Turf war between Delhi and Centre stalls big-ticket housing project

At a time when ‘ease of doing business’ is seen as all-important, a big-ticket project for luxury as well as affordable housing has remained stuck for nine years because of a land ownership war between the Delhi government and the Centre.

The Supreme Court will hear the matter on August 28.

The judgment, as and when it comes, will be crucial as it will settle the debate who owns the land in the Capital. 

No construction took place for nine years because of a tussle over land ownership between the Delhi Government and the Centre

No construction took place for nine years because of a tussle over land ownership between the Delhi Government and the Centre

The DDA allotted the 14.3 hectares of land in a posh south Delhi area for its first PPP housing project to a private developer in 2006

The DDA allotted the 14.3 hectares of land in a posh south Delhi area for its first PPP housing project to a private developer in 2006

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) under the Union Ministry of Urban Development owns much of the land, but the Delhi government’s forest department is supposed to protect a large chunk of the forest area.

The DDA allotted the 14.3 hectares of land in a posh south Delhi area for its first PPP housing project to a private developer in 2006. 

The plan was to build 750 luxury flats and also 3,500 houses for the poor. 

But the Delhi government’s forest department said the site was morphologically part of the protected Ridge. 

A frustrated Kenneth Builders and Developers in 2009 moved the Delhi High Court and sought cancellation of the project tender and return of Rs 450 crore it gave to DDA for the land. 

The DDA won its battle against the Delhi government the next year as the court admitted the land use of the site was ‘residential’. 

But the court also ruled that the Capital’s largest land owning and developing agency would have to refund the Rs 450 crore that Kenneth Builders and Developers had deposited in case a ‘consent to establish’ from the Delhi government’s pollution watchdog (DPCC) was not forthcoming.

“The state or any statutory body is not expected to deprive individuals or businesses of their money without authority of law,” the court had said. 

The DPCC had earlier asked DDA to stop the project as the site was part of the Ridge. 

Interestingly, the project always had the environment clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. 

And the high court also said that DPCC could only deal with issues of air and water pollution; it could not meddle into matters of land use and zoning. 

The DDA in 2011 moved the Supreme Court as it feared paying back to the developer, a subsidiary of Indiabulls Real Estate Limited, and blamed the Delhi government for delay in the grant of ‘consent to establish’. 

The Delhi government has also joined the legal battle in the Supreme Court, reiterating its stand that the site at Tehkhand village was morphologically part of the protected ridge. 

“In 2008 our forest department received complaints about illegal cutting of trees at the project site. We inspected the area and found it was part of the morphological ridge which has to be protected as per a Supreme Court order,” said a Delhi government official. 

The DDA rubbished the Delhi government’s claims.

“We prepare Delhi’s master plan. We changed the land use of the site from ‘district park’ to ‘residential’ by inviting objections. The Delhi government or any other authority did not say a word then. The High Court has fully supported our claim,” said a DDA official. 

The High Court did say that once the master plan which has a statutory flavour shows the land in question as earmarked for a particular use then no other authority can challenge the same. 

In the turf war between the two governments, the developer kept suffering. 

“In 2008 itself because of the said suspension of work, the developer was incurring huge losses on account of idle manpower and equipment,” the HC said in 2010. 

The developer had sought to retrieve the money when there was virtually no chance of the project taking off.