For several decades, close to 30% of Delhi’s population has lived in unauthorised colonies, with inadequate basic services, bereft of social infrastructure, even invisibilised in Delhi’s master plans. Three plans and 60 years later, the Master Plan of Delhi 2041 is the first to showcase the location of unauthorised colonies and their expanse on the map.

For the 1,700-odd colonies that exist in Delhi, this acknowledgement on a public map indicates that they are finally on the road to regularisation.

The unauthorised is a specific form of unplanned housing that has sprouted as a response to the lack of affordable housing in the market. Over 40 lakh Delhi residents remain in a state of precarity, maneuvering limited ownership rights, contested non-residential land use and deficient basic services.

Several regularisation schemes have failed to provide a solution to these problems. The Delhi Development Authority’s MPD 2041, which will act as a framework for the city’s development for the next two decades, offers a new set of guidelines for the regularisation and improvement of these colonies. Will this be a game changer or yet again leave residents in limbo?

In this article, using the experience of our continuous engagement with residents of various unauthorised colonies, we compare the MPD 2041 with ground realities and our understanding of regularisation processes. We also offer suggestions to make these planning guidelines more inclusive, opening up greater regularisation possibilities for unauthorised colonies.

Scheme 1: Gentrified re-imagination

The MPD 2041 enlists two “improvement” schemes for unauthorised colonies aiming “to improve the quality of life of people living in unplanned areas”. The first scheme pertains to the “regeneration” of unauthorised colonies. It calls for fresh development requiring high monetary and technical investment.

The scheme ignores the prevalent high densities and compact built forms of many unauthorised colonies. The diagram below helps envisage the proposed transformations: widening of roads (a minimum of a 12-metre access road to the colony and a 9-metre road leading to public spaces), reduced ground coverage, and increased setbacks.

Transformation of unauthorised colonies through the first scheme, as envisioned by the Delhi Development Authority. Credit: DDA webinar presentation on July 7.

The scheme also delegates the entire responsibility of regeneration to a Developer Entity, defined as “an individual land/property owner or a group of land/property owners who have pooled one or more parcels of land for taking up development/ regeneration”.

But what percentage of residents will constitute the Developer Entity? How will representation of vulnerable residents (such as marginalised caste groups, women owners and small plot owners) be ensured? What form will this consent take? These questions find no answer in the plan. To make matters worse, the Delhi Development Authority has no facilitatory role to play in the process, leaving potentially aggrieved residents with no options.

The scheme is paving the way for gentrification and the possible displacement of vulnerable residents. It is prone to exploitation by developers and market forces, especially in areas where land value is high.

To counter this, the scheme needs to include clear consent related norms. Like the Slum Rehabilitation Authority Mumbai, and the Gujarat Slum Rehabilitation policy, the scheme should mandate written consent from a minimum of 50% residents. Further, the Delhi Development Authority’s involvement as a facilitator is pivotal for resolving disputes/grievances in the regeneration process.

Scheme 2: ‘As is’ but not really

Since the first scheme requires high financial and technical capacities, a majority of unauthorised colonies are likely to resort to the second scheme that details provisions for layout approvals of existing unauthorised colonies. Popularly referred to as the “as is scheme”, the norms proposed are too rigid to address the density and diverse urban morphology of the majority of Delhi’s unauthorised colonies.

For instance, the scheme proposes that all the plots should be within 30-metres distance from a 9-metre-wide road to adhere to conventional fire safety norms. Such requirements have been major roadblocks to regularisation attempts for several years. For dense colonies that have existed for over 50 years, this is unfeasible as it will require major adjustments in the built environment.

The MPD 2041 expects unauthorised colonies to modify themselves, but offers little flexibility and innovation on its own. The second scheme should introduce development incentives allowing the construction of additional floors (additional Floor area Ratio and Transfer of Development Rights), and encouraging and compensating residents who undergo financial costs as they make changes to their homes.

That apart, innovative fire norms should be adopted. Innovative fire safety strategies like mobile fire fighting units – four-wheeled vehicles equipped with hydraulic pumps, or motorcycles with foam-filled cylinders that can easily enter the dense settlements. The Delhi Fire Safety Act and Rules allow governments to “relax or modify or annul any requirement concerning fire prevention and fire safety measures”.

Development but for few?

With minor tweaks and a flexible approach, the MPD 2041s improvement schemes can be equipped to work with the current heterogeneity of unauthorised colonies. However, the plan makes a grave miscalculation and severely limits the applicability of these schemes to specific land-uses.

Despite the progressive step to map unauthorised coloniess, the MPD 2041 continues to overlay colonies over disjunct proposed land use categories. Unlike formal planned colonies that are recognised under residential land use (marked in yellow), unauthorised are overlapped on various other land use categories.

Snippets from MPD 2041 map showing unauthorised colonies overlapped on different land-uses.

Our calculations indicate that over 50% of the area occupied by unauthorised colonies is demarcated for potential land pooling; 26% lies under eco-sensitive areas including the Zone O (the area occupied by the Yamuna and its floodplains), the green development area (peripheral green buffer), and regional parks.

Together, these areas total over 75%, which do not qualify for either of the two improvement schemes effectively shutting the door for development. Are the improvement provisions applicable merely for 25% of the area occupied by unauthorised colonies?

Perhaps the most puzzling proposition in the plan is for the 70-odd unauthorised colonies under Zone O. Regarded as flood-prone, the zone limits construction activities in the area relegating the unauthorised colonies unserviceable. Residents argue that they have unfairly faced exclusion from regularisation policies (including the ongoing PM-UDAY) and basic service provisioning, limiting development in their colonies.

For decades, residents have demanded a revision in boundaries arguing that the colonies are largely outside the zone and have never witnessed a flood; other residents point to the retrospective legitimisation granted to structures such as the Akshardham and the Commonwealth Games Complex that are in closer proximity to the river.

The MPD 2041 takes a half step forward by bifurcating Zone O into two categories -O-I (River zone, active floodplain) and O-II (Riverfront, regulated area) with the latter housing most built-up areas including these UCs. However, despite this provision, the plan excludes them from the improvement schemes leaving them hanging precariously, yet again.

Comprehensive and inclusive regeneration requires that the improvement schemes be extended to all the existing unauthorised colonies, rather than a select minority. That apart, while the Zone O bifurcation is welcome, planning restrictions must be limited to O-I while allowing for regulated development in the new O-II area. Alternatively, separate norms should be suggested, balancing both the sensitivity of the floodplain areas, green belt and the densely built forms. These should be formed in consultation with residents.

Map (on the left) depicting O-I (Yamuna and its floodplain) and overlap of unauthorised colonies over O-II and green belt. Rajeev Nagar (on the right) is an unauthorised colony on the Zone O (O-II) deprived of basic infrastructure services. The community is exposed to a large open sewer and dumpyard (top right) and residents forced to purchase bottled water due to limited piped water supply (bottom right).

Improvement without integrating ownership rights?

Regularisation refers to both layout approval and conferring ownership, yet the plan lacks integration with the PM-UDAY scheme for ownership rights. The PM-UDAY scheme has witnessed low uptake, with only 7,300 households receiving ownership rights of the 4 million in Delhi. This is attributable largely to the lack of heterogeneous provisions and prevalent technological barriers. An integrated approach can help bolster these numbers as well.

The plan must recognise that ownership is an important prerequisite in the movement to formal housing without which residents and market forces are unlikely to invest financially towards either of the two improvement schemes.

The MPD 2041 should prioritise integration of basic services – the most pressing requirement in unauthorised colonies. Service provisioning standards should be the same as those available within formal planned colonies. That apart, improved water supply and formalised electricity connections in unauthorised colonies will also reduce the risk of fire hazards and allow for quicker response time for fire-fighting.

Electricity wires overhanging precariously through the streets of unauthorised colonies creating risk of fire accidents.

A little flexibility may go a long way

For the first time in decades of planning, the MPD 2041 showcases a cognisance of ground realities by mapping unauthorised colonies. While its intent is correct, it shies away from resolving conflicts such as land-use overlaps. By merely including 25% of the area of colonies in the plan, it omits improvement possibilities for the majority of unauthorised colonies. It is critical that the MPD 2041 address this gap and extend the applicability of the improvement schemes to all areas.

For eco-sensitive zones, separate norms may be constituted in consultation with local residents. That apart, the integration of ownership rights and basic services are key factors that will influence scheme uptake.

The improvement schemes themselves are homogeneous and ignore the heterogeneity of these colonies. In their current form, the schemes will see limited uptake. By stating that regularisation will follow only for the unauthorised colonies that conform to the provisions of either of the two schemes, the plan stops short of putting unauthorised colonies on a firm course to improvement.

It is our hope that a 20-year planning document that envisions an inclusive Delhi builds innovation into these schemes and ensures that unauthorised move faster along the path to regularisation.

Anusha Matam, Smriti Singh and Sukrit Nagpal work in the land rights programme at SEWA Bharat and are members of the Main Bhi Dilli Campaign. With research contributions and inputs from Amba Gupta and Rajeshwari Parasa. Special thanks to Gautam Bhan, Mukta Naik and Manish.

This is the fourth of a five-part series on the draft Delhi Master Plan 2041. Read the entire series here.

All the authors are writing in their individual capacity but also as part of the Main Bhi Dilli Campaign. The Campaign, a network of individuals and organisations based in Delhi had been engaging with the drafting of the Master Plan since 2019 with a focus on informal work, housing and inclusive planning.

As a campaign, they consider their work to be on-going until the final plan is published. Therefore, their hope with the series is offer not just critiques but propositions, suggestions, revisions and changes to the Draft Plan. All the suggestions offered here have also been filed as official submissions within the planning process’ suggestion and objection mechanisms. The articles have been put together by Gautam Bhan and Mukta Naik on behalf of the Main Bhi Dilli campaign.