In 2011, on behalf of Central Public Works Department (CPWD), NBCC (India) Limited had started building a new complex of 492 houses and apartments for ministers and senior bureaucrats in an area adjoining Shantipath in New Delhi.
This complex, named New Netaji Nagar, was developed as a gated enclave on a prime site of 110 acres. A few years later, in 2014, CPWD once again commissioned NBCC to design and construct another government housing project at East Kidwai Nagar on an 86-acre site. Here, six different types of apartments totalling 4747 dwelling units were built in multi-storey blocks.
The contrast in the quality and ambience between the two complexes is striking. Both are residential enclaves for government officials, one lavish and extravagant, and the other cramped and poorly designed. Both projects have deviated from Delhi Master Plan provisions.
Why are they so different?
The New Netaji Nagar complex
As per the Delhi Development Authority’s Master Plan 2021, the permissible floor-area ration (FAR) on both plots was 300 and the permissible ground coverage, 33.3%. In the case of the New Netaji Nagar complex, the ground coverage built is 15.51% and the FAR is 41.72%, both substantially lower than what is permissible.
The complex consists of 14 minister’s bungalows on plots of 2500 square yards, with eight bedrooms, four servants’ quarters, and two garages. There are 102 Type VII houses on plots of 900 square yards, with five bedrooms, an office, three servant quarters, and a garage. The remaining 376 Type VI apartments each have three bedrooms, a study and a servant quarter in eight storey blocks above a ground floor and basement parking area.
The complex was built on land which has a current rateable value of Rs 9 lakh per square yard. Apart from the high value of land, it must be noted that ongoing costs of servicing and maintaining this lavish complex are borne by public exchequer. This is the level of comfort that our ministers and senior government officials have. The cost and maintenance of such quarters at public expense has not proven to be a matter of concern. NBCC has sought to justify this expensive project by stating that the entire cost of the project was recovered from the sale of a four-acre plot on the corner of Africa Avenue to the five-star Leela Palace Hotel.
Although there was no large-scale public outcry at that time, this exploitation of public land at New Netaji Nagar did not go unnoticed, and there was considerable criticism.
The East Kidwai Nagar Complex
In 2014, CPWD and NBCC started construction of the other government housing project at East Kidwai Nagar on an 86-acre site. In this location, a total of 4,747 apartments of Types II, III, IV, V, VI and VII have been built in multi-storey blocks, which vary in height from six to 10 and 14 storeys. Each housing type is accommodated in a separate block, clearly in order to maintain the hierarchy of our babus.
In spite of the fact that this appears to be a congested, high-density society, against the permissible ground coverage of 33%, the actual ground coverage is 27%. The total FAR is only 215, which is naturally below the permitted FAR 300.
The prescribed community facilities according to the Master Plan 2021 for a development of this size should include three primary schools, three senior secondary schools, one health centre, one club or banquet hall, a convenience store or shopping centre, a service bazaar and an informal bazaar. Instead, the development has one primary school, one secondary school and a small local shopping centre in a cordoned off corner of the site.
Parking space has been provided in two levels of basement that extend across the bulk of the site, resulting in the felling of nearly all the existing trees. Commercial office space of 11,24,000 square feet calculated as 10% of the FAR of 300 has been built, abutting the Ring Road. This is to be sold to recover the cost of the project.
Urban design failures
In terms of urban design, neither projects relate to their surroundings. Both ignore Master Plan 2021 provisions, and are built below the recommended FAR and ground coverage. The New Netaji Nagar complex is blatantly extravagant and wasteful, and the East Kidwai Nagar development stands out in its prominent location with its poorly designed high rise structures.
The latter project, however, does recognise the fact that with steady population growth, concentrated high rise development is necessary to meet future needs. However, simply taking a basic apartment layout for each housing type and repeating it both vertically and horizontally, with no attempt to provide alternatives, or create variety by combining different unit types in individual blocks not only betrays lack of imagination, but is also reflective of the mindless directions given by ministry officials.
The result is a series of bizarre, odd shaped open spaces sandwiched between repetitive high-rise structures. The high boundary wall with few entry gates also effectively isolate the complex from prominent adjoining places like the South Extension market, the INA market and Dilli Haat.
NBCC have also been entrusted with the development of government-owned land at Sarojini Nagar and Netaji Nagar. If a development model similar to East Kidwai Nagar is replicated in this large area, the end result will be disastrous. What is required is a unified futuristic urban design concept for the whole area which integrates utility services, traffic and transportation, pedestrian movement, landscape, along with mixed use development that caters to all sections of society.
Ranjit Sabikhi is an architect and urban designer. He was formerly Professor of Urban Design at the School of Planning & Architecture, Delhi.