More than a year before the Partition, Chaudhary Raghvendra Singh had already forecast the effect of a large-scale migration into India and especially Delhi. Singh was then working as a transport officer in the Punjab government. He resigned in 1946 and established a company with very small capital called Delhi Land and Finance Ltd (DLF), with the objective of developing areas to give accommodation to the millions of people who would be running from Punjab to Delhi for shelter.
“Delhi was then a sleeping metropolis,” said Kushal Pal Singh (93), chairman emeritus of DLF. “There was hardly any demand for housing at that time. There were no takers for land either since no one predicted the influx of Partition migrants yet,” added Singh, who is also the son-in-law of Chaudhary Raghvendra Singh. He explained that coming from an agricultural background, it was easy for his father-in-law to relate with and convince the farmers, whose land had to be acquired.
Long before the DLF turned Gurgaon from a humble hamlet to one of the fastest growing cities in India, it was in Delhi that the company created some of the city’s most opulent neighbourhoods. The company started out with Model Town in North Delhi. Delhi was at that time largely limited to the contours of the old city, and that is where the migrants first came.
Eventually, Chaudhary Raghvendra Singh once again envisioned that the growth of New Delhi would happen southwards, on the suburbs of the habitation. Thereafter took birth the South Delhi neighbourhoods of Great Kailash I, Greater Kailash II, Hauz Khas, Kailash Colony, South Extension and a few others. In the course of a decade, and before the Delhi Development Act of 1957 made land development in Delhi an exclusively government affair, DLF had established a total of 22 colonies in the city.
Kushal Pal Singh recalled that the DLF planned these colonies keeping in mind the growing aspirations of Indians.
“We believed that every house would have at least two cars, and hence broad roads of 12-14 metres were planned. The supply of water too was planned with the vision that the needs of every home would grow over time,” said Singh.
Singh is aware that the colonies planned by private developers like the DLF were not focused on providing mass housing to migrants, which was being largely managed by the government. “We were targeting the millions of moderately wealthy or affluent sections among the migrants who could pay for rebuilding the lifestyle they had left behind in west Punjab,” he said.
Manjit Singh Khurana moved to Greater Kailash I in the mid 1960s. He recalled that his father, a well-known businessman of iron, steel and timber in Lahore before the Partition, bought the plot on which his house stands for Rs 25,000.
“We were staying in a plot allotted to us at Khan Market at that time. When my father decided to move to GK I, my mother was particularly unhappy about it, since it was so far away from the main city,” he said. “But at that time, we never thought that this area would become so developed and turn into one of the poshest localities.”
Khurana recalled that GK-I was a largely desolate area at that time, with hardly any markets or other avenues for recreation. “We would go for movies in Rivoli at Connaught Place and follow it up with dinner at Kake Da Hotel,” said the 78-year old.
But the development of colonies in Delhi by DLF was rather short-lived. The Act of 1957 barred all private real estate developers from acquiring land in the city. “The administration had decided that urban development needed to happen on a socialistic pattern. So, it was decided that whatever land was required for development must be acquired by the government under the large-scale land development and acquisition policy and private developers should be given a limited role of construction,” said A K Jain, urban planner and former commissioner of planning in the DDA.
“The idea was to dispose of properties on a subsidised rate to Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and Low Income Group (LIG) families.”
Consequent to the Act, the DLF was virtually out of business and had moved to manufacturing electric motors and batteries, recalled Singh. Subsequently, in the early 1970s, he was asked to take over the company and revive it from its near bankrupt status. Singh at that time was in the Army and was also involved in horse breeding. “With the government laws against private developers, the company having no money, and I having no knowledge and background in business, I had no idea how to revive DLF,” said Singh.
Sometime in the next few days, on a summer afternoon while Singh was resting under a kikar tree in the desolate village of Gurgaon, he happened to meet Rajiv Gandhi by a stroke of luck. Gandhi’s jeep had broken down and he sat with Singh while it was being repaired. “The entire birth of urban development policy of Gurgaon started under that tree,” laughed Singh. In the next two hours, he explained to Gandhi about his vision of turning Gurgaon into a city.
Consequently, and through Gandhi’s help, Singh met former chief minister of Haryana, Bhajan Lal, who altered the laws in the state to allow the DLF to step in. Thereafter the millennium city of Gurgaon was built after acquiring land from farmers piece by piece.
Singh recalled that farmers were extremely hesitant to sell their land. “I knew the only way I could buy the land is by being one with them,” he said. “We spent weeks and months spending time with them to earn their trust. We arranged jobs for their children and marriages for their daughters as well.” Eventually, he won their confidence and DLF city in Gurgaon was built up with the land that the 700-odd farmer families sold to Singh.
A majority of people who moved to Gurgaon were from Delhi, who wished to fulfil their aspirations of a better lifestyle at a lower price. “The creation of Gurgaon exemplified the aspirations of the Delhi middle class at that time,” explained Ranjana Sengupta, author of ‘Delhi metropolitan: The making of an unlikely city. (2007)’. “This was an invented city built for those who wanted a mix of a downtown commercial corporate hub and an upper middle-class suburb.”