The unplanned outward expansion of the National Capital Region (NCR) over the last several decades has led to a phenomenon where while within the National Capital Territory-Delhi itself, 97.5 per cent is urbanised, in the rest of the region the extent of urbanisation is as low as 42.5 per cent.
In a recently released research paper, the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Urban Development, has described this process as the peri-urbanisation of the region where much of the population is dispersed in areas without planned infrastructure. The paper points out how over the
last five decades, despite the existence of three master plans for Delhi and two regional plans for NCR, the regions has witnessed an unplanned spatial growth as a border-less city. This has led to peri-urban conditions “characterised by fragmented development, the emergence of gated communities, sudden densification of existing settlements” with “inadequate physical infrastructure, absence of public transport or road connectivity and general lack of physical and social infrastructure”.
Sprawled over 34,000 sq km area, NCR is the country’s largest planning region with a population of 46 million. NCT-Delhi constitutes merely less than 3 per cent of the land area with most the NCR comprising 13 districts in Haryana, seven districts of Uttar Pradesh, and two districts of Rajasthan.
As per Census figures, until 2001, overall NCR has seen an average decadal growth rate of 35 per cent (dropping to 24.1 per cent in 2001-11). In comparison, other urban agglomerations such as Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) with a population of 18 million and the Kolkata Metropolitan Region with a population of 14 million has an average decadal growth of 30 percent and 20 per cent respectively (dropping to 12 per cent and 7 per cent in 2001-11).
Within NCR, from 1951 to 2001, NCT-Delhi has seen a much greater average decadal growth rate of 50 per cent. This is higher than any other urban area in the country (dropping to 21 per cent in 2001-2011). Much of this growth has occurred along the outer areas of the city. The NIUA study points out that merely a third of the population of NCT-Delhi lives in planned areas.
The density varies from as little as 4,000 persons per sq km in the inner core of New Delhi district (Lutyens Delhi) to as high as 36,000 persons per sq km in the North east district. As Delhi expanded outwards, barring a few pockets such as Narela, Rohini and Dwarka, much of the urban sprawl came up in an unplanned manner with a spread of unauthorised colonies, slum settlements and urban villages.
The NCR Planning Board drew up its first Regional Plan (2001) in 1989. It was meant to deflect the population from Delhi, by 2001, through a multi-nodal regional growth pattern. Eleven dispersed growth centres were identified outside of NCT including Noida, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad among several others. However, the study points out the population of NCT -Delhi continued to grow exponentially more than what was planned. Except for Ghaziabad, Rewari and Faridabad, none of the other centres have seen their population growing anywhere close to what was estimated. The report states, “It can therefore be inferred that the planning strategy adopted for forced dispersal of growth into the region has failed to achieve its intention”.
PSN Rao, head of Housing at the School of Planning and Architecture, explains that the idea of NCR emerged in the 1960s but it was never executed with the seriousness it deserved. “When there are three other states involved, politics often comes into play. In the end, the NCR was nobody’s baby,” he said. The steady outward expansion has seen large scale conversions of agricultural land and with land coming cheap, it fueled the growth of speculative real estate. The fragmented nature of urbanisation has also meant that while the Regional Plan 2001 had factored in an addition of 45,291 hectares to accommodate the estimated population growth, in reality the total built-up area increased by more than three times to 2.63 lakh hectares.
This explains the existence of islands of ghost towns in several regions of the NCR. Such pockets are characterized by a great spurt in real estate constructions but lacking in habitation or social or physical infrastructure. Data shows that in most towns of NCR outside of Delhi, the water supply deficit is as high as 50 per cent. In Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Noida between 80 and 90 per cent of the population are dependent on private vehicles for transportation.
“Riding on speculation, builders constructed residential projects but those who bought houses there have kept it locked. Families won’t move to such places where there are no schools or mass transit modes,” said Rao.
According to data available with the real estate research agency Liases Foras, NCR is the worst performing residential market with presently about 2.32 lakh houses lying unsold. Almost half of this unsold stock is in Greater Noida followed by Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Noida. The average sq ft price of an apartment in NCR is only Rs 4,980 while it is thrice as costly in MMR with even comparatively smaller metros such as Bengaluru and Pune commanding a higher average price of over Rs 5,000 per sq ft. And yet, at the current slow rate of absorption, the agency estimates that it will take 66 months to sell off the current inventory in NCR, the maximum for any metro in the country. A healthy market usually has an inventory that doesn’t take more than eight months to get sold.
Pankaj Kapoor, CEO of Liases Foras, said that builders in NCR continue to discover newer locations that are far-flung and uninhabitable where land is bought cheap and large clusters are launched. “Here 70-80 percent of the houses are sold off to investors and not end-users including in projects by several realty majors. First Gurgaon saw a huge infusion of residential supply and when the price band went over Rs 6,000 per sq ft, it was Noida and then Greater Noida.
The boundary simply continues extending,” he said.