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Posted on 22 June 2011
Devinder Sehrawat

Delhi’s country cousins

Devinder Sehrawat says urban Delhi has appropriated the common spaces of its villages

Illustration: Tim Tim Rose

The government of Delhi has promised to make Delhi a world-class city. However, this vision will remain incomplete without major effort to improve the living condition of approximately 20 lakh rural population of Delhi, which resides in its 362 villages. The marginalisation of original inhabitants in cities is a global phenomenon, be it the aborigines of Australia, the Red Indians in the US or the tribes in India; the Todas of Nilgiri Hills, the Santhals of West Bengal and Orissa or the Bhils have all been marginalised, often with disastrous social consequences. The villages of Delhi have met similar fate since the Independence. Exploitation in the matter of land acquisition is one of the main factors responsible for current situation prevailing in these villages; Delhi villages are the first and worst victims of the Land Acquisition Act.

Article 243A of Indian Constitution provides that a gram sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the legislature of a state may, by law, provide. The philosophy of the panchayati raj is deeply steeped in the tradition and culture of rural India. It provides for a system of self-governance at the village level. However, it did not have a constitutional status till 1992. On 23 April 1993, the institution of panchayati raj was accorded constitutional status through the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992, thereby seeking to transform Mahatma Gandhi's dream of gram swaraj into reality. It mandates the establishment of a three-tier structure, that is village panchayat, panchayat samiti or intermediate level panchayat and zilla parishad or district level councils. The last panchayat elections in Delhi were held in 1984, and in 1993 a 'Municipal Raj’ under the 74th amendment of the constitution was imposed in rural regions of Delhi. The panchayats were abolished and the villagers denied the right of self-governance.


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The gram sabha land, earmarked for common use by the villagers, has traditionally been supervised by the village panchayat. The landless labourers, shepherds and artisans of the villages always had a customary right to use the common land. Being a common property of the villagers, pastures and woodlands were carefully managed, and the rural ecology and economy were in good shape. In March 1987, all the urban villages under the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) were transferred to the Municipal Council of Delhi (MCD) on-as-is basis. The common land of all villages of Delhi governed by Delhi Land Reform Act 1954 was, with one stroke, transferred under the custody of block development officer (BDO), who functions under the divisional commissioner of a district. As a result, villagers have been deprived of the gram sabha land, which belonged to the villagers with ownership rights in proportion to their agriculture land, in an illegal and arbitrary manner without any compensation being paid to them.

The Delhi Land Reforms Act (Section 81) has repeatedly been utilised to deprive the poor farmers of their land. The patwari (revenue officer) is empowered to classify unoccupied private land not being utilised for agriculture, horticulture or animal husbandry as wasteland and merge it into the gram sabha land under the control of the BDO. Even small plots of agriculture land lying vacant in villages are declared waste land. Any visitor to an urbanised villages, like Mahipalpur, Masoodpur and Munirka, can appreciate that neither the land nor the irrigation facilities are available to permit agriculture. The revenue officials misuse this section to deprive the villagers of their landed property on frivolous grounds. In urbanised villages, this section of the Delhi Land Reform Act ceases to apply; however, over 4,000 such cases are pending in Mehrauli block itself.

The residential area of villages was marked by a red line, known as Lal Dora. This area was exempted from payment of revenue and provided exemption from adherence to building by-laws. The scope of Lal Dora of most villages in Delhi was last extended in 1908. As per notification of August 1963 of the Delhi Administration, permission is not required for construction within the Lal Dora and Extended Lal Dora. However, the MCD presently does not permit construction in within these markings.

With the commencement of development as per the Master Plan for Delhi-1961, the villages located within urban areas of Delhi were declared Urbanised Villages. There were 20 Urbanised Villages in 1961 in Delhi, and at present there are about 165 urban villages and 52 census towns which form part of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD). A plan scheme to improve the civic services in these urbanised villages was started in 1979-80. This scheme was implemented by the DDA up to 1987-88 and thereafter it was transferred to the MCD. Since 1979-80, an amount of Rs366.09 crore of plan funds have been provided to the DDA/MCD and the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) for development of these urban villages, which is like a drop in the ocean.

A lack of formal access to appropriate housing has led to the mushrooming of unauthorised residential areas in Delhi, while the NCT has 1,607 such colonies. Currently, there are around 1,432 unauthorised colonies, providing shelter to around 30 lakh people. Unauthorised colonies were made legal thrice in Delhi: in 1961, 100 colonies were regularised; in 1977, 600 colonies were regularised. The process was repeated in 2008. Civic activities, construction of road and drainage system and filling up of low-lying areas, were undertaken only in those unauthorised colonies which are located on private land. The Delhi government has provided plan funds of Rs1153.46 crore up to March 2008 under this plan scheme and a provision of Rs915.25 crore was made under Annual Plan 2008-09. These colonies are now proposed to be regularised and a Board for Unauthoriszed Colonies has been constituted under the chair of the Chief Minister of Delhi, which will advise the government on the process of regularisation of these colonies. A total 1,639 applications were received, and provisional regularisation certificates have been issued to 1,223 unauthorised colonies in 2008.

The unauthorised colonies have engulfed the villages, chocking them from all sides. However, the urban villages of Delhi have managed to maintain their unique character. Their population density is five to six times more than the non-village areas, and approximately 20 lakh villagers reside as a cohesive settlement in these villages. The existing populated areas of the villages should be regularised and another 500 meter phirni (vacant space with a periphery road) around each village should be created, as has been recommended in the Tejendra Khanna Committee report to maintain a healthy environment and community welfare facilities in these villages.

The land of Delhi villagers has, for past 60 years, been acquired for a pittance and sold at market rates to builders and developers with clout. The most of these cases have been mired in controversy and charges of corruption. As of 2005, the DDA has acquired a total of 28,000 hectares of land. It is a matter of great concern that no village development plan has been made with the forcible acquisition of land, and a meager compensation is paid to land owners. In the absence of planned development, villages are devoid of basic civic amenities; the allocation of resources for facilities like hospitals and educational institutions and sports facilities is much less in comparison to non-village areas of Delhi. The Delhi Rural Development Board was constituted in October 2004 to take care of these issues. However, not much can come out of it largely due to its bureaucratic nature and total absence of people’s participation. The villages of Delhi are becoming concrete slums.

Devinder Sehrawat is secretary of the Delhi Grameen Samaj. He has served in the Indian army for 20 years.
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Posted on 22 June 2011



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