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The real surprise in Delhi's Master Plan 2021

February 24, 2007 15:59 IST

A new New Delhi is in the making, inspired as much by Manhattan as by Vancouver. The Master Plan 2021 for the capital is ready but doesn't seem to have too many takers. Will it spoil our city? While that is debatable, the good news is that as the city's skyline moves upwards, realty prices might just head downwards, making real estate more affordable in and around Delhi.

The population of Delhi is expected to touch 2.25 crore by 2021, of which, according to the new master plan notified by the Union cabinet earlier this month, 40 per cent will be absorbed as the city grows vertical in the already urbanised parts, another 40 per cent will find shelter in the 22,000 hectares of land that will be unlocked, and the remaining 20 per cent are expected to move to the neighbouring satellite towns. According to the master plan, there is a need for 400,000 new houses by 2021.

But there has been a mixed response to the master plan from various stakeholders. "When you look at a master plan, it is not so much about built spaces. In the end, it has to improve the quality of life of people," says Prem Subramanium, principal - business development at Infrastructure Development Finance Company.

Romi Chopra of Vasant Vihar residents welfare association feels the master plan has not engaged the imagination of the citizen during the planning process.

"The city is going to go vertical. It is a mechanical way of accommodating population. The master plan does not take care of essential common meeting spaces for people," he stresses.

On the other hand, the Delhi Development Authority might just see a reversal on its stranglehold over all land in the city. And the municipal authorities could become subservient to a larger body, an autonomous Real Estate Management Regulatory Authority, which is soon to be constituted.

The new authority will, according to union minister of state for urban development, Ajay Maken, be a single window clearance for all real estate related projects. Shreekant Gupta, director of the National Institute of Urban Affairs is apprehensive that such an authority might bring back the licence raj.

He points out that we already have self-regulatory structures in place that need to be strengthened. "The multiplicity of authority already creates chaos in Delhi. What is the need of creating another one?" points out Ranjit Kumar, an advocate in the Supreme Court. Many fear it might be the genesis of another corrupt body.

Still, some good has come out of the master plan. It lays stress that all new development on the freed land will be around nodes of the mass rapid transit system being developed across the city. The newer part of Delhi, however, will be different from the Delhi we know of bungalows or individual houses, consisting only of highrise apartment complexes.

The good news for builders is they will no longer be coerced into buying land only from the DDA. For the first time, the private sector will be allowed to directly buy land from farmers and other land holders. People in existing colonies can financially benefit from the option of land pooling in the master plan's redevelopment strategy.

And after so much hue and cry about the sealing of commercial activities along residential roads, the master plan has in a sense reversed the Supreme Court's decision, mandating that 2,183 roads within the city be allowed mixed-use development.

Commercial and mixed land use

The master plan explains very simply: "Mixed use means the provision for non-residential activity in residential premises." It will allow access to commercial activities in the proximity of residences and reduce the need for commuting across zones in the city. But this will need to be regulated to manage and mitigate the associated adverse impact related to congestion, increased traffic and increased pressure on civic amenities.

The master plan permits commercial activities:

  • in already urbanised areas where streets have already been notified by the competent authority;
  • in residential areas and streets that were earlier declared as commercial areas in the master plan of 1962;
  • and where commercial activity had existed prior to 1962, subject to documentary proof.

In all newly developed residential areas, mixed use will be permitted only on residential plots abutting 18 metre roads. These have to be notified in the layout plans being submitted by the developer.

Master Plan 2021 also allows professionals like doctors, lawyers, architects and chartered accountants, among others, to operate from residential areas under the concept of Small Office/Home Office. The master plan allows IT parks within the city's industrial areas. The floor area ration for industrial areas too has been increased from 120 to 150.

"The master plan should have given a larger incentive to IT/ITeS. Five lakh people migrate to Delhi annually and a larger IT/ITeS industry in the capital would impact the composition of the migrant population. If neighbouring satellite towns permit twice the FAR for IT/ITeS as compared to commercial activity, Delhi should have also followed suit," says Rajeev Talwar, executive director, DLF.

Many resident welfare associations across the city have opposed the move to notify 2,183 streets for local commercial and mixed use activities. Ajay Maken explains that Delhi has a total of 31,000 km of roads of which these 2,183 streets constitute only 1,400-odd km, or about 4 per cent of the total.

The acceptable norm, worldwide, is 10 per cent. A former bureaucrat from the urban development ministry says this formula has no direct linkages with the traffic situation and parking hassles. New York and Singapore charge extra for using roads in certain areas of the city.

"The master plan has gone ahead and notified streets for mixed use when there is no physical infrastructure existing there. The DDA Act states that existence of amenities is necessary prior to notification," says advocate Ranjit Kumar.

Architect and dean of studies, TVB School of Habitat Studies, Ashok Lall says the idea of mixed use makes sense. Mixed use reduces the need for travel and transportation as well as produces a richer city life.

"The issue is that our commercialised streets are not designed properly for people to use safely and comfortably, and the master plan is not responsible for this design at all," explains Lall. "Of course, there is a need to control the degree of commercial activity on a street so that the traffic doesn't get out of hand," he adds.


Redevelopment of existing housing: The plan gives Delhiites the option to add another floor to their existing houses (so far one could build only ground + two floors).

The height restriction earlier was 12.5 metres and has now been relaxed to 15 metres for ground + three floors. People have the option to pool their land (a minimum of 3,000 sq metres) and appoint a builder to construct highrise apartments instead of individual houses, with a maximum coverage of 33 per cent and a minimum of 30 per cent left for green areas and soft parking.

The FAR here will be 1.5 times the existing FAR. In layman terms, what this means is that you and your neighbours can pool in your land, bring in a builder who will pay you for building your house, keeping some built-up space as his fee.

So, if 10 people with houses on 300 sq m plots come together, according to the formula they can build up to 15 floors. The number of floors increase if ground coverage is reduced. These highrises need to take care of all their parking (which will not be allowed on the roads anymore) underground as well as have an in-house sewage treatment plant.

Mercifully, the Lutyens Bungalow Zone, Civil Lines and areas close to heritage sites will not be touched by the redevelopment strategy. Ajay Maken says this is a win-win opportunity to increase the green spaces in the city while increasing accommodation significantly and still keeping the city compact.

Experts say the possibility of so many people coming together is bleak. Lall analyses that the densification of existing areas can also be achieved with 4-6 storied buildings that are more efficient than taller structures.

"You can have the same number of people housed in a hectare of land with 3-4 storied buildings as compared to a tall structure because you need to leave more space between taller structures," he says.

The re-densification of areas where government accommodation exists will also be taken up. Maken says there is requirement of 100,000 government units of which only 63,000 are available at the moment.

Development of new areas: The master plan will release 22,000 hectares of land for fresh development. Keeping the spirit of the vertical city alive, the master plan stipulates that there will be no individual housing within these 22,000 hectares.

All new developments will be highrise group housing close to the nodes of the Metro. Here, 15 per cent of the FAR or 35 per cent of the housing units (25-40 sq m) built will have to be for the economically weaker section.

EWS and LIG houses, after construction by a private group, will be handed over to the nodal agency to be allotted to eligible beneficiaries. The infrastructure and arterial roads in these new developments will be the responsibility of the developer while the main connecting roads to the areas will be the prerogative of the municipal bodies.

The builders are happy with the sidelining of DDA. They will no longer have to go through a bidding process at DDA's auctions, which had led to an escalation of real estate prices across the city.

Slum redevelopment: Slum rehabilitation will be undertaken in partnership, again with the private sector. Private developers will have to provide 15 per cent of permissible FAR or 35 per cent of total housing for EWS along with medical facilities as well as a school. Slum redevelopment might unlock some prime real estate in the city for mixed land use. Given this policy, at least 35-40 per cent of the slums can be rehabilitated, says Maken.

Unauthorised colonies

About 5,000 hectares across Delhi is under unauthorised occupation. The master plan talks about the regularisation of these unauthorised colonies, both on public and private land. The occupants will have to pay a penalty in case of public land. But given political pressure and in an attempt not to appear biased, the tony Sainik Farms has not been legalised.

At the moment though, there is a stay on regularisation of unauthorised colonies and the high court has asked Delhi government to submit its plans regarding providing infrastructure in these colonies as well as a final list of the colonies to be authorised. Colonies cut prior to March 31, 2002 and having 50 per cent built up area then will get authorised.

Maken says under the master plan there will be no unauthorised colonies: "With the land we are unlocking and with the provisions for EWS housing, we are reducing the incentive for unauthorised colonies."

Farmhouses and the green belt

Farmhouse owners in the capital are set to reap a huge bounty with the master plan allowing the development of group housing societies on such land. This would unlock a lot of land for residential development in prime south and west Delhi areas like Chattarpur, Bijwasan and Najafgarh. "A policy will soon be finalised to fix the minimum area for such projects," Maken says. (The draft master plan had initially permitted group housing on a minimum area of 25 acres.)

The prices of farmhouses are set to see a steep rise as builders vie for prime land. There's a catch though: builders will require a minimum contiguous area and might have to approach more than just one or two farmhouse owners.

The cut-off date for recognising farmhouses in these localities is 1990 and the minimum area has been reduced from 1.5 acres to 1 acre. No new farmhouses will be permitted in these areas. But the master plan allows new farmhouses on the city's periphery, forming a girdle that is one village deep.

The minimum area for an authorised farmhouse here will be 2.5 acres and owners will be allowed to build up to two floors with a total ground coverage of 150 sq m.


A major issue with the master plan is infrastructure (roads, sewerage, water, electricity), with Ajay Maken insisting the higher we go, the better the energy efficiency of buildings.

"There are fewer losses in high structures. The most consumption happens in public transportation. The denser the city, the less people will have to travel," says the minister. At the moment, 3,200 mw of power is supplied to Delhi. By 2021, Delhi will require 8,000 mw of power. The master plan will provide three separate 10 hectare pieces of land to set up 300 mw power plants.

Ashok Lall debunks this theory. According to him, the more vertical a city, the more energy consumed per unit area of built space. "Tall structures tend to be more exposed to harsh climates and require more airconditioning, thereby more power," he explains.

The Delhi Jal Board claims it supplies 690 mgd of water to the city. Even after losses to the tune of 40 per cent, the per capita consumption in Delhi is 240 litres.

Compare this to Singapore's and Munich's per capita supply of 162 litres and 130 litres respectively. "We don't need more water; it is better water management that is required. If Singapore and Munich can provide 24 hour water supply despite lower penetration per capita, why can't Delhi?" Maken questions. He argues, again, that going vertical will help in reducing water losses through transmission and distribution.

Lall argues back that "3-4 storied structures interspersed with courtyards and gardens give you a micro-climate which reduces energy demand for airconditioning".

The battle lines may be drawn, but for now the binding argument of more realistic real estate prices will probably carry the day, no matter what Lall & Co have to say.
Ravi Teja Sharma & Nayantara Rai