In a move that will impact over 40 lakh people — a fifth of Delhi’s population — the Centre Wednesday cleared the proposal to regularise 1,728 unauthorised colonies in the national capital, fulfilling a promise made by political parties in the city for almost two decades.
Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, who called the decision the “most farsighted, progressive, revolutionary step” taken in Delhi’s history since 1947, said 69 affluent colonies such as Sainik Farms, Mahendru Enclave and Anant Ram Diary, or colonies in forest or protected areas, have been kept out of the purview of the Union Cabinet’s decision, demonstrating “the government’s commitment to first deal with the issues of the economically weaker sections”.
The announcement comes months before the Delhi assembly polls, scheduled for February. Both Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP have, over the past year, sparred over the issue, each blaming the other for delaying the process.
The government will introduce a Bill in the winter session of Parliament to “recognise general power of attorney, will, agreement to sell, purchase and possession documents” — a one-time relaxation for residents of such colonies.
A poll issue
Ahead of next year’s assembly elections, the Cabinet decision could serve as a shot in the arm for the Delhi BJP. At the same time, it will start a battle with rival AAP on who should get the credit for the move.
After the implementation of the decision, those who have built or bought houses in unauthorised colonies will get ownership rights. Currently, these properties are passed on or bought on the basis of power of attorney, will, or agreement to sell documents. But they cannot be registered with the revenue department and one cannot get bank loans to build or buy in these areas. The colonies do not come under the jurisdiction of municipal bodies and, as a result, unsafe and illegal construction cannot be checked or penalised.
People will have to pay a one-time fee to register their properties, which will vary depending on the area of the property, the circle rate of adjacent authorised colonies, and the nature of land — government, private or agricultural.
At a press conference soon afterwards, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has in the past locked horns with the Centre on the issue, welcomed the announcement and said the regularisation process must start soon.
“Till now, parties have made these promises before elections. When we came to power, we immediately took this issue up and prepared a proposal and sent it to the Centre in November 2015. We kept discussing the issue with the Centre. In July, the Centre sent a draft cabinet note and we responded promptly… This was a long struggle — for us as well as for the people of Delhi… People will only benefit once they have registry (property registration papers) in their hands, otherwise they will think it is just another empty promise,” Kejriwal said.
Puri, meanwhile, emphasised that the announcement was not made keeping in mind the upcoming assembly elections in Delhi. This is not timed for the elections, he said, adding that there have been several elections since 2008, when the DDA had first prepared the plan for regularisation.
Asked if the decision would encourage encroachment in other parts of the city, Puri said the decision was a “question of equity”.
He also attacked the Delhi government, and asked if it did not take any decision on this front even in the next five years, will it be “equitable for us to allow our own citizens to live in those sub-human conditions in unsafe structures, many of which fall, many of them don’t have access to sewage?”
“In today’s new India, I think we owe it to those people to transfer these rights,” he said.
Providing ownership rights to people living in unauthorised colonies has been a point of contention between the AAP-led Delhi government and the BJP-led Centre, with both trying to take credit for it.
AAP considers people living in unauthorised colonies a key vote bank, with several policies tailor-made for them. Earlier this year, the CM made a series of announcements regarding development work — laying water pipelines and sewers and constructing roads — in such colonies. Ahead of Lok Sabha polls, the BJP too shifted its focus to unauthorised colonies. Wednesday’s decision, party leaders from both AAP and BJP acknowledged, will have an impact on the outcome of next year’s assembly polls.
The road ahead for DDA, which has been given the primary responsibility of executing the decision, is not easy. They have to complete the exercise to demarcate borders of these colonies — something that the Delhi government has failed to do in the past four years despite different private agencies being hired for the job.