Regularisation of Delhi colonies: While AAP, BJP fight for honours, residents keep fingers crossed

The Union Cabinet recently approved the state government's proposal to give ownership rights to those living in 1,797 unauthorised colonies in the Delhi-NCT area. While usual political rhetoric by parties continues, what really lies ahead?

The BJP-led Union Cabinet recently gave a nod to the Kejriwal government’s proposal to give ownership rights to those living in 1,797 unauthorised colonies in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. A bill to legislate the move is likely to be introduced in the current winter session of Parliament. 

Elections for the Legislative Assembly of NCT Delhi are due in January 2020. Ever since the cabinet nod to the regularisation came about, BJP has been making extra effort to engage with these communities and portraying itself at the forefront of  the decision. When we contacted them for this report, its local unit Mandal heads were monitoring the solar light distribution initiative in these colonies, and were preparing for a mammoth ‘thanksgiving’ rally.

Once the Bill is passed and it becomes law with the assent of the President of India, Delhi Development Authority, the land regulator in Delhi, will come into the picture and take necessary steps for ground implementation. The first among them will be making a fresh map of colonies to amend the limits by including the regularised ones. 

Skepticism in the air

Over time, however, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has earned the distinction of being a ‘slow mover.” The reason for such a reputation is its sluggishness, that arises partly from its overburdening mandates and partly from its sticky position as an agency under the central government that has to implement its schemes in coordination with the state government.

“We understand that the implementation of the decision will take time because the pace of things will be decided by bureaucrats within DDA.  But we are still hopeful that residents know that the major roadblocks have been cleared and it’s just a matter of time. One can have hope at least,” says Sachin Jain, Aam Aadmi Party leader and prospective candidate for the upcoming assembly elections.

Sachin and his team members are engaged in making a list of grievances of the people of his constituency. Most of these demands arise from residents who want to sort out ownership rights to their properties. Their housing units do not figure in the list released by the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry for regularisation. There are still many residential areas which are out of it and they have nowhere to go and appeal. Politicians in Delhi are busy promising the residents that their grievances will be taken care of. 

“There are areas which have been left out in the mapping. The city has grown beyond the knowledge of the nodal agencies and municipalities. These people have tried unsuccessfully to reach out to DDA and the respective municipal corporations to have their housing units incorporated in the DDA list which comes under the Urban Development ministry.  Now they fear that a municipal reform like regularization of colonies will leave many of them out from any scope of hearing in the future,” adds Sachin.

But the fear among residents is that once the Bill is passed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which owns the land in the NCT of Delhi, will bring out a fresh map of colonies to establish the ground facts. People fear, once the new survey and mapping is done, the realities may change because officials rarely take into account political promises and prefer to go by the rule book. Latest reports suggest that the DDA has already delineated boundaries of more than 500 unauthorised colonies and the maps for the same are being uploaded on their website.

Justice delayed

For 65-year-old Diwakar Arun, a migrant labourer from Bihar who ended up as a gardening contractor, the news of regularization of colonies is a case of justice at long last. He purchased a small plot of land 19 years ago in the New Ashok Nagar colony in the Delhi-Noida border with his hard earned money but was unable to sell it or mortgage it to procure funds for his daughter’s marriage two years ago. Now he plans to sell the property after regularization and shift back to his hometown in Betiya.

“We purchased the land here because it was the only place affordable for us. But it was all promises and no action since then. All parties promised us justice but finally the current Delhi government moved the Bill and it is now becoming reality. I must say, the investment was not useful to me because it could not be mortgaged when my wife was seriously ill and hospitalized. We were denied justice,” says Diwakar. 

Local politicians have allegedly been exploiting residents of these so called ‘illegal colonies’ for decades, collecting party funds in the name of protecting the interests of the residents. The locals feel that the practice may now come to an end with regularisation.  

Demands galore

Given that assembly elections are just round the corner, both the Centre and the state government are racing against time to convince residents of their role in making the decision happen.

“The Union Cabinet has passed it but it was the Delhi government which made the recommendation. It was one big decision which was avoided by many successive governments because regularization means further responsibility of the governments to provide other civic facilities,” says a retired Army officer who heads a Residents Welfare Association (RWA) in Mayur Vihar. An active member of the BJP, he feels the party has an uphill task convincing voters that it was pivotal in making regularisation of the colonies finally happen. 

After the regularization decision, the Delhi Private School Association has now upped its ante to seek government approval for all its schools running in these colonies.

Renaming of colonies afresh is another demand. There are many colonies which are known by the caste and profession of the people living in it.

“Why should any colony be called a Harijan Basti. Just because the plots are occupied by people from a particular caste cannot justify its name. The government will have to find suitable names for these colonies with proper consultation. And we fear a body like DDA does not believe in consultations and the locally elected government does not have a mandate for it,” says Chandra Shekhar, a local BSP leader.

Political shrillness

The head of the BJP unit of the State Manoj Tiwari, a native from Bihar, easily slipped to his native tongue while interacting with residents of the unauthorised colonies on the occasion of Chat Puja recently. He left no stone unturned to convince people that his party was solely responsible for the regularisation initiative.

“Everyone in Delhi knows the decision is the result of a resolute BJP,” says Tiwari, “We are estimating that within six months of passing the Bill, all the formalities will be completed and every resident will have the registration of their property.”

The state’s ruling AAP government has a different card under its sleeve. “Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has no plan to address a rally in the matter until now. For us it’s not a political matter, it’s a matter of right governance,” says an official of the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s office.

In the AAP central office in Deendayal Upadhyay Marg, the mood is upbeat. “They are our major vote base. No amount of expensive campaign can overrule the impression among the people that Kejriwal government made their dreams a reality,” says Vandana a member of the party’s media cell. The party is also prioritizing candidates from these colonies for the upcoming polls.

In 2008, the Congress government in Delhi had stormed back to power after it distributed provisional certificates to 1,218 unauthorised colonies. It has activated its cadre strength in the unauthorised colonies for a door to door campaign, though the campaign is largely a quiet one.

Affluent, but unauthorised

The current set of colonies to be regularised does not include posh colonies or affluent habitations within Delhi which are not in the master plan of the city. It is likely that after the first set of regularisations, the government may bring another Bill to give ownership rights to 69 other colonies which fall under the affluent category. The government plans to confer rights of land to the owners on payment of nominal charge based on the plot size.

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