A study of the hidden costs involved in unplanned infrastructure boom in the Sewa Sadan locality under Mandawali area of East Delhi.


At walking distance of a few minutes from the Mandawali Railway Station in East Delhi, where hardly a few trains stop, lies the Sewa Sadan locality (our focus area of the study) in Mandawali. While the main road of Sewa Sadan appears to be somewhat better off, the bylanes that constitute the colony are slowly deteriorating under heaps of filth and garbage. The Mandawali area of New Delhi lies close to the national capital territory’s border with Uttar Pradesh. With many parts of it being unauthorised, the locality is an easy haunt for migrants, especially those coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Cheap housing, decent electricity, and water facilities, easy availability of transport and overall strategic geographical location are the main factors that make the area popular among renters and migrants looking to settle in Delhi alike.


According to a research project conducted by the Delhi Urban Art Commission, Mandawali, in the beginning, was yet another village that had cropped up on the outskirts of Delhi. It was absorbed into the jurisdiction of Delhi in the 1960s, with the agricultural fields in the area being acquired by the Delhi Development Authority for the purpose of construction of development projects. Almost 70% of the area of the locality is reported to be used for residential purposes.

Based on the inputs provided by the residents of the area that we spoke to, most of the homeowners residing in Sewa Sadan, and broadly, Mandawali, moved to the area as kids with their parents looking for better employment opportunities in the nearby rural areas. Migrants in the locality who shifted base recently comprise the renters who are hopeful of moving back to their homes one day.


Infrastructure can be defined as “the basic physical and organisational structures and facilities — buildings, roads, etc — needed for the operation of a society or enterprise”. While an infrastructure boom is imminent as the population grows, its unplanned and unchecked aspects often result in a series of troubles for the population in its vicinity that is often composed of economically or socially marginalised communities. An unplanned infrastructure boom can also mean non-adherence to the regulations specified under the National Building Code. In our area of study, ventilation of houses, availability of public utilities like parks, and vehicle parking were observed as aspects that need concern.

East Delhi is one of the most densely populated localities in the national capital as well as the country. According to the 2011 Census, the population density per square kilometre of East Delhi is 27,132. It is the third-most densely populated district of Delhi, after North East Delhi (36,155) and Central Delhi (27,730).

Limited land with a growing population often results in an unplanned infrastructure boom in various forms — an illegal number of floors in existing constructions, the encroachment of footpaths and other lands that may have been designated for public utilities, unregulated hole-in-wall shops, offices, and small business centres, etc.


The greatest cost of this infrastructure boom, it seems, is hygiene and sanitation. While the area overall does not enjoy high standards of cleanliness, the bylanes suffer under neglect that is far worse than that meted out to the broader, busier streets of Mandawali. In places where sunlight, the natural germ-killer, is a privilege and available only to a handful, maintaining basic standards of cleanliness should be a prerequisite. However, the reality is quite different.

During our walks through the lanes of the Sewa Sadan to observe the ill-effects of the infrastructure boom and to make records of the experiences of the residents, we noticed heaps of garbage lying at every few metres. This was coupled by refuse fished out of the malfunctioning drains so as to not choke them, but left on the sides of the already narrow streets. Sixty-five-year-old renter Ram Dulari has concerns about the impact of the unclean surroundings on the health of the residents, but is also bound to live in the area for want of money. “This area is very filthy. The roads aren’t constructed properly and the lanes get inundated almost every single time it rains,” she told us. Ram Dulari, however, is also aware that in a meagre salary of Rs 8,000 that her son earns, and the earnings from a limited-stocked departmental store that comes attached with her accommodation, it is next to impossible to find cheap housing elsewhere. And hence, she continues to help out her husband in running the store, in the area that she wants to get out of, if given the choice.

Not everyone in the area, though, lives in a situation as dire as Ram Dulari’s. Hemraj Yadav, who although lives in Krishna Puri (very close to Sewa Sadan) part of Mandawali, claims to have helped settle the area and seen it go from being agricultural fields to buildings stacked one after the other. Yadav says he knows all about Sewa Sadan and almost every part of the locality, and, to his knowledge, the sanitation facilities in the area are no different from any other part of Delhi. He, however, holds the position of the general secretary of the Delhi Karmchari Sangharsh Union so his opinion may be coloured.

Thirty-year-old Asha, who runs a golgappa stall in Chander Vihar along with her husband and lives in Sewa Sadan, says that the area does get cleaned every now and then but there is no regularity. She also complains of a poor drainage system in the area and that the streets get inundated every time it rains. Many residents also complained of the unhealthy habit of dumping garbage on the streets of the other local dwellers.


Faulty drainage facilities are an important factor contributing to the poor sanitation of the area. According to the DUAC study, Mandawali has a broken sewerage system, which testifies the complaints of inundation that almost all residents of the area of study have resonated.


The difference in the cleanliness of the main roads and the bylanes can also be observed as an indicator of a class divide in the society. Most of the occupants of the bylanes are renters while the original inhabitants of the locality are mostly limited to the broader streets. The golgappa seller Asha lives in a single room with her husband and two children and pays four thousand rupees for it. The room does not even come with a bathroom, and the entire building of four floors uses the common washroom on the ground floor. Asha’s family has makeshift arrangements to cook within the room itself, but, for her, all of this is a temporary arrangement and she hopes to go back to her village someday.


Owners of shops situated on the main road that leads to the bylanes of Sewa Sadan, however, do not have a lot of complaints when it comes to sanitation facilities provided by the local authorities. Although the broader streets even appear to be cleaner, the sentiments of the shop owners can also be attributed to the fact that a considerable chunk of these people belong to families who migrated to live in the area when it was more agricultural land and less residential, and hence, seeing it arrive at the point where it is today is some kind of solace towards an ongoing development process.

Yogender Singh, a 37-year-old shopkeeper, complained that the sweeping of the streets is not regular. At the same time, Singh has also lived all his life in the same vicinity and is aware of the progress it has registered over the years. After he was born in Meerut, his parents migrated to live in the area for better employment opportunities. “We had relatives here who promised to help us out. All of us began with living in rented accommodation but today, we all have our own houses,” Singh says. The feeling of development being a lengthy and complicated process makes him hopeful.

Another shopkeeper, 36-year-old Sudhir Kumar, has similar views about the cleanliness of the area. Kumar moved to Mandawali 20 years ago when his father migrated, as it was close to his private job. Starting from living on rent in the area, Kumar now has his own house and a shop and lives with his family of five.


Unstructured development and unchecked construction that comes with an unplanned infrastructure boom have also given rise to crime in the area, although the residents we spoke to seemed divided on the matter. While many were of the view that the densely populated area is ridden with crimes like snatching, eve-teasing, and auto drivers hogging the road, others feel that these problems are not exclusive to their area of residence.


The Sewa Sadan locality, and Mandawali in general, mostly comprise small markets spread almost everywhere, in every street. With the limited land in the area, there is hardly any space left for other public utilities. Many residents that we spoke to complained of a lack of public parks and greener patches. Women complained of a lack of enough restrooms even in their residential buildings, let alone the public ones.


The Mandawali area comprises a number of unauthorised colonies. The Upper House of the Parliament passed the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Act, 2019 on December 4. The Bill had been already approved by the Lower House on November 28. According to the new legislation, 1,731 unauthorised colonies in the Delhi-NCR region will be regularised. Sewa Sadan is on the list, as are many other parts of Mandawali.

While the lawmakers are all trying to gain the upper hand by claiming credit for the passage of the Bill, most residents think it is nothing more than a poll promise as Assembly elections in Delhi are due in early 2020.


The National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Act, 2019 promises to recognise the “ the property rights of resident in unauthorised colonies by securing the rights of ownership or transfer or mortgage in favour of the residents of such colonies who are possessing properties on the basis of Power of Attorney, Agreement to Sale, Will, possession letter or any other documents including documents evidencing payment of consideration”.


An interesting point raised by Dinesh, a 42-year-old tuberculosis health visitor posted at the government dispensary in the area, is that if the unauthorised colony is regularised, there may be a sudden jump in the rent of properties in the area. “Unauthorised colonies are mostly low-budget areas because people don’t really want to live here, but have to, due to some or the other necessity. Even if it is regularised, Mandawali will remain Mandawali, that will not change. You must have seen, other authorised colonies are no better. Development is the same in most parts of Delhi,” Dinesh said.


Based on our observances and the experiences of the residents that we spoke to, it is safe to say that the biggest concern rising out of the unplanned infrastructure boom in the Sewa Sadan block of Mandawali area is the inadequate cleanliness and sanitation facilities. The status of the locality’s cleanliness is visible to the naked eye as soon as one walks into these lanes. The cleanliness on the roads of the more posh areas of the city is unmissable, with their garbage-free roads and swept streets and more often than not, a tree cover on either side of the street. There is a stark difference between the streets of Mandawali and the streets of the upper-end South Delhi. Even the neighbouring Mayur Vihar and Patparganj fare better with their similarly narrow lanes.

While most people attempt living in Sewa Sadan to go about their work without being bothered by how clean the streets are, it is next to impossible to stay oblivious to the garbage on the road when it takes up all the space there is. For some, the promise of regularisation of the unauthorised colony is a beacon hope, but for most others, it remains a distant dream, unlikely to be fulfilled.


● West Vinod Nagar and Mandawali: Site Specific Design for Ward Number 217 and Ward Number 218

(A research project by the Delhi Urban Art Commission)


The article published in can be accessed here.

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