In February 2021, the Delhi Development Authority put forth the Green Development Area policy.
The proposed policy aims to encourage green development in the rural villages of Delhi through environmentally friendly living and recreation, the creation of green jobs and economies, and the encouragement of agriculture to improve food security and meet horticultural needs.
Though the policy is expected to be part of the much-awaited Delhi Master Plan 2041, the delay in the final gazette notification and implementation has caused resentment among villagers located on Delhi’s periphery.
Based on plot sizes, the policy allows activities such as agriculture, farmhouses, sports facilities, higher education institutions, non-polluting work centres, amusement parks and green houses with permissible far-red facilities.
This policy was attractive to people who wished to set up farmhouses and also large landowners keen to begin commercial activity. However, villagers had been cautiously hopeful of some improvement to their lives too.
Ritesh Rana from Bakhtawarpur, a village declared as a ‘Low-Density Residential Area’ through a DDA gazette notification in 2013, says basic infrastructure has always been elusive to these villages.
“No government or development agency focuses on the village. They only think of unauthorised colonies for their vote bank politics,” he said.
Clause 6.1 of the GDA policy states that the DDA shall prepare a Geographic Information System-based Integrated GDA Plan (IGP) that would indicate major access roads including all master plan, zonal plan and any local or revenue roads.
While this would be helpful, since the policy is yet to be notified, these developments have not taken place at all.
Rana said, “DDA has no vision for the policy. I have written multiple times to DDA through all media – Twitter, Facebook, and on paper. I have even visited their office to ask them to demarcate the Gram Sabha lands and let us know their future plans for them. They need to act fast because water bodies have slowly been encroached upon by people.”
Rana claimed that agricultural lands are sold off to local property dealers and are converted into illegal colonies.
Showing us illegal encroachments that have been taking place around the Bakhtawarpur village pond, Rana said the Department of Irrigation and Flood Control had been constructing a boundary but the DDA stepped in to stop the work as land is under their control.
“Due to incomplete construction, water from the village pond flowed into the nearby fields. During the time of COVID-19, we spent around Rs 10 lakhs to create a bund to stop water from entering the fields. A temple has come up by the pond now. If one challenges this unauthorised construction, then the issue of religion comes in,” he said.
Though Clause 4.7 of the proposed policy talks about on-site trapping of storm water through rainwater harvesting and unlined storage ponds, the existing village ponds are slowly disappearing to encroachments and ill-planned development.
Construction over water bodies also flouts Supreme Court orders and green norms.
Citing an example from Bakhtawarpur, Rana said that when villagers complained against the construction of an old-age home over a water body, the authorities decided to demolish it. “
“It is the taxpayers’ money that is being wasted due to poor planning and decision making by development authorities,” he said.
Rana’s father talked about the dairy business they used to run in the village.
“In 1972, we started our dairy business on a plot of around 2000 yard. We had around 25-30 buffaloes and we used to supply milk in Delhi in areas like Jain Colony and Pratap Bagh. We used to sell milk for Rs 2.5 or 3 per litre. The buffalo was for Rs 1200-1300 each. Such was the scale of production and supply that government even installed a 100-feet-tall gobar gas plant in the adjacent plot to produce gas,” Rana’s father said.
However, now, the business is not attractive any more he said. The government has also stopped providing support and current policy favours land owners, he feels.
The road leading to Bakhtawarpur village – GT Karnal Road – has already seen the construction of lot of farmhouses, even before the policy is notified.
Villagers feel that only those whose lands are located on the main road have benefitted. There is little infrastructure or accessibility for those wishing to develop slightly remote agricultural land into farmhouses.
Ever since the policy is announced, the private sector has shown interest in purchasing land from farmers at minimal prices and has been creating land banks under the guise of trusts, housing societies, and other organisations. A study of landownership in Bakhtawarpur by CYCLE organisation [which one of the authors of the article heads] reveals that out of total 1446 acres, more than 50% of farmland has already been sold by native villagers.
The remaining land ownership is thus: 797 people have 0-0.5 acres, 191 people have 0.5-1 acres, and 178 people have 1-2 acres and except very few, many villagers hold no land.
The division of land among subsequent generations of a family will further reduce the share in these landownership categories. Many are also desperate to sell land to tide over financial necessities.
Lack of employment opportunities, meagre income from agricultural lands and continuous delay in implementation of key policies is further leading to non-inclusion of villagers.
Vipul Kumar is an urban policy and governance graduate student from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Paras Tyagi is president of Centre for Youth Culture Law and Environment (CYCLE), a Delhi based non-profit organisation.