Illegal Colonies: Town planners’ Nightmare.......by Pushpinder Singh Gill
Monsoons are supposed to bring a sense of hope and cheers to our farmers, who are looking forward to it to end their sowing woes and hope for a bumper crop. These rains also bring out some inadequacies in our drainage department and even a day of showers can bring a bustling city to its knees with colonies flooded with rain water and no respite in sight.
It is a common sight with media crews asking the angry residents about how disgusted they are with the government’s apathy, even people chanting anti-government slogans but nobody raises the most basic and pertinent question which should have been the first on a reporter’s lips: is your colony regularized? is it government-approved?
The state has a specific law “The Punjab apartment and property regulation act 1995” which deals with all the regulatory requirements and permissions required for any property to be developed in the state. Housing and urban development department under the state government is the statuary body that oversees the implementation of these laws.
This department is further strengthened by several regulatory development bodies which have operational control over different parts of the state. These bodies come under the Punjab Urban development authority (PUDA) and are namely Greater Mohali area development authority (GMADA), Greater Ludhiana area development authority (GLADA), Jallandhar development authority (JDA), Amritsar development authority (ADA), Bathinda development authority (BDA) and Patiala development authority (PTA).
The problem is that even after having such a vast network of institutions and manpower which is dedicated only and specifically to this aspect of urban development, only about 1000 to 1200 colonies have come up in the state which are completely regularized as per the state norms.
In the last twenty-seven years since this law has come into force, only 638 colonies outside the municipal limits and a roughly similar number inside the municipal limits whereas more than twenty times or 20000 plus colonies have come up in the state.
To make the concept of regularized and unlicensed clear to our readers,let me state that for a developer to be given the license to start developing a colony certain conditions have to be fulfilled by the promoter before he is allowed to sell the plots or apartments.
From providing the deed details of land duly attested by an attorney at law with at least seven years’ experience to providing proper street lights,wide roads, sewerage, common area for children to play or park for the community it is ensured by the law that the people who buy property do not suffer afterward. But what happens, in reality, is the opposite where big investors in collusion with politicians and the employees of these development bodies turn a blind eye to all the rules and regulations and dupe the people.
Why I have made such a statement is because it is not possible for anybody to cut a colony in broad daylight without the necessary permissions and get away by even selling the plots without anyone raising an eyebrow. Whereas if a vegetable vendor parks a vehicle to sell his/her wares in the PUDA property, there will be an employee of the body warning him to remove the vehicle or face action in a day. These very employees do not find or notice construction activity taking place where scores of houses are constructed in illegal colonies.
Why I say that this is not possible without the nexus between politicians, builders and government officers because since the last twenty-seven years not even a single government official has been brought to the task or held accountable for these 2000+ illegal colonies that have sprung up in our state. Whereas politicians across the spectrum have brought many schemes from 2013 to 2018 to regularize these unauthorized colonies. Here also an instance comes to mind of Navjot Singh Sidhu, when he was a minister of local bodies in the congress government, he refused to agree to the regularization of some colonies of Jallandhar.
He was forced to resign from the cabinet within a month of this dispute and the colonies were regularized soon after. But the magnitude of this problem is so huge that despite many schemes from 2013 to 2018 only 6662 out of the 20000 applied for regularization and 3,80912 individuals applied for their plots to be regularized. So, imagine the big boys who buy the land at prices in acres and then sell it at the prices of per square feet and earn crores and crores before vanishing, leaving the people who have invested their life savings in their dream homes.
I cannot say that these are innocent people who are not aware of anything but have invested in these colonies because they prefer to get the plots at a cheaper rate than the colonies which are regularized and offer all facilities.
The development fees for different cities in Punjab are Rs. 30 lakh per acre for Ludhiana, Rs. 25 lakh per acre for Jallandhar and Rs. 18 lakhs for Amritsar and Patiala. Instead of these charges the government provides the colony with metaled roads, street lights, sewerage facilities and open spaces for parks and community halls. For all practical purposes the developers want to sell whatever land they can in form of plots to maximize profits, thus leaving less space for roads and no open spaces at all.
This leads to people constructing houses at whatever levels they find suitable and the extended ramps blocking the already narrow lanes. The haphazard growth of these colonies blocks the natural gateways for water drainage resulting in the flooding of houses during monsoons.
Since these colonies are often on the outskirts of cities the ring roads and bypass constructed are often laid at a higher side due to the leveling of new constructions causing the dam-like construction around the already existing approved colonies ensuring them to be flooded as well. These illegal colonies are causing the existing cities to bear the same setoff problem even when they have paid for all the basic services.
The extent of damage is more visible in the GMADA area where numerous apartment complexes and colonies have blocked all the natural gateways of drainage waters. Even the rivulets and barsati nallas have been overrun and multistory buildings have come up. Now every day when even there is a rainfall for even an hour or so the residents of Mohali, Kharar and other adjoining areas are flooded and water enters their homes. Rivulets like Patiala Ki Rao are the ones that used to drain the rainwaters but now are nonexistent due to illegal construction.
Even when these problems are highlighted the courts will order for the demolition of such colonies causing the general population to bear the losses while no official of governing bodies or builders will be punished for this serious offense.
Why are they not held accountable for the criminal offense they have committed? It is not that this crime was committed inside a locked room hidden from public view that it could not have been detected but on the contrary, this crime was committed in broad daylight in front of all officials and even advertised by installing big hoardings.
While I have tried to give an example of GMADA to highlight the plight of people but the situation is more or less similar in the entire state. The trend of politicians trying to regularize these colonies to get the votes of their residents have encouraged the builders and people alike to flout the laws because they know someday the colony will get regularized but the havoc it is causing to the planned cities and people, in general, is something which needs to be understood at the earliest otherwise all of us will suffer the consequences of flooding in every monsoon.
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