The NBCC's role as the main investor, the PMC and the implementer of projects, all rolled into one, means that there is no oversight whatsoever.
This week, two big cases, both against “government housing” projects of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and implemented by NBCC, a public sector corporation under the ministry, will be heard in the Delhi high court.
The NBCC’s “model” East Kidwai Nagar (EKN) project is in the docks for completing construction of 4,840 housing units and over 10 million square feet of space without proper traffic assessments and water supply approvals. The second case is of the commercial development of a World Trade Centre at Nauroji Nagar, one of the sites for the redevelopment of seven government housing colonies (called 7GPRA here).
Both these cases are crucial to the future of urban development and the treatment of public assets of Delhi. They will take stock of the dodgy assessments that earned these projects multiple government approvals. More importantly, complaints have been filed against 7GPRA for continuing construction-related activities despite a high court order on October 3, 2018 that sent six of these projects back to the drawing board.
Beyond the questions that these cases raise, there are reasons to worry about the Central government’s methods of operationalising urban projects in many Indian cities.
Firstly, urban redevelopment seems to be a foregone conclusion. It is seen as necessary for multiple objectives of urban governments – densification, agglomeration, environmental sustainability and social inclusiveness. As minister for housing and urban affairs Hardeep Puri likes to remind us, “Between now and 2030, we will have to build something like 700-900 million square meters of urban space every year.”
But if redevelopment is indeed as important as it is made out to be, the task of turning vision into reality ought to be set right. In India, there are at least 27 Central PSUs in the construction and consultancy sector, besides many private players. But the ministry has allowed one company, the NBCC, to monopolise Delhi’s redevelopment projects.
In 2016, the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) filed a case against NBCC’s tendering process for the redevelopment of Pragati Maidan. The charge made by IIA was that NBCC allowed engineering consultants to bid for work even though the bid was for “comprehensive architectural services”. IIA claimed that NBCC thus altered the definition of the services, going against 2(1)(xii) of the Architects (Professional Conduct) Regulations, 1989.
In this case, case law on favouritism and arbitrariness in contractual matters was invoked to test NBCC’s decision in allowing engineering firms to bid. However, these same standards imposed by earlier judgments could also be used to question the government’s “discretion” in nominating NBCC itself to implement redevelopment projects. The IIA case clearly shows that the effects of top-level discretion flow down to how decisions on tendering and contracts are made in these projects.
Another allegation made in this case was that NBCC engaged the services of foreign architects and this is in contravention of the provisions of Section 37(1) of the Architects Act, 1972. The court shot down this charge, stating that the chosen architects were shortlisted by the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation. The IIA’s legal challenge to NBCC’s decisions was not successful, but the legacy of bad practice has now caught up with their EKN and 7GPRA projects in court.