By Rina Chandran
BANGKOK - India is considering legalising unauthorised tenements in New Delhi, a move that could give hundreds of thousands of poor migrants land rights in the country's most populous city.
A committee will study nearly 1,700 such settlements in the capital and make recommendations within 90 days on legalising them, authorities said late on Thursday.
"The recommendations of the committee will provide a way for conferring ownership or transfer/mortgage rights to the people living in unauthorised colonies in Delhi," they said in a statement.
Such a move is being considered for the first time, said the statement.
The Delhi government estimates there are some 700,000 households in unauthorised settlements in the city.
Most inhabitants are migrant workers from other parts of India who cannot afford regular housing in the city of more than 18 million people.
Delhi authorities had earlier said 895 settlements qualified for regularisation, but the process is on hold because they had not been mapped.
While authorities have built roads and drains in some of the colonies, many of them lack basic facilities and residents face the constant threat of eviction, said a housing rights activist.
"For years we have heard that these colonies will be regularised, yet the residents face so many challenges because they are considered illegal," said Shanta Devi with the advocacy Delhi Housing Rights Task Force.
"The government must legalise all colonies in the city, and provide basic amenities, as well as help with upgrading their homes. Ownership rights are meaningless without that," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.
With rapid urbanisation, the shortage of affordable housing has spurred the growth of slums and informal settlements in cities across India.
In eastern Odisha state, authorities have promised land titles to 200,000 households in urban slums and those on the outskirts of cities, as well as loans with which to build their homes.
Regularising unauthorised colonies in Delhi has been a campaign promise of many parties, and Thursday's announcement comes weeks ahead of a national election that must be held by May.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised to legalise Delhi's unauthorised colonies before the previous election in 2014.
"Why did he not do anything in five years?" he wrote on Twitter.
"They make the same promise every time, then forget after the elections."