As private builder begins to erect skyscraper on land meant for public use, Delhi University erupts in protest

Students and teachers fear the proposed building would pose a risk to their security and privacy, and disrupt academic life.

BySamyak Jain
As private builder begins to erect skyscraper on land meant for public use, Delhi University erupts in protest
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The proposed construction of a high-rise building near Delhi University’s North Campus has sparked protests from students, teachers, and even the administration. 

The plot for the proposed construction is next to the Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station and in close proximity to the North Campus. The DU’s main objection to the proposed building is the safety of its students as the 39-storey complex would have a bird’s eye view of Miranda House College and its girls’ hostel, the Central Institute of Education, University Hostel for Women, Meghdoot Girls’ Hostel, Girls’ Hostel of the Department of Social Work, Faculty of Science, Cluster Innovation Centre, and the Delhi School of Journalism.

Being in the vicinity of the DU’s colleges and the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, a super speciality hospital for pulmonary diseases, the proposed project would fall in a silent zone. A DU official also raised concerns about the complex’s proximity to the residences of the lieutenant governor of Delhi and the vice chancellor of DU, the office of the Defence Research and Development Organisation. 

The land in question was reportedly transferred to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation from the Ministry of Defence in 2001, at a cost of Rs 42.4 crore, on the condition that it be used for public purposes. However, in February 2013, nearly two thirds of the plot was leased to a private builder, Young Builders Private Limited, for Rs 218 crore. 

 The project is expected to cover over 1.18 lakh square metres of land, and work has begun. 

A DU official told Newslaundry that they were not notified about the transfer of land or that a residential complex would be built on it. The transfer, the official argued, flies in the face of a 1943 government letter broadly stating that the university should be apprised of any kind of construction activities on an area of 81.78 acres around it. “The area should be considered a protective belt and the Civil Station Notified Area Committee and the Delhi Improvement Trust should consult the university before building plans are approved by them in respect of land under their control and the president of the Delhi Municipal Committee should be asked to ensure that buildings erected on the land under the committee’s control are of good type,” states the letter written to the then chief commissioner of Delhi on October 25, 1943. The Delhi Improvement Trust is now the Delhi Development Authority.

The project, the official added, also violates the 2021 Delhi Master Plan which states, “Restrictions on tall buildings would be necessary for important areas like Lutyens Bungalow Zone, Civil Lines and North Delhi Campus. In the case of Urban Extension, areas for specific Urban Design projects and tall buildings should be identified.”

The Zonal Development Plan for Civil Lines, where the DU is located, also lays down that efforts must be made to preserve the character of the university’s campus.

Yet, according to the environmental clearance papers of the project, when Young Builders applied to the Archeological Survey of India and the Union Ministry of Culture for no objection certificates, both authorities ruled that the project site lay beyond prohibited or regulated areas around centrally protected monuments. As such, an NOC was not required from their them.

Avtar Singh, mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, has ordered an inquiry into the matter. “I was informed through a letter about the approval given to the building plan. I have ordered an inquiry and asked the officials to look into the matter. If anyone is found guilty, strict action will be taken against them. We will ensure that the security of students is not at risk. If the construction has started, we will stop it,” he told The Times of India.

When the project was initially proposed in 2012, the DU moved the High Court but lost the case in 2015. The university then filed a review petition but it was dismissed, with the High Court citing delay on the part of the university to file an appeal. The case is now being heard by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal. 

DU has also written to the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministries of defence and home to stop the construction. Separately, students living in the university’s hostels have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention.

Articulating the opposition to the project, Rajib Ray, president of the Delhi University Teachers Association, told Newslaundry: “In light of the severe paucity of space for students on campus for their accommodation, recreation and for other academic activities, the use of this space for a residential complex is questionable in its intent.” 

He added, “Not only would this construction affect the cultural and academic life of the university community, it would exacerbate the traffic situation on campus. The university has two-laned roads and such a large residential complex in its vicinity would directly result in increased traffic and create civic inconvenience to the resident students and employees of Delhi University.” 

On September 28, 2019, the students union of Kirori Mal College called a protest which witnessed a large turnout. Students formed a human chain around the plot shouting slogans such as “Private building down down”, and asking for trees to be planted on the spot instead.

“This huge structure right next to the metro station will pose a lot of difficulties to students and it will be a major security threat female students like us as it overlooks four of our hostels. I don’t see any logic behind this. There are enough colleges in the university functioning in temporary campuses like Cluster Innovation Centre and the Delhi School of Journalism which operate from the pavilion of a stadium. Why not give the space to them instead?” asked Tanya Sujan, a final year student at the university.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which is affiliated to the BJP, too protested against the construction and organised a rally from the Faculty of Arts to the project site. They demanded that a hostel be built on the site instead.

Newslaundry contacted MD Overseas, the parent company of Young Builders , for comment. This article will be updated if a response is received. 

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