Dhamaal Growth

NIDHI JAMWAL wonders what happened after Gurgaon got colonyfied

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

Dhamaal Growth

-- At one point in the epic Mahabharata, the pandavs and kauravs go to warfare school. Amid thick forests, they train hard. Then, the time comes when they must leave. Yudhister, the eldest pandav, gifts the space as guru dakshina to his guru, Dronacharya.

In time, there came up a town appropriately called: Gurugram. Today, it's called Gurgaon. A water tank in Dronacharya's name still exists there. It's an extremely dilapidated link to an episode in an epic tale. And all around it, it is loudly announced that Gurgaon has fast-forwarded into the 21st century.

Growth has been a "dhamaal" in Gurgaon. State government and private developers became partners. Hand-in-hand (glove, too) they promised the "valuable" and "modern" consumer "a huge leap forward", "an altogether different experience":

Item: 24-hour electricity, "spacious" accommodation, modular Italian kitchen, non-modular American furniture, 24-hour running water, bar (with club and swimming pool, also banquet hall for "private parties"), "conference possible", hectares of office space, jogging track, 24-hour security, "soothing" greenery, gymnasium, peace.

Item: Choked sewers, plummeting groundwater, diesel fumes, noisy gensets, and traffic jams.

Millennium city, India's Singapore, Nirvana Country. What happened after Gurgaon got colonyfied? Why have private colonyfiers washed their hands off the city's problems? What's with this apparently booming model of city planning and urban development?

Progress INC

-- Gurgaon is in Haryana state, about 32 kilometres away from Delhi. It's a satellite town in the Capital's orbit. Between 1961 and 2001, it grew like a cancer cell. Only look at the population: a paltry 37,868 in 1961 to 1.15 million in 1991 to 1.66 million in 2001. Estimates project it might touch 4-5 million by 2020.

Gurgaon is divided into two -- old Gurgaon (municipal limit area), and the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) area. The latter further comprises HUDA sectors and industrial hub Udyog Vihar. The real work of formal private sector development -- better to call it colonyfication -- started after the Haryana Development and Regulation of Urban Areas Act was passed in 1975. The objective of the Act was to provide developed land and housing at a faster pace. This was possible by channelising non-government resources into urban enhancement: private sector involvement was to be the agency of urbanisation. Under this act, HUDA was set up in 1977.

Haryana became the first state of the country to adopt a policy on public-private partnership for urban development. The strategy was two-pronged: either HUDA acquired land and developed it; or private colonyfiers would be issued licenses to do the same. "In the case of Gurgaon, private colonisers were given licenses to acquire land and develop it. Although there were some problems, such as local people not agreeing to part with their land, the scheme more or less worked," says R R Singh, executive director of New Delhi-based National Real Estate Development Council.

The process got a fillip in the early 1980s, when industrial/commercial houses began trickling in, to make the most of what HUDA was offering. Real estate developers came too: 26 builders were in full swing by the mid-1990s. They built sleek glass-fronted edifices to tempt business houses. Many gave in. Pepsi, GE Capital, Flour Daniel India Pvt Ltd and others moved from Delhi to DLF Corporate Park in 1997. "A main reason for these corporate houses to shift from Delhi to Gurgaon was availability of free hold land. At that time the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976, was applicable in Delhi. As per this Act, no one could own plots more than a certain size so as to prevent concentration of urban land in a few hands. The situation in Gurgaon was contrary. The Haryana government was inviting private colonisers and providing free hold plots," informs V K Dhar, faculty at the New Delhi-based National Institute of Urban Affairs, a body under the aegis of the Union ministry of urban development and poverty alleviation.

New Delhi-based urban planner, Gita Dewan Verma, says that whereas the intent behind the state government's housing policy was sound -- meeting housing needs by accelerating land assembly in all urban areas of the state -- the private colonisers confined their partnership to swanky development near Delhi. Subsequent planning for Gurgaon has been determined by this distortion rather than by sensible considerations like carrying capacity constraints, or regional development imperatives.

In a similar direction went the good intent of the National Capital Regional Planning Board (NCRPB), set up in 1985. NCRPB formulated a Regional Plan-2001 for the national capital region in 1989. This plan aimed at "reducing the pressure of population on Delhi by deflecting 20 lakh population and attaining a balanced and harmonised development of NCR, in an inter-state region consisting of national capital territory Delhi, six districts of Haryana, three districts of Uttar Pradesh and part of Alwar district of Rajasthan covering an area of 30,242 sq km". Projects were floated to resuscitate Delhi.

So now, Gurgaon's suffocating
Verma claims Gurgaon has been developed in disregard of statutory plan provisions. "The 1962 master plan of Delhi made explicit proposals for all six ring towns. Whereas for Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Narela and Loni it recommended six to ten-fold growth during 1951-81, for Gurgaon and Bahadurgarh it proposed modest growth due to constrained water sources. Subsequently, in its Delhi Metropolitan Area Plan, NCRPB also flagged brisk development in Gurgaon as a cause for environmental concern. In detailing out the state policy for opening up land development to private colonizers, however, these provisions were disregarded."

Accepts A K Bhatia, senior scientist with the Chandigarh office of Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), "Keeping in mind the scarce water resources, the decision to develop Gurgaon in the present manner was wrong." But from 1981 onwards, HUDA along with the town and country planning office (TCPO) has been issuing licenses to private colonisers to acquire land. These colonisers apply to HUDA for a license, which is granted to them after they pay a certain fee. (According to Dinesh Chauhan, Gurgaon's district town and country planner, the fee structure is Rs 2.47 lakh per hectare (ha) for residential, Rs 3.09 lakh per ha for group housing, and Rs 12.36 lakh per ha for commercial. The first time license is valid for three years, after which it needs to be renewed every two years.)

Armed with the license, the developer directly approaches farmers/land owners to acquire land. It then prepares a land use plan with the help of his own planners. This plan is sent to TCPO for approval. And, according to a senior HUDA official, most times such a plan gets approved without TCPO officials actually visiting the site. The result? Plans on paper are often different from the ground reality (see section: Right of passage?).

Certain clauses
The license issued contains certain clauses private colonisers are expected to follow. The major infrastructure responsibilities -- main water supply pipeline, trunk sewer lines, storm water drains, horticulture, main roads -- lie with HUDA. Developing infrastructure in a coloniser's plots is the responsibility of the coloniser. To develop such basic infrastructure, HUDA charges what is known as the external development charges (EDC), a one-time cost.

The contract has another important clause. Informs Dhar, "As per the contract between HUDA and coloniser, 45 per cent of the total plots need to be carved for economically weaker sections (EWS) of the society. Out of this 45 per cent, 20 per cent should be EWS plots with a size of about 50 square metres (sq m). The rest 25 per cent should be sold by the builder at no profit no loss (NPNL) basis. The colonisers are free to dispose off the balance 55 per cent to the general public." But smartly enough, most colonisers have found ways around this clause. Even the EWS plots finally end up with the rich.

Also, informs Pankaj Kumra, superintending engineer, HUDA, "We have ensured that colonisers do not face any bureaucratic delays. At the time of applying for license, these colonisers also apply to us for clearance of water, sewerage, electricity and siting. And within a few days they get it all from HUDA." In effect, colonisers have quickly settled into a comfortable form of profiteering.

Busy developing
DLF was the first company to get this license in the early 1980s. On its footsteps came other colonyfiers: Ansals, Unitech, Omaxe. "We decided to start business in Gurgaon because of its proximity to Delhi and also because it was one of the best satellite towns," says Ashok Dalwani, former senior general manager of Ansals. At present more than 60 colonyfiers are active in Gurgaon, but the lion's share remains with DLF, followed by Ansals and Unitech (see table: They came).

They came
They saw, they colonyfied
Agency/Coloniser Area
(in hectares)
Haryana Urban Development Authority 4434.56
DLF 951.01
Ansals 591.85
Unitech 298.38
Sarda Plywood Industries 49.23
New Delhi Hotel Ltd 9.66
Note: Since August 2000, about 20 ha of more area has been acquired by private colonisers
Source: Town and country planning office 2000, August, Gurgaon.
Share aside, the burst of development these colonyfiers instituted has led to, at root, escalating land prices. In 1966, HUDA paid a paltry Rs 2 per sq m to farmers for acquiring their fields. This increased to Rs 25 per sq m by 1986, and present costs are estimated to be as high as Rs 2,200 per sq m. And this is the cost for HUDA. The cost for private colonisers is still very high. Explains S K Ralli of New Delhi-based Ralli Estate Pvt Ltd, " HUDA acquires land through a government ordinance, which is why the cost of land is cheap. Take the case of private colonisers. The cost of land for residential purpose in Sushant Lok colony of Gurgaon is about Rs 9,600 per sq m. Compare this with Greater Kailash in Delhi, which is between Rs 48,000 per sq m. This explains the rush to shift to Gurgaon."

A dream has been sold
Gurgaon was sold as a dream. " Building better tomorrow, today" is a DLF slogan. "Our homes, your dreams. Our offices, your success " is Unitech's promise. These dream merchants claim to have helped people realise their dream of bringing Singapore to India by developing NRI cities. Singh claims colonisers made possible what State agencies could never achieve. "The model of public-private partnership is ideal. Private sector makes the investment in developing the area and public sector creates the basic infrastructure. It is the private sector which takes the risk." But what is often not mentioned is that the private sector takes a risk when it knows it can make huge profits. And when push comes to shove, it points fingers at government agencies.

This is exactly what is happening in present day Gurgaon. Whereas initially, both public and private parties jointly decided to 'develop' Gurgaon, today the basic infrastructure mess is being solely attributed to HUDA. "The colonisers were part of policy formulation in this public-private partnership model and so had partnership responsibilities for minding and refining it as they went about their business. They have profited from and taken credit for development of Gurgaon. They can wash their hands off its problems only at risk to their credibility as competent and responsible partners in development," says Verma.

These colonisers are not keeping any stone unturned to prove that HUDA is at fault. "How can DLF say that only 10 per cent of their area is covered under water supply project? We have already covered 90 per cent area. The only portion, which remains is the Qutab Enclave, built way back in 1980s at an elevation up the Aravalli Hills. At that time DLF was supplying groundwater, as water table was good. Today, when DLF has sucked out all the water, we are facing difficulty in pumping water up the elevation," says Kumra (see interview on first page: "Infrastructure is quite bad").

Right of passage?


-- Verma says that EDC can hardly be sole parameter for infrastructure capability. "Even if Rs 740 crore EDC were to be sufficient to develop the entire peripheral infrastructure in Gurgaon, which seems unlikely, it could not buy or bring water, since there isn't any that the state can buy or bring. As partners in development, private colonisers can't first disregard an obvious development constraint with abandon and then expect the state to do the impossible by paying it some EDC." Quite right. In early 1980s, these colonisers had hundreds of private borewells and were drawing water free of cost. Today the water table has fallen down to 40 metres below the ground level.

Gurgaon depends heavily on groundwater to meet its drinking water needs. According to the Central Ground Water Board, the present total water supply is 2,100 cubic metre per day, 70 per cent of this is met through groundwater. Two agencies supply drinking water -- the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) and HUDA. But because they have failed to do so in many new colonies, private colonyfiers have ripped into the aquifers.

Shockingly, there's no data on how many borewells function here, or how much groundwater is being sucked out. HUDA officials also have no clue of the number of borewells operating in Gurgaon. They quote borewell numbers from anywhere between 80 and 120. But after speaking with RWAs, Down To Earth correspondents realised that DLF alone has 58 borewells, and Ansals about 50: 108 borewells alone are with just two private colonisers!

No wonder, then
No wonder, then, the water table is falling at a rate of 1-1.2 metres annually, plummeting by 16 metres in the last 20 years, informs Bhatia. According to S K Gupta, executive engineer of HUDA, the groundwater table in Gurgaon has fallen from 12-15 m in 1986 to 35-40 m. According to Bhatia, once the water table goes down to 200 m, there will be no water left, only rocks. All indications are that the rate will become more alarming.

This isn't mere prediction. Shopping malls, too, are into heavy-duty extraction. The Sahara Mall of the Sahara India Group has two private borewells and extracts 100,000 litres of water per day. Authorities claim that the mall has a sewage treatment plant of capacity 30,000 litres per day, but refused to show it.

The alarming drop in Gurgaon's water table woke up the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA), under the Union ministry for water resources. In December 2000, it issued directions under section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986: "no person/organization/agency (govt or non-govt) shall undertake the operation of drilling, construction, installation of any structure and any scheme/project of ground water development & management in Gurgaon Town and its adjoining industrial area, without prior specific approval of the Authority." It also directed authorities to register all existing groundwater abstraction structures. Between 2.7.2001 to 31.10.2001, the authority had registered 8,500 such structures. According to Bhatia, at present, about 9,140 borewells are registered with CGWB, but this is just 50 per cent of the total numbers. He claims that there should be close to 18,000 borewells operating in Gurgaon district as of now.

Private colonisers hire contractors, who in turn hire wastepickers on an eight hours daily basis. These wastepickers collect door-to-door in a trolley. And, as the UNDP pre-feasibility report points, "the waste thus collected is disposed off in any open land or dumping yard outside the private developer area". V K Jain of sector-14, has felt the effect of indiscriminate dumping. "Some time back the state government said that it has found a site near old Faridabad to dump waste, but nothing has moved on that front. Leachate from all this open waste might be reaching the groundwater, polluting it." But private colonisers claim waste management should not be their responsibility. "It is government which should set up a municipality for new Gurgaon and run waste management. Why should private companies be penalised for it?" says Dalwani, clearly forgetting is that developers were also a part of the model when it was thought up. Why were these issues not looked into? Why did the colonisers build plush colonies without thinking of waste management?

The Gurgaon portion of the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road handles over 0.19 million passenger car units (PCUs) daily -- by conservative estimate -- as against the capacity of 40,000 PCUs. This was pointed out in the UNDP's feasibility report. The traffic load has had its effect. Points out that report: "with the spillage of Delhi's population, shifting of large corporate houses and industries and growth of private developers in recent years - Gurgaon has experienced a deteriorating air quality...".

Residents also complain about poor public transportation. "The transport system is unfriendly and crippling. People who do not have their own conveyance, have to depend on expensive options like taxis, or unsafe cycle rickshaws. Or are compelled to buy a car. An efficient transport system will reduce vehicular pollution, as people will rely on public transport," S K Khashu, a resident of South City I, Gurgaon.

Another one bites the dust
Power supply, too, is a major hiccup. Every month, 15-20 commercial/industrial and 300 residential connections are released. The demand is rising at 15-20 per cent per month, but supply catches up at a snail's pace of 5-7 per cent per month. There are also high transmission and distribution losses -- 22.5 per cent. As expected, colonisers are blaming HUDA for not being able to provide adequate power supply. But HUDA claims that the problem is at the colonisers' end. " DLF laid down its transmission lines in 1980s, when the electricity load was as low as one kilo watt (kw). Then they sold these flats to rich people who use five air conditioners in one house. Obviously load has increased to 40 kw. How can a one kw line take load of 40 kw? We have told DLF to upgrade its transmission lines, but it is not doing so," informs a senior HUDA official.

Due to lack of power supply, both residential and commercial complexes are heavily dependent on diesel gensets. These gensets have now become a nuisance. "Malls are coming up just next to the residential colonies. These malls are open till midnight and use gensets for hours together. It has become impossible to breathe and sleep," complains a resident of Beverly Park II.

Highrise and dry

-- Colonyfiers have realised that fast-track growth will soon overcome Gurgaon. They have begun looking for greener pastures. Right now Greater Noida -- one such pasture -- is hot. Omaxe Construction Ltd is already developing an NRI City in sector 44 there, promoting it as a heaven for non-resident Indians. It is also developing Omaxe-Royal Residency, promoting it on its website thus: "The royalty spells its cast again! Don't you wanna get royal? Live life King size." Experts believe that public-private partnership can be a good model, but if the loopholes are not plugged immediately, Greater Noida will also move the Gurgaon way.

There exists a typical problem with the present model of public-private partnership in urban planning and development. "When private builders construct houses, they tend to do it faster and better than public agencies like Delhi Development Authority. But the problem starts to appear when public agencies fail to keep pace with the growth of the private sector and monitor its progress. The way this sector is growing in Gurgaon, in coming five to seven years, the city will become congested and unsustainable," says Dhar. Singh supports Dhar's argument. "Government machinery has to match the calibre of private sector. And this is a lesson to be learnt."

More importantly, the present model needs to factor in the consumer, the fulcrum of urban planning and development. The biggest lesson is for the state government to learn. It needs to understand that any city, when left open to private colonisers, will turn into a concrete jungle. The state has to be responsible; it must keep pace with the private sector, but also monitor it. Else, Gurgaons will sprout everywhere, and there is only so much dhamaal growth this country can take.

With inputs by Vikas Parashar

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