Urban poor: New Delhi slum dwellers to win property rights

New law will give more than 4 million residents ownership rights, but critics say such promises have been made before.

    Having ownership rights would protect about four million people in New Delhi's slums from the constant threat of eviction [File: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]
    Having ownership rights would protect about four million people in New Delhi's slums from the constant threat of eviction [File: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

    Almost 2,000 informal settlements in New Delhi are set to be legalised under a new law agreed by the government this week, which ministers said would give more than four million residents the right to own their homes in the Indian capital.

    India's cabinet this week passed a bill to regularise 1,797 unauthorised slums in the country's most populous city, giving residents ownership rights at "minimal rates" that would enable them to build and sell properties and take loans.

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    Mapping is to begin shortly, according to a statement from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, with the bill due to be presented for passage during the next session of Parliament from mid-November.

    "It will transform the lives of more than 40 lakh [four million] residents who came to Delhi in search of a better life and livelihood but were forced to live in squalor," said Housing Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.

    "Besides providing a legitimate claim to the property, the decision will encourage property holders to invest in safe structures, thereby improving living conditions in these colonies substantially," he said at a press briefing this week.

    The plan to regularise New Delhi's unauthorised settlements had been floated for more than a decade. Earlier this year, the Delhi state government said it would study about 1,700 such settlements and consider a plan to legalise them.

    Most inhabitants are migrant workers from other parts of India who cannot afford regular housing in the city of more than 18 million people.

    Authorities have built roads and drains in some settlements, but many lack basic facilities and residents face the constant threat of eviction, according to housing rights activists.

    Under the proposed law, authorities will map the boundaries of the slum areas, and prepare a plan. Residents will have to provide basic documentation and pay a nominal charge to register their property and receive the title, Puri said.

    "It will pave the way for incentivised planned urbanisation, and transform urban squalor into modern urban spaces with modern amenities. Work will start immediately," he said.

    Past promises

    Worldwide, about one billion people live in slums and informal settlements. By 2030, three billion people will lack access to adequate and affordable housing, according to UN-Habitat, the United Nations' settlements agency.

    Regularising New Delhi's unauthorised colonies has been a campaign promise of many political parties, and this week's announcement comes months ahead of a local election that must be held by February next year.

    Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the federal government had declined to act on the city's earlier proposal for legalising informal settlements.

    "While welcome and urgently required, the announcement to regularise 'unauthorised' colonies has been made so many times without being implemented, that it is unclear what it means," said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director, Housing and Land Rights Network, a non-profit in New Delhi.

    The regularisation process must be an inclusive one that does not exclude people on account of faulty surveys, minor technicalities, or their inability to pay, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

    "It must ensure equal access to basic services, adequate housing, and protection from demolition and eviction."

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency