Our flat design outdated, DDA vice-chairman says

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NEW DELHI: Balvinder Kumar, IAS, who recently took over as vice-chairman of Delhi Development Authority, was at apex of Noida Authority during the land acquisition row. He spoke to Suhas Munshi on priorities.

How is your new assignment different from the one at Noida and what are your priorities?

Some problems are the same, like the issue of addressing public grievances. Because of the nature of the organizations, there’s a huge public grievance, and in both cases a system to redress these grievances is missing. Perhaps our environment has so far not been conducive to hearing out complaints against our departments. One other complaint that I’ve heard being made in both offices is that of updating of accounts. In Noida as well as in Delhi, people complain of inordinate delays because their information isn’t readily available in the departments. In DDA I’ve found there are 3500 applications of people wishing to change their properties from leasehold to freehold pending. Were our accounts properly compiled and updated, this should’ve been a job of 10-12 days. Thirdly farmers in both states have complained of not getting the market price for their lands and so in some cases our projects are getting delayed because of the disagreements arising from this. We’re trying to reach out to them to resolve these issues as well. Therefore, my priorities lie in making the necessary structural and functional changes to meet people’s ever-growing expectations. One major difference between the two organisations is the scope and size of the projects. The quantum of work is much bigger at DDA.

Inordinate delays and poor quality work have been giving DDA a bad name. What do you think is fundamentally wrong with the organization ? Is it work culture?

DDA missed deadlines of delivery in the past due to a variety of reasons – be it the contractors’ failure, non-availability of land for providing critical infrastructure like trunk sewer lines or laying of roads. On the other hand, DDA housing has been valued essentially for its price competitiveness which meets the requirements of ordinary citizens, who cannot afford private housing. As far as quality of construction is concerned, DDA does have third party quality inspection. We have a penalty clause in our contracts to punish the contractors who delay projects and these penalty clauses have been invoked by us time to time. But I’d also admit that the cause of delays lies within the authority too.

Will housing remain one of the core areas of DDA’s functioning and how will the organization deal with the changing realities of the housing market?

Along with housing, our priority is also to build supporting infrastructure – these two are our biggest priorities. Most of our projects were conceived long ago. We had designed our houses according to the standards of those times, but now seeing the sort of designs that private builders have brought in, it seems that we’ve not kept pace with them. I think we must update our designing and architecture of the constructions , and we will do it.

Even the infrastructure projects have been suffering because of delays. The Sarita Vihar underpass has been in the making for ages and the roads there are in a terrible condition. People feel frustrated.

The Sarita Vihar project was delayed primarily because several key public services passing through the area had to be shifted and also because we got the required clearance from the railway ministry quite late. We are focused on the project and are hopeful of completing it by August 2014.

Why is the master plan review process taking so long? When do you think the new master plan will be out? Don’t you think this defeats the very objective of planned growth?

We are reviewing Master Plan 2021 since 2007 and have been working to bring it up to the satisfaction of most of the stakeholders. The drafting and fina lising of the master plan involves public consultation which is a process that takes time. Lately, we’ve also been involved in the process of adding two more chapters to the MPD, on environment and transportation, besides a chapter on land pooling. The whole process of finalizing MPD should take about three to four months for completion.

The land pooling policy was a part of the last master plan and we are still spelling it out. Some real estate experts feel it could have been more transparent, for example, on valuation of land and the environmental or infrastructural impact of pooling on neighbourhood areas.

So far we have been involved in formulating the policy and detailed guidelines for implementing it. Now we will properly concentrate on the drafting of the policy. At the time of drafting the policy, we’ll take care to ensure maximum transparency and frame a policy that is citizen and, importantly, farmer centric.

Some experts are warning against DDA’s move to allow expansion by increasing the permissible FAR, warning it will put pressure on existing infrastructure, including roads.

The extra FAR will only add 20% to 25% occupancy in the hotels that already have a good infrastructure. We have been careful enough in allowing extra FAR without relaxing parking norms. I don’t think this is going to have any impact on either the existing resources or the environment. Besides, the tourism sector is important for the Indian economy. So the issue of shortage of rooms in the capital is a question that needs to be addressed immediately.

A huge tent mafia has occupied wedding venues across Delhi in collusion with DDA staff and all efforts to break the nexus have failed. We are getting many complaints about perpetual unavailability of marriage venues. What do you propose to do about it?

From parking to booking tents, we will carry out our process online for a fair and transparent system. For this reason, I think we have mitigated chances of corruption and of collusion between any party and DDA officials. If however some agency is found to have permanently booked the venues, we take necessary steps to act against them as well.

DDA had announced monitoring of land encroachment through real-time mapping but what steps is it taking to remove existing encroachments on 4780 acres of its land?

I confess that a large chunk of land has been encroached upon in Delhi and it’s one of the more serious problems we’re facing. According to our information, there are encroachments on about 1500 acres. These are of two kinds – one where people started settling down and slowly communities flourished over a decade or more, which is trickier to deal with, and temporary encroachments by people constructing jhuggis. To deal with the latter we have an enforcement cell. We are also working to video-graphing our area to check encroachments in real-time with help of GSDL (Geospatial Data Limited) to get real-time information about encroachments on our land by superimposing high-resolution satellite images on our khasra maps.

There have been complaints that DDA’s sports complexes are often in the grip of private interests who dictate terms to the users. Will you do anything about it?

Our job is to maintain the complexes and appoint coaches. We try to run the complexes without bias and for general public use. There have been some concerns voiced over the appointment of coaches being opaque to the public which we are going to address shortly. A committee was recently constituted to frame guidelines for the appointment of coaches. We are going to take a look at this and appoint coaches only according to the revised guidelines. We will ensure that from now on these recruitments, along with the general functioning of the complexes, is done in a transparent manner.

How do you think the public interface with officials can be improved?

Our public mechanisms will improve only when we have transparent, computerised systems in place. I’m trying to make a difference by computerising the process of changing properties from leasehold to freehold. As soon as we get our accounts reconciled and computerised , which should happen shortly, we will be able to process the lease-hold to free-hold applications within 15 days, which as of now happens in 45 days. Our focus will be to reduce the interface between public and DDA and to bring process online.

Is there going to be a regular focus on commercial centres and marketplaces developed by DDA? As of now, many have gone to seed with encroachments , fire hazards and occupied parkings.

It is true that marketplaces and local convenience stores have been allotted by DDA. But these areas have been transferred to municipal corporations who charge them property tax and parking tax but don’t maintain these commercial centres saying that they belong to DDA. I have had meetings with representatives of various market associations to understand their issues and am trying to meet senior officials from the three corporations to find solutions.



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