The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the notification of amendments to the Delhi Master Plan 2021, pulling up the Delhi government, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCDs) for not filing affidavits on whether environment impact assessment had been carried out before the amendments were passed. The court has asked whether issues such as safety, traffic, parking, and civic amenities were considered before the amendments were cleared.
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the body created by an Act of Parliament in 1957 “to promote and secure the Development of Delhi”, describes the Master Plan as the document that lays down the planning guidelines, policies, development code and space requirements for various socio-economic activities supporting the city’s population during the plan period. The Master Plan is also the basis for all infrastructure requirements.
DDA’s first Master Plan was promulgated in 1962. It was revised in 1982 to create the Master Plan 2001, which, again, was revised and notified in 2007 as the Master Plan 2021.
The amendments were made to protect owners of commercial establishments from the ongoing Supreme Court-mandated sealing drive. While some establishments were sealed for failing to pay conversion charges, others were punished for running unauthorised businesses from basements.
The amendments included increasing the Floor Area Ratio and reduction of conversion charges, and allowed the amalgamation of plots for parking. The amendments were cleared after public consultations, and awaited notification by the union government’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. Following notification, the amendments would have become part of policy. On Tuesday, the Bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta decried the attempt to push through the amendments: “This is contempt, and nothing short of contempt,” the court said. “This dadagiri has to stop.”
Floor area ratio (FAR)
FAR is the ratio of a building’s total (gross) floor area to the size of the land on which it stands. A higher FAR translates into a taller building. The maximum FAR for local shopping centres is currently 180, depending on the area of the plot; the amendment increased this to 350, which is on par with FAR in residential plots. Effectively then, the amendments propose to make FAR in shop-cum-residential plots, buildings in commercial streets, residential areas, and shopping centres, uniform.
Rationalisation of conversion charges
At the beginning of the year, sealing of establishments on the first and second floors, and basements started in Defence Colony Market. The drive was carried out under orders of a Supreme Court appointed committee, for non-payment of the fee to convert these buildings from residential use to commercial use. The charge was initially fixed at Rs 80,000 per metre square, but was brought down to Rs 22,000/sq m. The amendments linked conversion charges to property circle rates — traders in the most expensive ‘A’ and ‘B’ categories were to pay Rs 22,000/sq m, those in the B and C categories were to pay Rs 14,000/sq m, and those in the E through H categories were to pay Rs 5,000/sq m.
Bars and pubs, parking
With several residents’ welfare associations (RWAs) complaining of criminal activities and unruly behaviour, the amendments had a provision for shutting bars and pubs in residential areas. Another amendment sought to make markets pedestrian-only, in case the newly authorised commercial establishments could not provide parking facilities in the vicinity.
Public hearings and criticism
Neither traders nor residents were entirely happy with the amendments. At a five-day public hearing to discuss the amendments and consider suggestions, traders’ bodies and RWAs expressed reservations. Traders have been demanding an FAR of 400, which would enable them to start commercial establishments on higher floors as well. They also want the proposal to make markets without enough parking space pedestrian-only, scrapped — providing parking facilities is the job of civic bodies, not business owners, they argue. Residents have warned that allowing commercial units to function from basements would compromise fire safety, and put even largely residential colonies at risk.
Allegations of irregularities
The five days given for public hearings and consultation were a fraction of the 45 days usually kept aside for this purpose while amending the Master Plan, it has been pointed out. “The pressure created by traders and all political parties meant not enough time or thought was given to most issues… This is not how such an important document is amended,” said a senior DDA official on condition on anonymity.
The BJP, AAP and Congress were all under severe pressure to ensure the sealing stopped. Traders have been the BJP’s traditional votebank, and the AAP put the blame squarely on the Centre.