Unauthorised colonies and slums to be protected from punitive action till 2020

By Madhulika Gupta

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a bill that extends a law to protect slums and unauthorised construction in Delhi from being razed. The current deadline for the protection of these structures is now set for December 31, 2020.

Bill amidst protests

Amid massive uproar by the opposition parties in the Lok Sabha, the bill saw the light of the day. As inhabitants of these slums and unauthorised colonies breathed a sigh of relief, a day later, the bill got approved in the Rajya Sabha as well. This is the second time since its inception in 2011 that the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act has been amended to protect the slums of Delhi and a lot of unauthorised construction. The Bill comes a few days after a school for blind children was demolished in West Delhi after it was identified as an unauthorised construction.

As per the law, unauthorised colonies and setting up slums and jhuggis is a punishable act. However, the major reason why there has been a spur of slums and unauthorised colonies is the rapid growth in the population of the National Capital Territory (NCT), or just, Delhi.

Spur of unauthorised colonies

The population of Delhi in 2011 was 16.7 million. In 2016, figures plummeted to a whopping 18.6 million. People from neighbouring states relocate to Delhi in search of work and a better livelihood and bright future prospects for their family. Under these circumstances, the national capital could be leaving behind Tokyo in terms of the most populous state. Thus, people relying on daily wages and commissioned work have no other option to either set up jhuggis and soon, the area becomes a full-fledged slum. Similarly, unauthorised colonies started popping up due to a need for space to live.

Areas like that of Hauz Khas Village, Shahpur Jat, Mehrauli and other urban villages are majorly under scrutiny. Ironically, most of these places are hubs to lavish eateries, couture boutiques, traders and high-end designer labels.

The NCT (Special Provisions) Act

National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act was introduced in 2011 when the Congress-run Sheila Dikshit government was in power. With its introduction, the bill sought to firstly relocate all the slum dwellers of Delhi from slums, jhuggis and bastis. After this, the bill sought to legalise the unauthorised colonies in Delhi. Both of these changes had to be bought in accordance with the Master Plan for Delhi, 2021. 

The bill was passed in 2011 in the Lok Sabha with a three-year deadline. All the provisions of the Act were to be achieved by December 31st, 2014. However, with the plan moving ahead at a turtle’s pace, the bill was brought to Lok Sabha to be passed as National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) First (Amendment) Bill, 2014. The bill was extended for a period of three years to give the Delhi government time to work on a plan to realise the agenda of the bill by December 31st, 2017 by the then Urban Development Minister, M Venkaiah Naidu.

The three years went by swiftly and saw a change in the government both at the Centre and in Delhi. BJP led NDA formed the government at the Centre and AAP came to power in Delhi with a hefty mandate.

Avoiding ‘unprecedented chaos’

The National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was approved by the Cabinet on December 15, 2017. It was brought to the floor on December 28th, 2017 by the Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri. Mr Puri blatantly targeted the Sheila Dikshit government and accused the then civic administration of failing and a lot of work being pending.

However, the Minister applauded the AAP government in Delhi by adding that post-2014, attempts had been made to fast-track things for the plan. He also made sure to applaud the efforts of DDA and other municipal corporations of the National Capital Territory that are rampantly dealing with the problem of unauthorised development in the city.

Nevertheless, Mr Puri sought an extension for the Act for three more years in a bid to finalise legalities and formally adopt policies to deal with the issue at hand. With an intention of avoiding punitive action over the people living in these establishments, Mr Puri requested the members of Lok Sabha to pass the Bill amidst much noise. As Mr Puri gauged, he sought to pass the Bill to avoid chaos in the city which would emerge if the Bill was not passed and those living in encroached areas and unauthorised colonies were punished.

Uproar from the Opposition

As the Bill was brought to the floor, the Opposition roared and created a ruckus. After the Congress government in Delhi was targeted for not working speedily enough, Congress members accused BJP of ‘being here to change the constitution’. Speakers of TMC, AIADMK, JDU, SP, BSP, CPI, CPI (M) came together to question the course of action. The question that echoed most was why the wealthy owners of boutiques, restaurants and farmhouses were being protected under the garb of this bill.

Another reason why Opposition blazed the ruling government could be for the sake of the 2019 elections. It could be inferred from the passing of this Bill that the government might be looking for ways to appease to some categories of the society. Since this mandate could help the ruling government win the hearts of some people, this could be termed as a way to increase their vote share.

Onus on AAP govt

The rift between the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Anil Baijal and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was also bought up in the house. TMC, SP and CPI collectively voiced their concern about this rift being the main reason for ineffective governance. It was inferred from the rift between the former LG Najeeb Jung as well as the current LG, that a clash of ideologies and thoughts is a disappointment for the people of Delhi.

The AAP government in Delhi has less than three years to prove their mettle to the people of Delhi. BJP might have already scored brownie points by introducing this Bill and urging other members to vote for it. The Congress lies in a pool of accusations for not performing and being unable to do its job. The onus currently is on the government of Delhi to speed up the process of regularising the policies and working with the DDA and other municipal corporations. This has to be done to deal with encroachments and unauthorised construction in Delhi in the given time frame.

Featured Image Source:  ??, Ting Chen, Wing on Visualhunt / CC BY-SA