Cramped rooms, poor transport connectivity and unreliable water supply — residents who bought Lower Income Group homes in DDA’s 2014 housing scheme have many complaints.
Rajkumari stands outside her home, complaining about water supply issues that plague the housing complex where she lives as a tenant. She points to her flat on the first floor of a five-storey building.
In the building of 20 flats, hers alone has laundry hanging to dry in the balcony — the telltale sign of habitation. The other balconies lie barren. The rest of the sprawling 2,200-flat complex in Narela shows similar signs of desertion — a single scooter parked below a building, paneless window frames and the lack of human movement. Inside the buildings, locks adorn the doors on entire floors and stairways are crumbling with neglect.
Narela’s Sector G2, part of the Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) urban extension project in the area, is one of the ghost towns created as a result of the agency’s failed 2014 housing allotment scheme.
That year, DDA had offered around 25,000 flats, of which around 12,000 units were rejected as owners complained of lack of transport connectivity, water supply and small sizes of units. These units, mostly in areas such as Bawana, Narela and Rohini, were repackaged and refurbished, and the DDA tried to sell them under a fresh scheme in 2017. Again, the agency failed to sell a major chunk and 7,000 flats were returned for the same reasons. After two failed attempts, the agency wrote to paramilitary forces such as CISF and CRPF to take these flats.
As a fresh DDA scheme is rolled out, with 17,922 flats on offer, The Indian Express revisited housing complexes in Rohini and Narela from the 2014 project, and found that many issues flagged at the time still remain unresolved.
Till 2014, getting picked under a DDA scheme was considered a jackpot of sorts. Long queues outside banks would flash on TV screens as the housing schemes were announced, and lucky winners picked through draw of lots would give interviews to the media. In a sharp departure, in January 2019, the DDA put around 3,500 houses for sale online on a first come, first served basis. These were the houses that found no takers even after approaching the paramilitary forces. Till date, the DDA is yet to sell around 1,500 of those homes.
The 2014 scheme allottees claim they were cheated, as the LIG (lower income group) flats allotted to them were of the same make as the EWS (economically weaker section) or janta flats, which are considerably smaller.
According to DDA officials, janta flats were refurbished and put up for sale as LIG flats in 2014. The price of these flats was also lower than the other LIG flats. Officials said this was done so that more people could apply for LIG flats as compared to EWS ones, which then had a maximum income criteria of Rs 1 lakh.
Residents of Rohini’s Sectors 34 and 35 and Narela’s G-8 allege their LIG flats measured 32 sq mts — the same size as EWS flats being offered by DDA to rehabilitate Kathputli Colony residents, who were relocated following an eviction drive. “We got these houses for over Rs 15 lakh. But then flats, which are somewhat better built, were offered as EWS flats to Kathputli residents. This is cheating,” said Vinod Kumar, who bought a home in Narela.
DDA Housing Commissioner Rajiv Gandhi said that under the current scheme, LIG house sizes have been increased from 33 sq mts to 45 sq mts and bedroom sizes from 9×7 sq feet to 11×9 sq feet.
Of the 12,072 flats rejected in 2014, 77 were HIG (higher income group), 404 were MIG (middle income group), and 384 were janta flats. The majority were LIG. Moreover, a chunk of rejected flats were in the outskirts — 4,349 in Rohini, 3,612 in Narela and 2,059 in Siraspur.
In Narela’s Sector G2, around one-fourth of the flats are occupied, with 600-odd families currently living there. But most of these — around 500 — are tenants. The middle-class families who had purchased flats chose to live elsewhere, giving out their homes on rent for paltry sums. “How could we ever adjust in this flat? We are a middle-class family; we need some living space. My mother-in-law lives with us. We have two children, we can’t raise them here,” said Dimple, who currently lives with her family elsewhere in Narela.
The tenants pay an average rent of Rs 2,500 per month. They work as labourers in nearby industrial areas of Bawana and Bhorgarh, and at an adjacent construction site which is among DDA’s new projects.
Former DDA vice-chairman Balvinder Kumar, who was heading the body in 2014 and 2015, said the small sizes of rooms was the main reason for such large scale rejections. “… The rooms were so small that people could not even put a double bed in it,” he said.
“People invest in flats as long-term investment even if they are from the lower middle class. They don’t mind spending a little extra but at least they expect a decent room,” he said, adding, “Connectivity also became a factor as this segment cannot spend much on commuting, and last-mile connectivity becomes very costly if there is lack of public transport.”
There was also the introduction of a clause which barred people from selling their houses for three years. “While it was meant to keep brokers away, it also kept buyers from investing in DDA for immediate gains,” said Kumar.
Narela’s Sectors G7 and G8 tell a tale of haves and have-nots. The flats in Sector G7 are part of the new scheme. Here, EWS flats are similar to the LIG ones of G8; while the LIG homes in G7 are located inside 13-storey buildings with elevators, and are considerably larger and better lit. “Many people saw flats as investments. When we purchased one in 2014, it cost Rs 15 lakh; with interest it was around Rs 20 lakh. But when the DDA conducted the 2017 allotments, they brought down the cost by Rs 50,000- Rs 70,000. So our property went down in value. Plus, this is a remote area and facilities have not come up as expected,” said Pawan Saini, who bought a home in Sector G2.
The complex shows several signs of neglect. There is no running supply of drinking water, and DJB tankers visit every evening to fill up the tank, which provides each household with around 10-15 minutes of water each day. The regular water supply yields brackish water which residents cannot use for bathing and washing clothes, so they are forced to purchase several 20-litre drinking water cans every day.
There is no garbage disposal and collection mechanism. Residents drop garbage in a field inside the complex and a woman, who is paid Rs 4,500 a month to clean the complex’s roads, collects it in a cart and dumps it nearby. The nearest point to get a bus is 2 km away, but the road to it is desolate and residents, especially women, are apprehensive of taking it after dark.
The scenario in Rohini Sector 34’s Pocket 3 is somewhat different. It is even more sparsely populated than Narela’s Sector G2, but in less of a state of disrepair. Of the 2,680 flats, only 150 are occupied. However, most residents here, around 120, are original homebuyers. And every amenity that makes the complex habitable has been the result of their struggle.
Roads outside the complex were constructed only in February 2018; a permanent water tank was put in place six months ago; a grocery store was set up in July 2018; a shuttle bus to the nearest Metro station of Rithala, 10 km away, five times a day, started recently.
Darshan Vats, a resident, had uploaded a video on Facebook asking residents not to apply for the DDA scheme when it was released in 2017. “We got trapped, don’t make the same mistake,” he had said in the video, which attracted the attention of officials.
Vats said they had 12 meetings with DDA officials, following which work such as laying of pipelines and road construction was started. “But these things should have been done before we moved here,” he said.
Residents also complain of a lack of mobile network connectivity, the perils of deserted roads — the main road is 2 km away with no public transport to get there — and frequent breaks in water supply. The complex itself is a remote island. One among four pockets in the sector, it is the most populated.
Middle-class anxieties also plague residents, many of whom work in offices in Noida, Gurgaon and Delhi. “We are surrounded on all sides by villages — Barwala, Pehlad Pur, Pooth Khurd, Khera Khurd, Khera Kalan. We need connectivity to the city for work and our children’s education, but it’s like we have been dropped in the middle of the sea… Phase IV of the Metro has a corridor passing through this area, but who knows when that will be done,” said Gaurav Agrawal, a software engineer.
Agrawal said many like him are looking at properties in areas such as Noida. “I am an assistant manager in my company. When I look at the way I need to struggle for the most basic facilities, filling up buckets from a DJB tanker during water shortage, I question my life decisions. I can afford better, but I went with DDA because I didn’t have time to go looking at properties and believed it would be reliable,” he said.
DDA officials maintain connectivity and water problems will be solved soon. But privately, some admit the 2014 project dented its image. “This was also the time real estate was booming in Noida and NCR,” an official said.
For the 2019 scheme, DDA was initially planning to come up with houses only in Narela and Bawana. But with a bitter past experience, officials also decided to introduce 1,286 HIG, LIG and MIG houses in the city’s upscale Vasant Kunj neighbourhood. On the first day, the DDA’s website saw over 3 lakh hits.
It also plans to improve standards of construction in its future projects in Jasola Vihar, Rohini and Vasant Kunj, with a “greener” design, earthquake-resistant buildings built with fly-ash bricks, a local sewage treatment plant, RO-treated water for drinking, and multi-level parking. Focus will also be on open spaces, with around 25% of the area for building and the rest for parking, community halls and parks.
The DDA also plans to construct 14-storey buildings to get the most out of the land under them. “There were meetings among DDA officials after the 2014 scheme. We couldn’t make major changes to flats already being constructed, but with this project, we want to earn the reputation we have lost,” said an official.