There is little transparency in the regularisation of unauthorised colonies in Delhi

Earlier this week, acting on behalf of the Delhi government, the Chief Minister wrote a letter to the President asking for a probe against the former Chief Minister, reportedly for “alleged irregularities in the regularisation of unauthorised colonies in Delhi”. This follows the Delhi Lokayukta’s finding in November 2013 that the “issuance of the PRC [provisional regularisation certificates] on the eve of the elections [in 2008] was a populist measure intended to woo voters”. It also found that some unauthorised colonies (UACs) received the PRC despite having submitted incomplete applications.

UACs, which are estimated to house 30 per cent of Delhi’s population, were promised regularisation in 2008, and again in the manifestos of the Aam Aadmi Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Congress, prior to the Delhi elections of 2013. In his first address to the newly-elected Delhi Assembly this year, the Lieutenant Governor announced that an “action plan for regularising unauthorised colonies within a year is being drawn up and this plan shall be implemented rigorously in a time-bound manner”. To understand this issue, it is important to understand how this problem arose.

Processes in the past

Prior to 1993, Delhi saw several waves of UAC regularisation. In 1993, however, when the government was looking to regularise 1071 UACs, Common Cause Society, an NGO, approached the Delhi High Court questioning the process. In response, the Court restrained the government from regularising any further UACs in Delhi and directed it to prepare and submit guidelines for the process of regularisation.

In 2007, the government placed the guidelines before the Court. In 2008, it resumed its call for applications from UACs seeking regularisation. The Resident Welfare Associations of these UACs had to submit various documents such as land details, certificates, layout plans and undertakings to abide by the approved layout plans and provide land for social infrastructure. It received applications from 1639 colonies. Subsequently, an addendum to the 2008 regulations, introduced before the elections in November 2008, allowed the Government of NCT of Delhi (GNCTD) to issue PRCs to UACs. Soon after, these were issued to 1218 of the applicant colonies.

In September 2012, the government issued an order finding 895 UACs “eligible for regularisation”. The order specified that these were selected based on two conditions: they did not lie on “forest and ridge areas and protected area” and did not hinder the “provision of infrastructural facilities under the Master Plan 2021”. In spite of the order, government and media reports have treated the colonies listed in the 895 UACs order as de facto regularised. However, a closer look at this order reveals that only 312 of the colonies — those located on private land— stood regularised at the time of the order. Of these, only a subset that are on “private land owned by private owners” are plots eligible to be registered for sale or transfer, an outcome central to any definition of regularisation.

The order also said the remaining 583 colonies listed, which are partly or fully on public land, would be regularised only after the GNCTD recovered the cost of the public land from residents. For these colonies, the relevant land-owning agency would also have to complete certain steps, such as withdraw land acquisition notifications and amendments in revenue records, before the land can be registered. In other words, the regularisation of these 895 UACs was far from complete.

The Comptroller and Auditor General and the Delhi Lokayukta have pointed out that there has been little transparency in this regularisation process. Indeed, it has been a complicated mess with many gaps.

Complications

First, the two levels of selection were opaque. Initially, the basis for selecting the 1,218 UACs from 1,639 applicants to receive PRCs remains unclear. Further, those UACs which were found “not eligible” were not informed of the exact reason for their ineligibility.

Second, according to the addendum to the 2008 regulations, government agencies were supposed to complete regularisation procedures within a year of issuing a PRC. Instead, it took the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the Delhi Development Authority, and the GNCTD four years to notify the regularisation of any UAC. Interviews with residents in unauthorised colonies like Sangam Vihar, several blocks of which were among the 1218 UACs, reveal that the PRC was followed by little action.

Third, the present status of the 583 of the 895 UACs, that lie fully or partially on public land, is not clear. There is no publicly available list of colonies for which the costs of public land have been subsequently recovered — a requirement for regularisation.

Finally, the 2021 Master Plan of Delhi states that regularisation must ensure that “minimum necessary services” and “community facilities” are provided to enable “improvement of physical and social infrastructure”. Data released by the GNCTD on its website indicates that, as of March 2013, agencies have been allocated for “development works” in 830 of the 895 colonies, and such works reportedly were completed in 461 of them. However, the recent draft CAG report on the matter reportedly noted that the status of these works could not be verified. Our own interviews in A and B blocks of Sangam Vihar, which were among the 895 regularised, show that while the GNCTD data specified that “work was completed”, there is little change in service provisioning on the ground.

This gap between government data and ground reality can, in part, be explained by the ambiguity in government language and data. The government does not specify what “works” mean, nor does it specify what the current status of the “works” is in these 895 colonies.

Many recent media reports indicate that the new government will be undertaking the regularisation process for the 1600-odd unauthorised colonies all over again. For administrative clarity and transparency, it should take the following steps:

First, coordinate with the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi and the Delhi Development Authority to complete various steps for regularisation as per timelines already specified in the 2008 regulations. Second, on completion of these steps, it should publicly notify which UACs have been regularised and why. Third, the benefits of regularisation in terms of “development works” have to be explained. Fourth, the process of registration of deeds by individual plot owners has to be detailed.

These steps will demonstrate commitment by the current government to its publicly declared mandate of better and transparent governance. Furthermore, making the status of UACs clear to both its residents and others in Delhi will enable them to be fully integrated into the city fabric, just like the formal planned colonies of Delhi.

(Shahana Sheikh and Subhadra Banda are with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)

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