The spread of unauthorised construction in our cities has assumed significant proportions. It is estimated that in Delhi, the population resident in unauthorised colonies is about 4 million.

Recently the Delhi Government issued ‘provisional regularisation’ certificates to about 1400 of the unauthorised colonies, and started the process of redevelopment/renewal to bring these into the urban mainstream. However, the morphology and the urban structure of these colonies is different from the ‘greenfield’ planned development guided by the Delhi Master Plan. A new paradigm is required to address and resolve the complex set of environmental, cultural, and legal issues arising from this ‘spontaneous’ development.

One such provisionally regularised unauthorised colony is Aya Nagar, situated in South-West Delhi, on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, adjacent to the Delhi-Haryana border. The colony has grown in the last three decades on the agricultural lands of an organically evolved village, originally populated by ‘gurjars.’ Most of the agricultural lands of the village were acquired by the Government of India to establish defense and security related establishments in planned and secure compounds. Between these compounds the unauthorised development has spread over the undulating and rocky portions of the Aravali hills on the state border.

Aya Nagar extension is settled by migrants from all parts of the country. The population of the village and the extension is nearly one hundred thousand persons. The settlement now represents a microcosm of urbanising India, and it could serve as a model for planning intervention in most rapidly urbanising towns in the country.

Towards this end a voluntary organisation called Greha, with expertise in environmental planning and habitat design, settled in Aya Nagar in 2000 CE and started working with the local communities for an urban renewal exercise. This led to the formulation of the Aya Nagar Development Project, which proposes that the inhabitants along with technical experts create, document, and partner with local authorities for implementing a model for urban development to serve as a guide for similar settlements in the country.

A Diagnostic Survey

Being based in an unauthorized colony for nearly 10 years has given Greha a perspective born out of first hand experience. The most powerful insight provided by this experience is the fact of ordinary people organizing their own urban habitat by joining together in a collective, liaising with government authorities, often through the offices of elected political representatives like MLAs and MLCs, forming a ‘coalition’ with the original village residents, and in a relatively short period of time persuading local authorities to provide/upgrade the urban infrastructure. This being achieved even while the civic status of the ‘colony’ was illegal. Impressive as this fact of infrastructure upgradation may be, a close look at the infrastructural improvements reveals a pattern of technically flawed and unsustainable solutions to the problems of high density living in the urban habitat. It becomes clear that the vital ingredient missing from the collective of residents, political representatives, and government agencies, is the expertise of professional architects and urban planners. It is also clear that in the dynamic situation of highly motivated and economically mobile migrant settlers in the city, the normal time table of the urban development authority’s town planners is completely outpaced by the reality on the ground. Furthermore the lack of fit between official planning action and the day-to-day requirements of ordinary people has contributed to the creation of a real estate boom fuelled by manipulation of official urban development master plans by moneyed speculators. In this process of converting land to money, all sections of society have lost something valuable – a city fit to live in and to be enjoyed by old and young, rich and poor, local as well as international residents.

With the status of most ‘unauthorized’ colonies now changed to ‘regularized’, if only ‘provisionally’ for the time being, it is necessary to define the parameters for the process of regularization. The planned development of Delhi in contemporary times starts with the institution of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 1960, the first of its kind in the country. The Master Plan prepared by the DDA has provided the legal framework within which the planned development of Delhi was expected to proceed. Village settlements in the Delhi region located outside the boundary of the urban area as delineated by the Master Plan became the focus of unauthorized development to house the large number of rural migrants coming to Delhi in search of economic betterment. Although illegal, these colonies with their increasing population making an attractive vote bank, did attract government action to provide basic amenities like roads, public transport, electricity and water supply, especially in times preceding elections, municipal as well as central.

A structure of governance emerged to administer the nominal official intervention required in these colonies. This was necessarily dependant on the feudal social structure of traditional villages with the overlay of the revenue collection system introduced during British rule. This led to a complex system of written rules and orally transmitted practices, often operating in contradiction to each other. The village landowners who established the illegal colonies were able to operate freely due to the kinship existing with the field level staff in the Revenue Department, a condition prevalent since the British Raj. The desk bound senior Revenue officials could be conveniently misled, especially since lower staff were fluent in Hindi and the local dialect whereas their seniors were trying to converse in English. Furthermore written records were often in Urdu and the only maps in use would be cadastral maps, employing a specialized from of cartography, which do not relate easily to the ordinance survey maps which show physical features in a spatial matrix and can be related precisely with ground conditions. Consequently written rules and data could be conveniently interpreted in a personalized manner and translated into practices directly benefiting the feudal landowners. The contradiction between rules and practice increased in the system. Senior officials became powerless to administer judiciously, and respect for the law eroded.

As the pace of migration from rural to urban areas increased, the numbers resident in illegal colonies grew exponentially, but the administrative relationships described above stayed the same. This led to a growing decline in the citizens’ respect for the law and the state. Many among the migrants settling in the unauthorized colonies had received high school education and some were trained in technical trades as well as professional skills. Their vision of the urban habitat was guided by contemporary standards and aspirations of city life. These settlers could understand the loopholes in the official administrative setup, and they could negotiate with their kin who occupied the lower level posts in the Municipality, and thus consolidate their unauthorized settlement. Over time, as the spread of the unauthorized colonies increased, the senior level administrators developed a moral resentment against these colonies which were considered to be an affront to their authority and the rule of law. This increased their alienation and distanced them from the situation on the ground, thus making it easier for the forces of feudalism to operate freely. A socially transparent and rational system of governance, therefore, became an unachievable objective.

Organizational Framework

Our experience of working with the residents of Aya Nagar and its extensions has given the opportunity to interact with the state government regarding urban infrastructure development. This interaction has been coordinated and monitored by the Development Commissioner’s office. The departments answering directly to the Dev. Commr. have been Revenue, including Panchayat Department, Irrigation and Flood Control, and the Rural Development Directorate. Other departments relevant to development works in the settlement have been called to various coordination meetings by the Dev. Commr. These departments are BSES, DJB, MCD, Education, Health, Social Welfare, DTC, and MTNL. However, development works such as road surfacing, installation of electric transformers and cables, laying of telephone lines, drilling of tubewells for water supply, provision of open channels along roads for drainage, and suchlike were made possible by the agency of the MLA and the MLC, who were both able to cut across procedures and respond directly to requests by dominant personalities among the citizenry, often counter to the interests of the majority.

An organizational chart given below shows the official frame work at present, observed by us.

It may be noted that the only entry point a citizen has into this structure is through the elected representative, the MLA and the MLC. It is no surprise that in the few months preceding the Assembly and Council elections there is feverish activity of development works, which are done without technical supervision/monitoring and without following the relevant Codes of Practice, thus resulting in provision of defective materials and workmanship. Development resulting from such adhoc decision-making is counter productive, both in terms of wastage of public resources and on account of serving the interests only of the economically dominant sections. Subsequent to the elections, these settlements are left with a legacy of substandard works which further aggravate the slum conditions. Until the recent past the residents of unauthorized settlements saw themselves as marginal citizens, but with the large number of colonies coming into the process of regularization, there is an urgent requirement that these new citizens and their settlements are integrated with the rest of the city in terms of infrastructural provision. The existing regime of providing dysfunctional and at best temporary infrastructure will have to give way to a more appropriate structure of decision-making regarding planning and building. It is proposed that the key element in the new dispensation is the inclusion of the local residents in the decision making process. This would be a radical departure from the present system wherein the public is subjected to a rigid ‘type’ plan approach or a policy of studied neglect. Between these two extremes there has been an attempt in recent years to increase the role of the public through the ‘Bhagidari’ movement, a public-private partnership initiative taken by the Delhi government, but this has developed a set of procedures modeled on and similar to the top-down dispensation of the larger system described above. It appears that unless there is a radical inversion of priorities the citizens’ voice and requirements of the majority population will not be integrated with the mainstream of urban development policy and practice.

An alternative framework of governance has therefore to be rooted in participation of an informed public. This is possible by the introduction into the developmental matrix of planning and architectural professionals who represent the general public in a manner analogous to the elected political representatives’ role at present. It should however be noted that the performance of the political representative is called to account only after 5 years, whereas developmental priorities need to be addressed in a much shorter time frame. It is also significant that a single individual, however successful at the hustings, is not necessarily equipped to appreciate and understand the problems faced by the urban settlers who have migrated from all parts of the country and present a wide variety of cultural and habitat history. In place of the singular popular leader it is therefore proposed to institute a ‘peoples parliament’ where a system of open discussion and debate could be the method to arrive at an understanding of the needs of the majority population. This understanding could then be referred to a local planning board which is professionally equipped to translate human requirements into technically viable and sustainable patterns of habitat provision. The workings of the local parliament and planning board would need to be monitored by a tribunal which would function as a court of appeal. These three new institutions would provide the essential structure governing the provision of infrastructure and habitat improvement and its maintenance, led largely by local initiative and responsive to local conditions.

An Appropriate Governance Model

It is necessary to clarify the functioning of the new institutions proposed, their powers and responsibilities, and their composition. The fundamental difference between these new institutions and the existing informal agencies and resident welfare associations is in their legal status. The new institutions will function as empowered agencies, duly constituted by legislative sanction and assigned budgetary resources so that they become the sub-local government framework. This is the way we see as an essential prerequisite to the effectiveness of these institutions and for making them accountable to the agency of the State.

The Peoples Parliament (PP) needs to be an elected body to represent the interests of all the different sub-community groups within the settlement. The differences may be in terms of regional, cultural (including caste, or special groups like the disabled, etc.), economic, or age and gender characteristics; and the implications of these when translated into the provision of urban infrastructure and built form could be significant. Depending on the overall population of the settlements the number of elected representatives could be from 25 to 50 persons, making sure that all the interest groups are covered.

The Local Planning Board (LPB) would be constituted and empowered to devise a development plan for the settlement, and to lay down the basis for implementation of the various sections of the plan, as well as be the coordinating agency for implementation. It would be composed of a mix of people’s representatives, officials of the local authorities, and independent technical experts/advisors. Our present estimation is that the Board will have a permanent membership of 11 persons, 3 members from the peoples parliaments (elected from within their members), 3 officials, viz 1 from the Revenue department, 1 from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), 1 from the engineering department (like PWD, Irrigation & Flood Control, or MCD) which is responsible for public works in the settlement, and 4 independent experts selected from a panel of architects and urban planners who have demonstrable expertise in settlement planning and habitat design with special reference to the informal sector and the dispriveleged sections of society. The chairman of the Board would be the Director of the Rural Development Directorate for rural settlements and the corresponding Director from the Urban Development Department for urban settlements. The plan prepared by the Board, although internally whetted for compliance with the DDA’s master plan and in tune with the requirements of the various interest groups in the local population, would need specific approval of the DDA as well as the Peoples Parliament. Subsequent to these approvals, the development plan would be initiated for implementation as already laid out in the plan.

The formal plan approvals will not foreclose the possibility of differences and dissension arising within the settlement, or conflicts arising with the interests of other settlements as laid out in the Delhi Development Plan prepared by the DDA. To deal with such contingency, the third new institution proposed is the Development Plan Tribunal (DPT) which would be constituted for the whole of Delhi and be composed of a mix of eminent legal and habitat experts. The Tribunal could be approached directly by members of the public, or the PP, or the LPB, having a specific grievance regarding the declared Development Plan of their settlement. The Tribunal would hear and settle each case within a statutorily specified period of time. The process of selection and appointment of the members of the Tribunal would be managed by statutory professional bodies like the Bar Council and the Council of Architecture, and be conducted in a publicly transparent manner.

It is important to note that the institutional process described above needs to be operated as a dynamic framework. Unlike the Master Plan for Delhi which functions in a fixed 20 year timeframe, the local Development Plan would be in the nature of a rolling structure plan wherein

the overall structure would be based on a few invariant parameters re-examined once in 5 years, while the bulk of the detail provisions would be evaluated and adjusted annually or even bi-annually. This will only be feasible if the pre-eminent role in the workings of the Local Planning Board is played by the independent technical experts in close coordination with the members of the Peoples Parliament, and adequate financial resources are made available to the LPB. This will ensure that the underlying principle of the development planning exercise can be described as “urban renewal by citizens”, and it will become a democratic countervailing force to the Delhi Master Plan.

We foresee the proposed new institutions providing a democratic and inclusive framework for the planned development of the ‘provisionally regularized’ settlements within Delhi to start with; and in due course with public demonstration of citizen-responsive development, it is possible that this framework could extend to other parts of the urban region where the present system of planned development has become patently dysfunctional. This would be the ideal scenario for the integration of the ‘planned’ and ‘spontaneous’ portions of the urban habitat , and its linkage with the ‘organically evolved’ villages now embedded within the expanding metropolis. Perhaps the most substantial gain from this changed scenario will be a new respect for the State and its institutions by the public at large.