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Delhi’s Unauthorised Colonies – The Past, Present & Foreseeable Future

If space is indeed to be thought of as a system of containers of social power, then it follows that the accumulation of capital is perpetually deconstructing that social power by reshaping the geographical bases.- Deleuze and Guattari, 1984

A third of Delhi’s population lives in, what is called, unauthorised colonies which is a label given by the Delhi Development Authority to all residential colonies, big and small, rich and poor, built in the past decades without authorization and not in accordance with the Master Plan.5 A major percentage of residents of these colonies belong to the urban poor, counting to as many as 1,731 colonies recognized in the city, apart from 69 such colonies inhabited by the ‘Affluent Section of the Society’.2 Inspite of a high population living in these colonies, they are invisible, but major contributors to the functionality of the city.

The PAST: birth of UC’s in Delhi

Unauthorised Colonies haven’t been a sudden upsurge of development, but rather a process that slowly crept into the cities starting from when the country gained independence. Delhi, after having gained the title of becoming the country capital, attracted migrants from not only across borders, but also from the rural parts of the city. The sudden surge of population, aspiring for better paid jobs due to upcoming developments needed to be catered. While going through this sudden change of political stand, the government needed to uplift the city’s infrastructure while housing the new government employees as well as workers. The Delhi Master Plans aimed to achieve ‘order’ through ‘formal’ or ‘authorised’ development, borrowed from the advanced industrialised Western countries, to demonstrate the power of location of a centrally controlled country. In this sudden frenzy to achieve political and economic stability, the government chose to plan settlement for its own government employees and the refugees, as a priority, for which the Ministry of Rehabilitation was established and made to function. In 1957, while the Master Plan was still being finalised, after revisions and detailing from the Interim General Plan for Greater Delhi, Delhi Development Authority (established in 1957) publicly announced its decision to acquire all land that had not been developed. It was only after two years, in 1959, that actual legal notices were served to landowners. 4 This opportunity was well grasped by the agricultural land owners. Since land developed around had already led to speculation, they earned more by dividing and selling their lands and farms as residential plots privately. This way they made profit in comparison to selling their land to DDA on the fixed rates under the Land Acquisition Act. They constructed building even overnight, and made them to look old, for exemption from the Act. The plots were sold with minimum or no development privately. Since the plots could not be sold through The Transfer of Property Act 1882, due to land freeze, the right to use of land was transferred through a Power of Attorney.

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Aerial view of city buildings
Aerial view of city buildings

The PRESENT: existing condition of UC’s in Delhi

The colonies grew speedily, mostly in West and South of Delhi. At one end they meet the high demand of cheap housing. The ‘disorder’ in these colonies due to ‘informal’ approach towards development made these colonies stand out as bizarre entities from the city. The unauthorized brick and stone housing hid behind the ‘formal’ capitalist and commercial development. Though not as marginalised as the slum dwellers, residents of these colonies belong to the urban poor faction of the society, few still deprived of proper water and sanitation facilities, electric and sewerage connections etc, while others have been able to connect to these city services, and are now gradually to go through the process of authorization. Morphologically, these colonies of the urban poor are densely built settlements, with negligible amount of light and air porosity into the residences. With plot sizes minimized due to plot divisions and 100% built coverage, the highly dense fabric is devoid of any open spaces, let alone green areas. The proneness to fire and health hazard is extremely high in these colonies. The grey space, which is the roads, and movement paths are the only public open spaces residents have access to in the neighbourhoods.

The situation is very different in the unauthorised colonies inhabited by the ‘Affluent Section of the Society’. Despite the informal status, these colonies have better access to facilities of water and sanitation, as well as infrastructure such as best of healthcare and education. Morphologically, the colony comprises of gated bungalows of plot sizes greater than 1000 sq.guz (900sq.m.), constituting of lesser than 50% built. The green open luxurious spaces enjoyed by the residents, are private and introvert, with no or minimal public open spaces.

Minimal Green Spaces in Colonies in Delhi

The FUTURE: legality and right to the city for UC’s in Delhi

Despite of its questionable legal status, the unauthorised colonies housed majorly the urban poor people, as seen in the former case, who by identity and ethnic backgrounds were heterogeneous, belonging to states across the country and by profession were service providers such as vendors, mechanics, auto drivers, school teachers, nurses, peons etc. These migrants have had to face social exclusion. They have been denied access to clean 24×7 water, healthcare facilities, educational facilities for girls, open green spaces, and thus disintegrated from the society due to deprivation of these basic growth needs.

While there has been an attempt from the political and planning perspective to authorize these colonies, by giving them access to basic needs of connection to city services, as well as making city infrastructure reach them, for example, metro services, not much thought is given about their social inclusion, acceptance and dignity in the society and city as a whole. The intention to authorize and regularize them has been an attempt to uplift the status of their living conditions, giving them the very basic survival and humane needs, thus making it a statement of growth, but one shall eventually question the need for more than just basic needs to be fulfilled for social growth. How can they really be seen in a society which is dazed by artificial capital consumption, neglecting the work force which actually puts in the labor behind the same. This exclusion, social and economic, is not only between the colony and the city, but also within these two extreme kind of unauthorised colonies, one inhabited by the service labour class, while other by the ‘affluent’, where the latter is also dependent on the former. Inclusivity through public participation is one leap that is possible to take to understand these dependencies better, and more importantly the aspiration of the unauthorized colony residents. The city life which they migrated for, the better wage and job opportunities they left their hometowns for, has to start reciprocating back to this class, by making them a valid and dignified part of the society. The right to the city shall remain with all its residents, and not a few chosen elite.

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Author Bio: Saisha Mattoo is an architect, soon to be Urban Designer graduating from SPA, Delhi. She has won accolades in spatial design competitions such as Social Mass Housing in Mumbai and Street Redesign in Kolkata while pursuing the undergraduate course. In her masters thesis research she is exploring the need of socio-spatial changes in neighbourhood design and planning for healthy urban environments, focussing on physical, social and ecological health.

Reference List

  1. Hindustan Times. (2018). Sanik Farms regularisation: Delhi High Court seeks status from Centre. [online] Available at: http://hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/sanik-farms-regularisation-delhi-high-court-seeks-status-from-centre/story-EuzqVtl7Ry2YcDYARmvmBM.html [Accessed 8 Jul. 2019].
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  3. LIST OF UNAUTHORISED COLONIES INHABITED BY AFFLUENT SECTION OF SOCIETY. (2019). [online] Available at: https://dda.org.in/tendernotices_docs/sept2019/List_of_69_UCs_inhabited_by_Affluent_Section_of_Society14112019.pdf [Accessed 13 Jun. 2020].
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  5. Rebbapragada, P. (2019). Centre constitutes fresh committee to look at Delhi’s “unauthorised colonies”, but lack of political will could hamper effort. First Post. [online] 12 Mar. Available at: https://www.firstpost.com/india/centre-constitutes-fresh-committee-to-look-at-delhis-unauthorised-colonies-but-lack-of-political-will-could-hamper-effort-6246281.html [Accessed 13 Jun. 2020].
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