Legalization of Delhi’s illegal colonies gives people hope

Regularisation must result in “physical and social infrastructure, as well as minimum necessary services and community facilities,” according to the Delhi Master Plan.

By Rina Chandran

When Sanjiv Yadav moved to Delhi from the northern Indian town of Etawah, he rented a small room in an illegal settlement like millions of other migrant workers in the capital city.

Over the past decade, he set aside money to buy a one-room home in Vikas Nagar in West Delhi, a so-called unauthorised colony of a few hundred homes and shops, receiving a power of attorney for his property – not a title that he can legally sell or transfer with.

That is about to change, with the planned legalisation of more than 1,700 such illegal colonies in Delhi, which the federal government says will benefit about 4 million people.

“I own this house, but I can’t get a bank loan. With the regularisation, I can get a title with which I can get a loan,” Yadav told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We also don’t have proper facilities: the roads are bad, the garbage is not collected. We hope that after regularisation, all this will improve,” he said, standing outside his home.

More than two-thirds of Delhi’s 18 million people live in informal settlements, according to government data. Unauthorised colonies are built in violation of zoning regulations, often on farmland that is illegally subdivided.

The settlements of densely packed low-rise buildings help fill a gap in affordable housing for the tens of thousands of migrants streaming into the city every day, urban experts say.

The issue of regularising them comes up every few years ahead of local elections, with all political parties promising to deliver on the longstanding demand.

In December, the federal government passed a law to legalise Delhi’s unauthorised colonies.

It will “pave the way for incentivised planned urbanisation, and transform urban squalor into modern urban spaces with modern amenities,” Housing Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said last year. Sanjiv Yadav and his wife Rinki pose for a picture outside their home in Vikas Nagar, a so-called unauthorised colony, which is set to be legalised under a federal law aiming to regularise 1,731 such settlements in Delhi, India. March 5, 2020. Rina Chandran/Thomson Reuters Foundation


Worldwide, more than 3 billion people are forecast to lack access to adequate and affordable housing by 2030, according to UN-Habitat, the United Nations’ settlements agency.

India’s sprawling capital has settlement types of varying degrees of formality, legality and tenure.

Unauthorised colonies – where poor, middle-class and richer residents live – are slightly more secure than slums that are seen as encroachments and face the constant threat of eviction.

While most colonies are characterised by poor infrastructure and amenities, the housing ministry dropped 69 enclaves from its initial list of those that are to be regularised because they are “wealthy”.

Residents demand regularisation because they hope it will drive up property values, and they can access bank loans to improve their homes, said Mukta Naik, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank.

“But owing to the many steps and institutions involved, regularisation has been governed by a series of confusing, sometimes contradictory administrative orders,” she said.

Regularisation must result in “physical and social infrastructure, as well as minimum necessary services and community facilities,” according to the Delhi Master Plan.

But it is not a necessary condition for providing infrastructure, said Naik.

In addition, colonies that have been legalised are categorised as “regularised unauthorised”, and it is not clear how quickly or uniformly their property values rise, she said.

With new rules issued last October, residents in unauthorised colonies can register online for a title.

Satellite imagery is used to map colony borders, and the geographic information system (GIS) verifies property boundaries, after which a title is issued. The entire process would be completed in six months, Puri had said.

But with a strict lockdown to contain the coronavirus, the process has been delayed, and there is no way to settle any boundary disputes, said Sanjeev Kumar, a member of the residents’ association of Gopal Nagar, an unauthorised colony.

“The process is meant to be easier, but it is still complicated, and they are not taking on board our objections to the maps,” he said.

“The law is well intentioned, but implementation is poor, and it is not clear when we will get our titles,” he said.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

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