Call for review of urban infrastructure after Delhi mall plan hits a wall

Clear demarcation of land-use needed to avoid repeat of face-off between south Delhi residents and Reliance Industries over construction of a mall in the residential area

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Puja Bhattacharjee | August 8, 2013



At a time malls have beaten the otherwise theme of blues in the real estate sector, one mall in south Delhi is enduring a prolonged gestation period, with the developers, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), looking at uncertain days ahead.

According to a report in today’s Times of India (read it here), the number of malls have doubled across the country over the last five years – up from 225 to 570 operational as of May 2013. As many as 60 malls have come up in the past one year alone, the report says.

But amid all this boom and mall mania, RIL’s plans to construct a gigantic 7.20-lakh square feet mall on a 4-acre plot in a south Delhi residential colony has hit a wall, with the company reportedly deciding to go slow on the project. The corporate giant met its Waterloo in Alaknanda – the defeat, at least temporary till the next round of the bout gets under way, coming at the hands of a group of residents fighting under the umbrella ‘Citizens Alliance’.

According to the protesting residents, construction of the mall would choke the residential area, throwing traffic completely out of gear.

Ashutosh Dikshit, an Alaknanda resident for about 20 years and president of the alliance, told Governance Now that the plot of land on which the mall is under construction was earlier occupied by slums, which were relocated in 2002.

So, will this incident – perhaps a first in metropolitan India to stop development of a mall – impact the real estate sector, especially malls? Emphasising that the face-off is “rather unfortunate and a little concerning”, Delhi-based real estate management consultant Sourabh Agarwal said: “While a mall would promote economic activities in the area, on the other hand a corporate project is under such scrutiny for the first time. This also enumerates customer (consumer/citizens’) activism. I understand that there should be a review of urban infrastructure to prevent such kind of metropolitan developments that will give rise to parking and other hassles.”

Genesis of the problem

RIL purchased the plot through an auction by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), reportedly at a price of about Rs 304 crore.

According to Dikshit, not long after the slum clusters were cleared, the residents saw metal enclosures being erected in the vacant plot on which a “community centre was supposed to be built”. He said, “VK Malhotra (senior BJP leader, a former MP and at present the leader of opposition in Delhi assembly) had written to the lieutenant governor (L-G) and pointed out that a community centre was supposed to be built on the pot, and that a mall was never on the plan.”

When residents studied the matter thoroughly, they found the layout plans, which had taken into account the community’s needs, had been changed, Dikshit said.

He said: “In the traffic impact analysis report, a fictitious road has been shown (in the layout plan) to prove that traffic will flow smoothly. There are three schools in the area, and when they have their parent-teacher meetings, traffic snarls last for nearly an hour. Imagine what a mall can do!

“In response to an RTI (query), the state environment impact assessment agency said that they were not aware that there are schools in the neighbourhood.”

Dikshit said the residents are at present putting pressure on the government to take a decision: “We have written to the L-G, asking him to look into the conduct of officials. But we have not received any response till date.”

Blaming the DDA for “cheating” the area’s residents, Dikshit said, “We have nothing against Reliance – DDA is answerable to us, RIL is not. RIL bought a plot put up on open auction. We had also written a letter to the chief minister, who had further written to the L-G, asking him to review the project.”

Nearly 1,200 residents from Alaknanda, and from neighbouring CR Park, Greater Kailash-II and Kalkaji DDA Flats also took part in a rally in the locality on July 24 to “stop the mall and save their neighbourhood”, according to a report on a neighbourhood portal.

Sourabh Agarwal, however, downplayed chances of the protests being repeated, especially in south Delhi. First, there is “hardly any land available in the area; plus, a well developed framework for acquiring urban land is already in place. There could be isolated incidents in some pockets (though),” he said in an email reply to Governance Now.

As for a long-term solution to such problems, he said, “A clear demarcation of areas into commercial and residential classes (is required). Any commercial site must be accompanied with valid permissions."

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