The unauthorised colony (UAC) is one of the seven types of ‘unplanned’ settlement designated by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD). UACs are residential settlements built in contravention of zoning regulations, developed either in violation of Delhi’s master plans or on ‘illegally’ subdivided agricultural land. The literature on unauthorised colonies sets out two distinguishing features: one, these areas have been ‘illegally’ subdivided into plots, and; two, the buyers of plots in these settlements posses documents (mostly in the form of a general power of attorney (GPA)) which prove some form of tenure, characterised by some as ‘semi-legal’. UACs in Delhi have often stood for more than two or three decades and include semi-pucca (semi-permanent) two or three storey brick structures. Living in an unauthorised colony has two significant consequences for residents: they do not own the land on which they live—and they cannot legally transfer it—and service provisioning is generally insufficient.
There is no clear understanding of how many people live in Delhi’s UACs; estimates vary wildly. On the high end of official numbers, the GNCTD counts 4 million people, or about 25 per cent of Delhi’s population (Census 2011 data) in unauthorised colonies. On the other hand, the 2008-2009 Economic Survey of Delhi estimated that only 740,000 people (5.3 per cent of Delhi’s population at the time) lived in UACs. The real number is certainly closer to the GNCTD estimate. Sangam Vihar alone, the neighbourhood with the largest agglomeration of unauthorised colonies in Delhi, is estimated to house one million people.
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