What are Unauthorised Colonies? | Categories, Reasons of Formation, Problems Faced

The word Unauthorized means- not having official approval or permission. Unauthorized/ Unapproved/Illegal layouts or colonies in India started emerging soon after the partition of the country back in 1947, when a large influx of refugees migrated from Pakistan and settled in various cities. Inability of the government to accommodate such huge housing demand in the refugee colonies gave an opportunity to the private land owners to capitalize on their land and sell it to people in need without proper planning.

With rapid increase in population and urbanization  (about 34% of India’s population now lives in urban areas – Source MoHUPA), housing demand has always been higher than the supply. Urban migration and unaffordability have further increased the gap, increasing immense shortage of affordable housing options. Hence, it cannot be denied that cities lack affordable planned housing stock and supporting infrastructure

The story of Delhi is no different. More than thirty percent of Delhi’s population live in areas designated by the government as unauthorised colonies (Source – Delhi Master Plan 2021,DDA) Unauthorised Colonies (UCs) is the label given by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), to the residential colonies that have evolved in Delhi over the years, without DDA’s authorisation and in complete disregard to the city’s masterplan regulations (for 1962, 2001, and 2021). UCs are structures built in contravention of zoning regulations and land-use patterns either violation of Delhi’s Master Plans or on illegally subdivided agricultural land.

Housing Subsystems are Divided into 3 Categories:

  1. Planned
  2. Unplanned
  3. Organic

Unauthorized Colonies

Unauthorized Colonies come under Unplanned Housing Subsystem where settlers have a semi-legal Title (as the buyers of plots in these settlements possess documents which prove some form of tenure, characterised as ‘semi-legal’), but sub-division of land into plots happened with or without the compliance of planning norms, Zonal regulations, Building Bye Laws (developed roads, open spaces and amenities) and without the approval of the competent authority (like DDA in Delhi) . These UCs exist in a liminal legal space: while they are not perceived as encroachments like Jhuggi Jhopri Clusters (JJCs), they are also not considered to be part of the ‘planned’ city.

This process of conversion of rural land into urban land is highly undesirable because it doesn’t accommodate social/physical infrastructure and other planning standards. This results in fragmented growth and incoherent city fabric. Land transactions and distribution is also dubious. Generally agricultural land is subdivided into plots without approvals of layouts, not confirming to proposed landuse. These plots are sold to individuals with low sensitivity towards laws and regulations.

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  3. What are Unauthorised Colonies as per Delhi Development Authority (DDA)

Types of Unauthorised Construction

In order to understand unauthorized colonies, it is very important to understand what are the four different types of unauthorized construction

Table 1 Types of Unauthorized Colonies

Jhuggi Clusters

Unauthorized Colonies

Illegal Informal Shops/Market

Additions in Built up Houses

People building on encroached land (mostly government land) without any transaction of land, characterized by very poor living conditions and lack of basic infrastructure – Informal, illegal, unplanned and without legitimacy Entire layout built on land owned by private or government, but with some transaction formality like the power of attorney.

Improper road widths, minimal physical and social infrastructure, no open spaces.

Informal for building codes, formal for the process of purchase, illegal and unplanned but legitimate

Since the unauthorized colonies lack commercial shops and related infrastructure, informal shops spring up in the nearby area to cater to demands This is typical illegal construction, where initial building approvals may have been taken, but addition of floors, extension of balconies etc have not been approved.

Small additions in built-up accommodation like a room on the roof for renting is common

Categories of Unauthorized Colonies

The origin, location, state of infrastructure and other parameters vary from one unauthorized colony to other. Gautam Bhan describes UCs as home to a socioeconomic spectrum ranging from working poor to educated elite families. This diverse population is matched by a heterogeneous built environment: shanties stand beside tiled bungalows.

UCs can be categorized on the basis of infrastructure – On one hand, there are colonies with adequate infrastructure, proper road widths and community facilities, and on the other hand there are colonies with infrastructure so poor, slum like condition with narrow streets, inadequate light and ventilation, minimal infrastructure and non-existing community and open spaces

They can also be categorized on the basis of Land on which it is located – In many cities, major Unauthorized layouts have cropped up in fringe areas of the cities, on agricultural Lands, rural areas near municipal boundaries or master plan proposed roads. There are UCs which have come up on lands reserved for cooperative societies

Reasons for Development of Unauthorized Colonies

  • Inadequate planning and governance of peri-urban areas by local governments are resulting in various problems like growth of unauthorized colonies and illegally built structures.
  • Employment opportunities in cities: Urban migration creates Demand for affordable housing. Private Developers mostly cater to HIG/MIG segments, Thus LIG and EWS segments have little or no access to formal land/housing markets
  • Scarcity of Land and High Land Value in Urban Areas: Land owners tend to aim for 100% Land utilization overlooking Development controls and Building Bye Laws, avoiding wide roads, community facilities and open spaces.
  • Developers save on REVENUE FEES (5-9% of Basic Land Value) by Non conversion of Agricultural Land use to Residential Land from Revenue Department.
  • Unscrupulous developers take advantage of the situation, lure people in search of a roof over their head, later, leaving them to face the consequences of buying into or living in an illegal building.
  • Lack of enforcement of rules and regulations by authorities either due to lack of manpower or political interventions, and lack of coordination between various authorities

What makes unauthorized colonies attractive for Buyers?

Affordability is the major criteria for purchasing a house in an unauthorized colony for an end user. For an investor, UCs are a preferable option because the demand for properties in UCs is always high and there is large scope for Rental income as tenants prefer these colonies for offering similar units as that in the nearby authorised colonies at a much affordable price. Also, people who have black money invest in such colonies because transactions are not monitored. Apart from this, developers often speculate the regularisation of these areas which is one prime reason why property prices keep on a constant rise in such areas.

Location is also an important attracting factor. Most of the unauthorised colonies are located in proximity to a posh authorised colony hence, indirectly offering the infrastructural benefits to the residents here. Though illegal, many colonies have proper water and electricity connection for local residents. Many unauthorized layouts mushroom near proposed government projects (Like Airport notified areas, master plan highways, SEZs etc.) because it makes it lucrative for investments.

Also, approvals and sanctions cost a decent amount of money and time. Lengthy and time-consuming procedure for change in land use and approval process (Before Online Layout Approval process, it used to take approximately 4-6 months for Approvals) and a huge initial saving on Development charges, betterment charges, Impact fees etc by avoiding approval process (10-12% of Land Value is saving) is lucrative. Hence UCs make the housing stock available much quickly and cheaply along with flexibility in construction without following the bye laws.

Lastly, there is a tendency of residents to get the layouts regularized later when required by paying compounding fee/ Building Penalization Fees. In recent years, the government has undertaken a range of efforts to ‘regularise’ these settlements and carry them across the line to full legitimacy. Regularisation is “a process by which UCs are made legal and the property titles in them are recognized by law and can be registered with the state”. Since land is a state subject, many states have their own regularization and penalization schemes

Related: What is a Slum?,

Problems faced by residents in unauthorized Colonies

Many UCs, especially in Delhi are characterized by substandard living conditions, often compared to slums with bigger room sizes. Along with the legality and ownership aspect, which do not permit buyers/owners to take formal bank loans for financing, or mortgaging the property for business/personal loans, there are many other problems faced by residents of an unauthorized colony.

  • Improper planning, no open spaces and community areas – Most colonies lack open spaces and children’s park. Land use distribution in an unauthorized colony is typically 80-85% residential (sometimes 100% residential) and 15-20% internal circulation area. Whereas, a planned residential layout typically has only 50-55% residential component, 10% open, 20% circulation areas, 5% commercial, 5% utility areas and 10% community areas and public and semi-public area. (Source- Delhi Master Plan 2021)
  • Internal roads are also narrow, and under developed nor maintained. Therefore, these are more prone to water logging and flooding in monsoon.
  • These colonies do not get municipal water and electricity supply, as they are unapproved and may lie outside the municipal limits. Physical infrastructure for water supply, drainage and sewage is poorly developed.
  • Waste management, garbage disposal, sewage system in is always a challenge
  • Public amenities such as parks, green space, community halls are missing, which affects the quality of life of the residents
  • UCs are also characterized by illegal constructions, without following proper fire safety norms. So they are prone to fire hazards
  • Parking is a very serious problem in these areas as the developer does not follow the building code and constructs on the 100% ground area.


Any illegal construction is deemed to be demolished, but it is not practically desired to demolish high density residential layouts, rendering thousands (Crores in fact!) of residents homeless, who are an important and large legal vote-banks.  Various state governments have come up with regularization and improvement policies of UCs and penalization schemes, with respect to a cutoff dates which keeps on extending due to political pressures or other factors. Over the last two decades, land regularization and upgrading programs have been implemented in UCs by various state governments

Regularization schemes are typically not formulated with well-defined goals and timetables, and the problem is made worse by the lack of suitable evaluation indicators. In short, the declared objectives of regularization schemes have not been translated into an adequate combination of a comprehensive diagnosis, effective instruments and a clear implementation strategy, not to mention deficiencies in management capacity. As a result, Indian experience with regularization so far cannot be considered fully successful.

A new paradigm is required to address and resolve the complex set of environmental, cultural, and legal issues arising from this ‘spontaneous’ unauthorized development.

Author Bio: Aakriti is a Civil Engineer and Urban Planner (specialization in Housing), from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi (Batch of 2020). Her experiences cover assignments in Housing Options and Strategies, Real Estate Market and Feasibility studies, Housing Development, Project feasibility, Governance and Policy planning. She is an Urban Planning and Public Policy enthusiast who believes in the power of data driven innovations for sustainable urban development.


  • DDA City Planning Wing 1984-Project Report on Policies of regularization of Unauthorized colonies
  • The Thin Line between Legitimate and Illegal; Regularising Unauthorised Colonies in Delhi, citiesofdelhi.cprindia.org
  • Bhan, ‘Planned Illegalities’, Economic and Political Weekly48(24), 2013.
  • Bhan, op. cit., 2009; V. Dupont, ‘Slum Demolitions in Delhi Since the 1990s: An Appraisal’, Economic and Political Weekly43(28), 2008; U. Ramanathan, op. cit., 2004