Aya Nagar is a settlement of almost 100,000 people consisting of people from all parts of India, largely from a low-income background. It is now subject to the process of rapid urbanization, alongwith the rest of Delhi and its urban hinterland.

Any developmental intervention in Aya Nagar, which can steer the urban transformation towards ecologically viable and sustainable patterns, could become an example for most of the marginal settlements growing around the many cities in the plains of Northern India. With this objective, Aya Nagar had been selected in October 1999 by the Chief Minister, Delhi as a site for a model village development programme, to be implemented by the Delhi Government in partnership with the local community.

A non-profit registered society, GREHA, has been working with the village community and the Delhi Government since 1999 to design and realize this programme for physical and social transformation. The proposal highlights in detail the methodology that needs to be adopted for the redevelopment of Aya Nagar and its extensions. The first phase of the project is to start with a designed intervention at the Johar (village pond), which is the symbolic centre of village life and is now derelict and becoming a garbage dump.

This effort requires to be organized on several fronts – community action, habitat design, raising human and financial resources and the simultaneous recording of the whole exercise so that the lessons learnt may be shared with the widest possible audience.

The Aya Nagar Development Project proposes that the inhabitants create, document and partner with local authorities to implement a proto-typical model for urban development, to serve as a guide for similar settlements in the whole country.

To ensure technical viability and reasonable compliance with original intentions, a team of experts drawn from several disciplines will be required to provide research, design, and supervision of the works. The programme should start showing results on the ground in 6 months after start, and by 12 months its final form should become visible. Ideally the design of the project should enable implementation starting immediately and continuing in an incremental manner for at least five years.

The present proposal is being seen as applied research for devising an appropriate methodology to demonstrate a new urban paradigm which places the concerns of the marginalised majority at the forefront, and seeks to devise techniques for making urban systems responsive to the imperatives of social justice and ecological viability.

The various project tasks to be undertaken are:

a) Community Action

The population of Aya Nagar is a microcosm of the diversity which is representative of India as a nation. The diversity is ethnic, occupational, economic and cultural. To harness the rich human potential of the settlement it is proposed to forge a partnership between several non-government organizations which will work with the people of Aya Nagar to raise awareness and mobilise the community to work harmoniously towards a common purpose of social and physical development.

b) Habitat Design

The task of providing appropriate urban infrastructure, which is ecologically viable and sustainable, is a great challenge in all Indian cities. In Aya Nagar it is proposed to start with those components of the infrastructure requirement which all sections of the community agree as being essential for the promotion of civilized urban existence. These components are sewerage and surface drainage, as well as provision of water supply for different usages. Within this set it is probable that the problem of drainage is the one around which the entire community can be united for a common purpose.

c) Raising of Human and Financial Resources

The requirement of both human and financial resources is crucial for the project. A working team consisting of experts and the local people is required such that the variety of skill sets of the people living in Aya Nagar can be effectively organized to implement the proposal alongwith a technical team of experts like planners, architects, engineers, social scientists, and community work specialists who can assist and guide the local working team. Financial resources are required for research and development of the project to prepare appropriate a methodology for the same.

d) Recording for Learning

The design and implementation of the project will need to integrate “out of the box” thinking with established formulae and practices. The components outlined above – community action and habitat design – require innovative approaches to bridge the usual divide between norms and practices. It is proposed that video documentation of the entire project is done to a communication design structured for learning. Thus video documentation can become a tool for development, enhancing self-awareness within the working team, increasing dialogue with the local community, and encouraging transparency and democratic procedures throughout the implementation exercise.

It is expected that within 2 years of start of work, the full programme of development of Aya Nagar should be in progress, allowing the design team to begin handing over management of the works to community based organizations.