried out in accordance with the demand. If a person wants to build a house, he knows there is not much urban planning and opts for unapproved colony due to affordability and lack of proper basic amenities even in planned colonies. Secondly, the urban development department’s role is to facilitate planned colonies. But with the passage of time, it has become a revenue earning department. It is now a milch cow. Change of land use (CLU) and development charges are exorbitant. Housing has gone out of the reach of the common man. Also, laws such as the Punjab Apartment and Property Regulation Act (PAPRA) are stringent and no illegal colony can come up. Yet, not a single person has been convicted till now. Only challans are filed. Then, one-time settlement is brought.

The new policy will put Rs 30,000 crore burden on fund-starved government to provide basic amenities in illegal colonies. Relax fees in legal colonies and involve genuine people in building houses.- MS Aujla, retd director town planning

The first one-time settlement was brought during the Beant Singh government in 1992. Before that, there was no proper urban planning for 10 years due to terrorism. When peace returned, there was a surge in demand, but we failed to cope with that and illegal colonies sprang up. When we bring one-time settlement policies, wrongdoer gets benefitted and is encouraged. Due to electoral compulsions, public representatives also invest in unplanned colonies. Ultimately, it becomes a riddle of sphinx. The solution lies in going for vertical construction. Carrot and stick policy has to be followed. CLU and development charges have to be reduced. This will bring down cost of housing.

PUDA took 12 years to start a master plan and it is still not complete. Once the master plan is finalised, there can be no change. But illegal colonies are still coming up in violation. The local bodies department gets burdened due to such one-time settlement policies. Under the Punjab Apartment Ownership Act, planned colonies are to be transferred to the local bodies department after seven years for upkeep. We need to do away with this clause. They should themselves maintain these colonies. We have to adopt a holistic approach. All over India, urban development and local bodies is one department. Punjab is the only exception. Then, there should be an amendment to define coloniser as a person whose name has been entered in revenue record in the column of owner. He should be caught as he has developed the illegal colony. Punjab is an agrarian state and fertile agriculture land around cities is being gobbled up by illegal colonies. That has to be checked. In addition, basic amenities should be provided in villages to check migration to urban areas.

Sidhu: For a permanent solution, there should be an inventory. We should know about open spaces, how many people live there and availability of infrastructure. We can send officials to check all these. What are the officials doing there? In Kasauli case, Supreme Court said that until 4-5 officials lose their jobs, this menace will not stop. They have government vehicle and fuel but they are running it like their own business. The money is going in their pockets. Powerful people build their own colonies. This is a never-ending process and needs to be checked.

Q:(To Aujla): When illegal colonies are regularised on payment of compounding fee, is the money thus collected invested for development of infrastructure?

Urbanisation is a dynamic process and has to take place. Amnesty can only be a one-time process. In case you are giving amnesty to a convict, you say he will not repeat the mistake. In this case, we have failed to identify the offender. By way of illegal colonies, we are creating bad living environment and unhygienic conditions. In case you regularise that, it will cause permanent damage to socio-economic development of Punjab. In fact, the regularisation policy of 2013 opened floodgates to haphazard urban development, befitting private colonisers. Once done, no amount of funds or commitment can retrieve the situation and make the cities liveable and sustainable. Further, it is going to create a whopping new financial liability of Rs 25,000 to 30,000 crore for the already fund-starved government to provide basic services (internal and external) in 50,000 acres under illegal colonies.

Q:(To Sharma): Earlier, the housing department and PUDA used to develop colonies which were later given to private colonisers. Do you think the shift from government to private sector has led to messy development?

It is a combination of many things. Punjab is one of the best states in planning. It has the best master plans if compared with other states. A Singapore-based company has drafted seven master plans. There is no mess in

Vested interests are overriding the interest of state and parallel power centres are trying to make it right when they are wrong. I will not accept that. Punjab needs to put a full-stop on illegal colonies, once and for all. We cannot have an open-ended settlement (policy).-Navjot Singh Sidhu, local bodies minister

planning. The rot is in urbanisation, development and implementation. Private colonisers were involved as there was pressure that the government was not able to handle it. Earlier, the subsidy was given on small plots to the poor and Chandigarh adopted the same pattern. We missed that in the urbanisation of Punjab. We try to sell big chunks of plots and the poor are being pushed to the periphery. As urban development schemes are not affordable, the poor had to move to unauthorised colonies. The one-time settlement is not a legal solution. Only a colony that fits in the laid rules can be regularised.

Bajwa: Amnesty can’t be given only once. Development is done keeping in view the requirements of the given times. How can we stop owners from building houses on their agriculture land? The process is ever-evolving. We must learn from the past.

Kalia: We need multi-level planning. We can have wide roads in a colony for affluent, and have small houses with a 20-foot-wide road for the middle class.

Q:(To Bajwa): Bureaucratic red tape, corruption, lengthy procedures and hefty fee is blamed for illegal colonies.

I don’t agree. We can’t put entire onus on officials. Government hikes charges under compulsion of revenue generation. An official would register property at whatever rate fixed by the government. Villages should be developed to stop migration to cities.

Q :(To Sidhu): Do we need simplified procedures to stop illegal colonies?

To develop a colony, we need electricity poles, sewerage system, roads, and then external development. By an average, we need Rs 70 lakh to Rs 1 crore per acre for development. We have 40,000 acres of unauthorised colonies to be developed, and revenue we plan to raise is Rs 700 crore. Who would pay us the balance Rs 30,000 crore. Then onus of development is pushed on local bodies department. It is going to make situation not bad , but worse. The solution is to go upward at a new site. If we do it on existing colonies, it would choke the existing

Wrong is when we use political power for doing wrong. Revenue department is the main culprit. Implement the laws in letter and spirit to stop illegal colonies. Then, there will be no need for regulsarisation policy every then and now. --Manoranjan Kalia, senior BJP leader and former local bodies minister

infrastructure. A city for two lakh people is inhabited by 15 lakh people. It’s obvious that sewers will choke. We need stringent norms. Those doing planned development should be rewarded and those not be punished.

Q:Why master plans have no sanctity in Punjab?

Sharma: The problem is of enforcement, we have laws but not the will.

Bajwa: There’s lack of staff.

Aujla: Extending limits of municipal bodies is leading to mess.

Sidhu: I am bringing a clause in the policy whereby officials will be dismissed if any building comes up after March 31. Things will not change till the cabinet passes the policy.

Q: In Punjab, politicians are becoming real estate developers, and developers are becoming politicians. Is it creating vested interest and hurdles in development?

Kalia: Definitely...

Sidhu: This is true. Vested interest is overriding the interest of state and parallel power centres try to make it right when they are wrong, I will not accept that. It is in the interest of the state to make inventory of colonies. Superimpose “khasra” number on master plans and we would immediately know where the fault lies.

Bajwa: We can’t stop politicians to become real estate developers, but they should do it in the purview of laid procedures and laws.

Kalia: Wrong is when we use political power for doing wrong. Revenue department has a major role to play. A map is made and plots are cut which gets registered with the revenue department – here is the need to check. The revenue department is the main culprit and must be taken to task. There must be coordination between revenue and housing departments. No objection certificates from the local bodies department should be made mandatory for electricity connection for a residential house.

Sharma: Why and how are we entertaining registry of small plots on agriculture land? Electricity connection should not be given to a person not owning a regularised plot. If we shift overhead electricity wires underground and give good drainage system, the cities of Punjab will on its own become smart.

Bajwa: I will go for rainwater harvesting in villages, and will begin from Sidhu saab’s village.

Q: (To Bajwa): The government is going to regularise illegal colonies and will unveil the policy on July 7. With this, scrupulous people who own plots in legal colonies will feel cheated and those in unplanned in colonies will be benefitted. Any concessions for the genuine plot owners?

We have spoken to representative of both unauthorised and authorised colony owners. We are taking a balanced view. We don’t want legal developers to avoid thinking Punjab has a different system. In the new policy, developers of authorized colonies will feel Punjab is a good destination and those think to come up with illegal colonies in future will feel discouraged.

Q: Why can’t the state government play a proactive role in the housing sector?

Sidhu: We are touching this issue in the new policy. We have acquired a land pool of 6,000 acres near Mohali. We can’t demolish old cities, but can build a new in a planned manner. The illegal colonies being regularised will cause a problem for 20 years as there is no demand for housing.

Kalia: The acquisition policy has stringent norms, by which the government had to pay double the price of land acquired for urbanisation. It becomes difficult to do this way. The government can only act as a facilitator, and can cut down on charges.

Bajwa: Our new township will overshadow the smart city projects. People from Amritsar and Ludhiana will see our Mohali project and will replicate it. We want to set an example on 6,000 acres.

Sidhu: The concept of land pooling is to make farmer who owns the land a stakeholder.

Bajwa: The new policy will give share in commercial and residential properties to the farmer.

Q: (To Kalia) Do you agree that regularisation can only be a one-time affair, keeping in view the fact that when the new government comes, there is another regularisation policy.

It is because of non-implementation of laws. After the one-time settlement, if we follow law in latter and in spirit, new illegal colonies can’t come up.

First Published: Jun 27, 2018 11:02 IST