A bird’s eye-view of the urban sprawl that is Zirakpur, a township where colonisers make their own rules while officials look the other way.(Sushil Prajapati/HT Photo)
A bird’s eye-view of the urban sprawl that is Zirakpur, a township where colonisers make their own rules while officials look the other way.(Sushil Prajapati/HT Photo)

Zirakpur chaos: No hope in hell for this township

Hunting ground for builders: Illegal colonies and frequent regularisation of such constructions is the bane of Zirakpur. And the planners don’t seem to have learnt any lessons from the past as the 2000-acre IT city also has no proposal for sectoral planning.
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Munieshwer A Sagar, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON MAY 03, 2018 03:50 PM IST

Zirakpur is an island of chaos surrounded by the planned cities of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali. Growth in Zirakpur was haphazard from the start with villages giving way to colonies, mostly illegal, as property dealers and colonisers tapped people who couldn’t afford a house in the pricey neighbourhood.

It was after more than a decade of unplanned development that the city finally got a master plan in 2009. But before it could start implementing this plan, the population exploded by 282% between 2001 and 2011. With these numbers expected to shoot up to 3 lakh by 2021, and 8 lakh by 2030, there seems little hope for this urban sprawl.

Six amnesties in five years

In the pre-master plan notification era, most colonies in Zirkapur, specially the plotted ones, grew as illegal colonies, which were regularised after the setting up of nagar panchayat, and thereafter municipal council. But, the council and the notification of the master plan did not stop the continuing proliferation of illegal colonies in the town and adjoining areas.

According to the department of local government, Punjab, Zirakpur municipal council is home to 59 illegal colonies. As per the unofficial estimates, this count is much higher. Ironically, most of these grew after the master plan was notified.

In addition to these, Dera Bassi tehsil of which Zirakpur is a part, has 57 illegal colonies on an area that falls in the jurisdiction of Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (GMADA).

The boundaries of these illegal colonies are not clearly marked. So, these keep expanding, and eroding the master plan stipulations.

Terming illegal colonies as the gravest danger to the Zirakpur master plan, MS Aujla, former director of town planning, local government department, said, “These illegal colonies prove that the urban growth is taking place in violation of the master plan provisions. It also indicates lack of proper enforcement and sincerity on the part of the implementing agencies. More importantly, though, amnesty schemes for unauthorised colonies are a major blow to the Zirakpur master plan. The recently notified state policy for regularisation of unauthorised colonies and plots/buildings is the sixth such amnesty policy in a span of five years by two different governments. In such circumstance, how can we maintain the sanctity of the Zirakpur master plan?”

Shrinking green spaces

The frequent changes in the Zirakpur master plan have been mainly directed toward increasing the area under the residential zone (R-Zone). The percentage of the total area under the R-Zone has increased with the inclusion of villages and areas under other zones.

Under the 2009 master plan, only 23.4% area was earmarked for residential colonies in Zirakpur. Under the revised master plan in 2016, this was increased to 1449.43 ha or 33.25%.

But in a city, which already struggles with little space for green areas, roads or other social infrastructure like community centers, the changes in master plan have led to a decrease in the share of these amenities in the master plan.

The existing green spaces, including park, sports grounds and forests, make up for only 3.8 % of the local planning area (LPA). Parks cover only 0.11% of the total area (4358.77 ha); while a mere, 4.8 ha is dedicated to open grounds for sports-related activities. Recreational area covers 0.10% or 4.5 ha of the total area (4358.77 ha).

As per the 2009 master plan, the green spaces were supposed to occupy 7.3% of the LPA. But after the revised master plan, it dropped to 6.34%.

The master plan 2009 calculated the green area based on population density. But the revised master plan calculated it on the basis of PUDA (Punjab Urban Development Authority) guidelines.

The area for open spaces was further decreased after forest area was also included in it. Further, the Sukhna choe catchment area is also bracketed under open space.

“Everything in the master plan is related to population and not to the area. Any increase in the residential area should be accompanied by a proportionate increase in open spaces and provision for basic amenities like water supply, sewage drainage, and roads,” said Jit Kumar Gupta, former director, College of Architecture, Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), Bhaddal

No sectoral planning in IT City

The revised master plan included the two villages of Rampur and Dyalpur with an area of 233.98 and 296.66 hectares, respectively, to the east of GMADA’s IT city in Mohali near the Mohali international airport.

Besides these two villages, the industrial zone falling in Nabha village was also converted into a residential zone.

With around 2000 acres of virgin, undeveloped land, the state government could have developed a sectoral plan on the lines of Mohali or Chandigarh. And this area would have lent itself to at least five well-planned sectors with no scope for illegal colonies, but this hasn’t happened.

“Sectoral planning severely checks the discretion of the officials to tinker with the plan. It also restricts their arbitrariness in approving new projects. With no sectoral planning, this area will also see haphazard growth,” lamented Aujla.

Ineffective and slow master plan implementation

While the master plan has been notified, and revised in quick succession, its implementation is very slow. Work on the internal road network, the green spaces, including parks, health infrastructure, sewage and solid waste management infrastructure, as envisioned in the master plan is yet to take off. For instance, as per the Zirakpur Master Plan, the VIP Road is a 25-metre-wide road, but some places it is as narrow as 5 metres at present.

It’s the same with parks. “There aren’t any parks in the plotted colonies. Apartment projects do have some internal parks but these are not enough for children or residents,” said Col IVS Sodhi (retd), a resident of Preet Colony. The council is also struggling to expand the sewage pipes and drinking water pipelines to keep pace with the growing population.

“The roads as per the master plan provisions cannot be widened because there is no space for these. Similarly, rainwater drainage can’t be laid or street light poles erected because of paucity of space,” said Sodhi. The city is still struggling to get a fixed place for the disposal of solid waste.

As per the master plan, all properties falling on national highways within and outside the municipal limits will have an approach through the service lanes, which shall be at least 9 metre wide. The front setback has to be 10 m for such properties within the municipal limits, and 30 m for those outside the municipal limits. But these stipulations remain on paper.

‘Regularisation to blame for illegal colonies’

Talking to Hindustan Times, Kulwinder Singh Sohi, president of Zirakpur municipal council, blamed problems in land acquisition for the slow pace of implementation of the master plan. “Widening of roads is stuck because of land availability issues. At some places there are encroachments and at other landlords are not keen to let go of their land.” On the question of why the social and health infrastructure laid out in the master plan is missing in the town, he said, “We have dispensaries, which we constructed under a central government-aided scheme.”

On the question of illegal colonies in Zirakpur, Sohi blamed the state government’s scheme regularizing these colonies. “The state government keeps introducing these amnesty schemes, which don’t allow us to stop illegal colonies. Also, the officials don’t enforce master plan provisions diligently.”

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