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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 February 2006, 02:50 GMT
Why so much of Delhi is illegal

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

Delhi homeless
The acute shortage of homes means a rising number of homeless
What do people do when their city's authorities do not keep apace with its rapidly growing population and fail to provide adequate homes and business space?

In the Indian capital, Delhi, people simply encroach public and private land, bribe authorities, build homes, and wait for local politicians to legalise the colonies (housing areas) in exchange for votes in the elections.

Delhi's population has grown from a little over 2 million in 1954 to over 10 million today. The authorities only managed to build a little more than one million homes during this period.

The lack of adequately developed land at affordable prices to citizens has led to the messy growth of various types of unplanned settlements - from slum clusters to resettlement colonies to rural villages to urban villages, all within what is known as the Delhi city.

So a third of the city's people have ended up living in some 3000 colonies -more than half of which are illegal - and many of them don't have legal electricity or water supplies.

Vote bait

The politicians and municipal authorities don't seem to be enthusiastic about improving matters because illegal colonies mean that they can hold out the bait of regularising them in exchange of votes and money.

Delhi buildings
Most building laws are openly flouted
Chetan Dutt, a lawyer who moved a key petition which spurred the Delhi high court to order the demolition of over 18,000 illegal constructions in the city recently, says the illegal colonies first began coming up in the 1960s.

In 1972, the then Congress government legalised 800 such colonies. Five years later, it regularised another 567 colonies. And between 1989 and 2002, illegal colonies were regularised by the government of the day at least five times.

There are over 3.2 million buildings in Delhi
The municipality says 70-80% of them have major or minor illegalities
The municipality is targeting 18,299 buildings in its demolition drive
Some 1,600 of Delhi's 3,000 colonies (housing areas) are illegal

A fresh proposal to regularise 2,200 illegal colonies has been pending with the Delhi High Court since 1999.

"It is the pressure of the popular mob demand and politicians which has led to the regularisation of colonies. This emboldens investors and builders to keep on encroaching and building because they are sure they will be legalised some day," says Mr Dutt.

Delhi-based writer Jug Suraiya says, half in jest, says that "100% of Delhi is unauthorised".

Politicians and builders take money from the poor and the middle-class and encroach on public land to build grotty unplastered red-brick homes that dot much of the city.

The rich buy farmland to build plush farmhouses that they also rent out for parties and marriages or set up entirely illegal colonies like the 161-acre Sainik Farms where some of the city's most influential people - including army men and senior journalists - live.

Some of the city's most talked about fashion designers brazenly open ritzy boutiques in illegal buildings and then feign ignorance.

Delhi building
Even people living in government housing add illegal portions
Others convert or sell their residential buildings to make them business establishments by bribing the police and municipal officials. Business booms, and traffic clogs up residential roads.

Home and shop owners encroach upon the city's sidewalks parking their cars or hawking their wares there alongside openly menacing private warnings like - 'Keep off the road' or 'Tyres will be deflated if you park your car here'.

Today, Delhi's sidewalks have either been encroached or have shrunk as the authorities widen roads in a bizarre policy that is heavily loaded in favour of car owners. Pedestrians simply don't count.

`Mammoth Problem'

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), one of the world's largest municipalities with a reputation for corruption and sloth, seems so helpless that it has actually sought the "court's direction" to fix the problem of unauthorised constructions.

The MCD told the Delhi High Court recently that the problem of unauthorised constructions in Delhi is "mammoth in nature - and cannot be controlled by simply dealing under the existing laws or under the provisions of (Delhi's) master plan".

Gurgaon building
Many people have moved out of Delhi to the suburbs
The municipality also told the court that the reasons behind illegal buildings in Delhi are "the increasing needs of families, extension of existing houses, disappearance of the joint family system (extended families living under one roof), requirement of extra space for children etc".

The way the MCD is run can be gauged by the fact that there are over 16,000 cases pending against brought by aggrieved citizens in the high court alone.

In the end, only political will, a clean administration and a sensible master plan can save the city from urban ruin, say planners.

A third master plan is awaiting sanction with proposals to accommodate an additional 10 million people that are expected to live in Delhi by 2021.

Critics say it pays little heed to the over 10 million residents who already live here.

"The master plan has to change. A democratic system needs to be evolved with public participation. You can't have a master plan not in tune with the times and aspirations of the people," says planner Jasbir Sawhney.

In a sense, Delhi mirrors much of urban India's failure to meet the demands of a rapidly urbanising country as jobs dry up in the countryside - the country has a shortage of 22.4 million homes, 70% in the middle and the low income category.

It is a monumental failure which analysts say could easily snowball into a civil war of sorts over housing, water and electricity in the future.

Delhi told to hasten demolitions
18 Jan 06 |  South Asia
Eviction fury rocks Indian cities
27 Dec 05 |  South Asia
Delhi bulldozes illegal buildings
19 Dec 05 |  South Asia
India's 'biggest slum demolitions'
03 Feb 05 |  South Asia

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