In the mid-1970s when Reena Ramachandran (81) was working in the Ministry of Science and Technology in the government of India, she came across an advertisement brochure of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) announcing its first self-financing group housing scheme in Saket. The area was nothing more than large swathes of agricultural land at the time, and far away from Sardar Patel Marg, where she was living with her husband, who worked for the Railways department. But the scheme, said Ramachandran, was a great investment opportunity for “people like her”.
“My husband and I were both government employees with limited means. It was difficult to buy land and build a house of your own in a city as expensive as Delhi,” she explained. “The DDA scheme was within our reach to pay in installments and we would not have to deal with any builder. The DDA itself was the builder.” The fact that the house would be in a housing colony with security and all amenities were factors that influenced her decision.
The DDA had been functional for two decades by then. It was established in 1957 in the wake of the Partition by the central government to ensure the planned expansion and development of Delhi. The predecessor of the DDA, the Delhi Improvement Trust (DIT), was established in 1941 on the recommendation of Arthur Parke Hume to manage urban congestion in the city following the shift of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. Less than a decade later, the DIT was considered inadequate in its capacity to take care of a capital that was expanding both rapidly and haphazardly.
“Post-Independence, the first residential colonies of Delhi were built by the Ministry of Rehabilitation and some private developers in the 1950s. But development taking place was of an ad hoc nature and no one was responsible for providing road connectivity, infrastructure services like water, electricity and the like. Very often, a house would be built but the residents would have to wait for five to ten years to get electricity and water connections,” said AK Jain (74), who retired as commissioner of planning from the DDA. “Jawaharlal Nehru, being unhappy with the situation, believed that the capital needed to set an example of urban development.”
Political scientist Sushmita Pati in a 2014 research paper noted that Nehru’s idea of development hinged on the idea of a strong centre. According to, “the DDA act of 1957, under which the DDA was responsible set up, makes the public authority for the acquisition of land and development of the city”.
Nehru’s involvement in the making of the first master plan of Delhi (1962) under the DDA was significant. It was on his insistence that Albert Mayer of the Ford Foundation was brought in to prepare the plan along with the Town Planning Organization.
Jagmohan, who became the commissioner of the DDA in the mid 1960s, was instrumental in the execution of the master plan. Pati in her paper wrote that Jagmohan believed that with the master plan, “the DDA took upon itself the project of building the ‘ninth city’ of Delhi which was twice the size of all seven cities that had come before.” Apart from the city of Delhi, small towns and villages surrounding it were to be developed as the National Capital Region (NCR).
Initially, the DDA was provided Rs 5 crore with which it bought land from the agricultural communities, beautified it and sold it according to income groups or commercial agencies at a profit, which they later used to buy land again.
“The plan aligned with Nehru’s socialist ideologies and prevented private players from land speculation,” said Jain.
The first residential colony developed by the body was the Safdarjung Development Area. In the ensuing decades, more than 100 residential colonies have been built by the DDA, apart from the sub cities of Dwarka, Rohini and Narela. These include Pitampura, Janakpuri, Paschim Vihar, among others. Further, more than 40 resettlement colonies were built for those dwelling in slums, a majority of which were created during Sanjay Gandhi’s city beautification drive of the 1970s.
Jain, who joined the DDA as associate planner at the age of 28 in the mid 1970s, said that one of the reasons he wanted to be a part of the body was that the DDA had the reputation across the world as a model development agency.
“About 50 cities in India had later emulated the plan of the DDA. These included Bhopal, Bangalore, and Jaipur,” he said.
One of the biggest contributions made by the agency to the city, explained Jain, was to make available the opportunity of property ownership at an affordable cost to large numbers of migrants and salaried employees. “I remember my peon telling me how people in his village in Bihar would treat him with new respect after they found out that he had bought a flat in Delhi,” Jain said.
But the DDA’s plans were not without their flaws. History enthusiast Sohail Hashmi explained that one of the first things done by the DDA was to place all of Shahjahanabad under the slum and JJ department. “That is the beginning of the decay of Shahjahanabad because the municipal authorities are not bound to provide many civic amenities in the slum and JJ areas,” he said.
“This was also when Shahjaha-nabad came to be referred to as the ‘walled city’. It created an idea in the minds of Delhi people of it being a place that was walled off from the rest of the city.”
Other criticisms against the body included the fact that its housing schemes had not met the goal of inclusive development as promised; that it only benefitted higher income groups, leaving behind large parts of Delhi’s population. A 2014 report by the Center for Policy Research noted that the nature of the DDA’s plans is such that “the city’s poorest residents become squatters as the DDA acquires the land on which they live, yet they have few affordable housing options”.
The ways in which people from slums were removed to resettlement colonies during the Emergency is yet again seen as a dark episode in the agency’s history. In recent years, the agency has seen a drop in the number of applications for their projects.
Jain believes the reason for the lack of popularity is that the DDA has been unable to keep up with the times and meet the aspirations of a new India. “The model that was adopted 50-60 years back has to be totally changed. It has to build bigger houses with better quality construction and services,” he said.