by Priyanka Kureel, B. Planning, SPA Delhi
Urban villages are an integral part of an urban environment in Indian context, especially in the city of Delhi which has a strong historical background. One such village is Kotla Mubarakpur, located in sub-zone D-20 in Delhi. The urban village is in existence since 1500 AD, currently having a population of around 47,000 persons. It is further divided into smaller pockets namely Kotla(main), Aliganj, Pilanji, Sukhdev Nagar, Bhola Nagar, Wazir Nagar, Jood Bagh, and Arjun Nagar. While Kotla (main) is the oldest part of the village, Wazir Nagar and Bhola Nagar are relatively new, established around independence. The village enjoys a central location in south Delhi, adjacent to colonies like Kidwai Nagar, INA, South Ex and Defense colony and is well connected to the rest of the city via ring road. Like most of the urban villages, nothing village like is left in it. It has become a prominent market for timber, plywood and building materials at a city level, although it has local level but distinct markets of grocery, jewelry, readymade clothes, electrical items etc and. Also, like most of the urban villages it is characterized by lack of space, haphazard built form, lack of proper infrastructure and over commercialization.
The story of Kotla Mubarakpur is not entirely different from other urban villages in Delhi. In the year 1908-09, the revenue department demarcated the village abadi areas i.e. habitable area as “Lal Dora” for agricultural purposes as lands falling within the Lal Dora were not assessed to land revenue, only agricultural fields were subject to it. Post-independence, Kotla Mubarakpur like other villages falling in the way of city expansion, was devoid of its agricultural lands for the sake of urbanization and the separated “Lal Dora” was notified as “urban village” in 1957. This area was exempted from municipal building bye laws or zoning regulations as it was done in the British period. Today the concept of “Lal Dora” is done away with, but the implementation of those regulations in the villages has been ignored till date.
The development of the city has overlooked the development of these areas whereas they have always played a cooperative role in the growth and urbanization of the city. When the high profile colonies like South Ex and Defense Colonies were being developed, some shops of building materials and timber in Kotla Mubarakpur came up. These shops were supported by the rapid urbanization of the city and today it supplies timber, plywood, and building material to the whole of Delhi as well as NCR. Not only that, most of the people who work in the shops in posh markets of Defense Colony and South Extension, who work in Nehru Place, the IT hub of Delhi, live in the cramming streets of Kotla Mubarakpur. These workers are probably immigrants from small towns who cannot afford to have a house of their own and live on rent in a one bedroom flat in a five-storied building having ground floor as a general store, as these urban villages provides properties at low rents. This simple land economics results in high density, poor infrastructure and lack of amenities creating chaotic living conditions. Moreover, Master Plan of Delhi 2021, due to lack of space, talks about reduced space standards for social and educational facilities in the villages, which further reduces any scope of even providing them.
It is a common perception that the living condition of people in urban villages in no different than slums. Most people, who haven’t looked closely at an urban village, judging only by the physical conditions, think that a majority of lower income groups resides there. But the truth is, as it was observed in Kotla Mubarakpur, that the land owners have all the luxuries as they are earning high by giving their shop or a floor on rent. The tenants are relatively of lower economic background but are capable enough to pay their rents. Therefore urban villages in any case cannot be compared to slums. People living here generate equal demand for social and educational facilities and thus should be provided so. But due to space shortage and haphazard built, it becomes extremely difficult.
The problem of lack of space and haphazard building conditions has probably gotten worse due to the sudden transformation in the regulations. Initially the villages were not required to follow any regulations related to BBL and zoning, but with a notification of April, 2011, perhaps for the sake of integration, all of the building control norms like number of dwelling units, FAR, height of building, basement and other such conditions were applicable according to the norms given in Master Plan for Delhi 2021, except that full ground coverage was allowed. No check over the building intensity, no specific rules about setbacks, building heights and parking standards were made. It was found that in order to have a greater income, people increase a floor in the building to adjust more tenants, and as more rent comes, it gives way to an additional floor. Building as high as G+5 floors can be seen standing by a road as wide as 3 meters. On top of that, the building plans are also not being approved in the villages before the construction, as according to the same notification, building plans in village abadis (also for special area and Unauthorized regularized colonies) will be considered only for the plots which form part of approved/ notified layout plan of the area by the competent authority. And most of the villages including Kotla do not have a proper layout plan as the responsibility of preparing one and getting it approved is left upon to the residents. Almost no building plan is approved and this makes the matter even worse as disaster related risks increase manifolds.
Masterplan has a provision for mixed use and other activity like pre-primary school, nursing home, banks etc. in urban villages. It has both benefits and adverse effects on the living conditions in the village. On one hand, it is important for the economic viability of the village but on the other hand, lack of check and control leads to encroachments, congestion and even increased risk of disaster. According to the mixed use regulation, small shops are permissible in the residential plot on ground floor and some activities like automobile repair, crackers shop and other hazardous activities are not allowed. But they are functioning; a large number of highly furnished three-storied electrical and sanitary item showrooms, numerous cracker shops, automobile garage, warehouses etc., are running in the relatively interior streets of Kotla as well and are posing a risk every day for the inhabitants of village. Masterplan also emphasizes on land pooling in the villages so that the private developers can buy some plots and develop that portion of land into a small housing society where some facilities like open space and parking space could be shared. But this has not started to happen so far. One reason is that private developers, even though the land is far less priced, do not see any profit in developing an area amidst the narrow streets and lack of proper access. There are no special provisions for developing a part of land in a village, for example higher number of permitted dwelling units per unit area, which could attract these developers. The other reason could be the resistance from the village community itself.
Talking to the residents of the village, it was found that the old systems of governance still persist in the village, but outside any formal system. Although there is no formal panchayat system in existence, the original community of the village, Basoya community has a strong influence. Members of this community generally form the pradhans or headmen and village elders still form a sort of local governance system. These key people still settle nonrevenue social disputes and collect money from old households and run the Chaupal. Some of them also have significant political connections, even the former MLA, Neeraj Basoya of Kasturba Nagar Delhi Assembly lives in Kotla Mubarakpur. The leaders of this community have a say in a lot of matters regarding the functioning of the village. They would not let private parties come and acquire the village land. Also few of the families have been living in the village since the very beginning. They generally live in joint families and most of them have established their small or large businesses there and depends upon the village itself for their livelihood. Furthermore, they have grown a sense of attachment with the village and thus are not willing to sell their land.
Thus it was observed that economic as well as social forces play an important role in shaping of Kotla Mubarakpur and other such villages in Delhi. If these dynamics of functioning of urban villages in Delhi are taken into contemplation while framing policies for them, perhaps they could be made more livable.