Centre willing, redevelopment can ease Delhi’s housing woes

Shivani Singh, New Delhi: One of my friends recently shifted to a faraway gated community in the National

Capital Region. The flat is spacious. But the nearest Metro station is 10 kilometres away. Auto-rickshaws and a private bus service don’t run after 9 pm.
He did not have a choice. The typical ‘builder’ flat that he could afford on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border had no ventilation. The family suffered long power cuts and the kid was not safe playing outdoors. He had to move.
My friend, like a thousand others, got priced out of even a Delhi suburb.
According to a report by KPMG, Delhi is short of two million housing units. A parliamentary panel in 2014 blamed the Delhi Development Authority, the primary land owner and property developer of the city, for the mess. Against the target of 1.4 million units, the report says, DDA has built only 390,000 homes till date.
As a result, the working class has had no choice but to seek illegal alternatives. One-third of Delhi lives in slums or poorly provisioned unauthorised settlements. Those looking for affordable, better-designed homes with legitimate addresses have moved to the NCR towns.
The parliamentary panel report pointed out how 40% of Delhi’s housing needs could be met through redevelopment. But little attention is paid to reviving the existing Delhi.
The 1962 Delhi Master Plan projected ‘urban renewal as a strategy of redevelopment, rehabilitation and conservation” for Shahjahanabad and the extension of the walled city. The plans that followed included other conservation zones and special areas such as Karol Bagh. The first Master Plan gave authorities 20 years to redevelop the Walled City. But not a brick has moved.
That hasn’t stopped the authorities from promising more. The current plan proposes redevelopment of newer areas that are in “poor urban form”. It calls for a complete civic overhaul, increasing the floor area ratio to allow taller buildings, possibly in cluster courts or group housing, to be developed by private parties. This may or may not be the right way to regenerate. But the idea can only be thrashed out if it gains political currency.
As reported by Moushumi Das Gupta in HT last week, a committee set up by the NDA government has favoured curtailing the role of DDA, which reports to the Centre, and give the state government greater control over land. Not surprisingly, the Centre is sitting on the report for a year now.Besides proposing structural reform, the panel has pointed out that of 1,483 sq km of Delhi’s area, 60% is already built-up. Of the rest, sizeable portions are natural conservation zones and not available for urbanization. That leaves limited space for greenfield development. But surprisingly, that’s where all the focus is.
The current Master Plan calls for developing 500 meters on either side of the Metro track for transit-oriented development (ToD). The idea is to have dense commercial and residential growth along the new Metro corridors so people work, live and shop in the same neighbourhoods. Many cities such as Curitiba (Brazil), Seoul (South Korea), Arlington County (USA) have revived their suburbs by embracing this concept.
The Metro will build 230 stations by end of next year. With a redevelopment zone of up to 2.5 sq km around each station, ToD could cover 40% of the city, the report states. But implementing it would require experience that Indian planners don’t have. The panel recommends external expertise to prepare model plans and pilot projects that will serve as prototypes.
Unauthorised colonies and urbanised villages that are not on the civic map could create 15% additional housing, the report states. But it will take more than mere regularisation. They have to be made liveable and safe. The civic bodies in charge of regularisation have serious capacity constraints. The panel, therefore, recommends a special purpose vehicle for this job.
If implemented, these measures will not only open up a huge housing stock within Delhi and may even rationalise realty rates. It will also address the liveability concerns of the existing areas. But to turn these recommendations into a policy, the Centre has to first put the report in public domain.
Delhi is waiting.