Illegal Construction structures on non-permitted land is a serious issue that the government and municipalities of various states in India are fighting against. 

  • The Supreme Court has directed the Maharashtra authorities to get all cities where the population is 50 lakh or more to be geo-mapped to easily track and control illegal constructions in them.
Geomapping is defined as a method of land and subsurface surveying using GPS that presents a detailed view of the site and the surrounding area including roads, buildings, mountains, rivers, estuaries and pipelines.

SC guidelines on the issue

  • The exercise of the power of demolition which affects the property of the citizens of this country must be exercised in an absolutely fair and transparent manner. 
  • Cities and towns must be well planned and illegal structures must be demolished. 
  • Rule of law also envisages that illegal constructions which are constructed in violation of law must be demolished and there can be no sympathy towards those who violate the law.
  • If a structure is an illegal structure, even though it has been demolished illegally, such a structure should not be permitted to come up again. 
  • If the Municipal Corporation violates the procedure while demolishing the building but the structure is totally illegal, some compensation can be awarded and, in all cases where such compensation is awarded the same should invariably be recovered from the officers who have acted in violation of the law. 

Cases of illegal construction in India:

  • About 50 lakh people live in unauthorised colonies across Delhi, which has a total population of nearly 1.2 crores.
  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently directed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to stop unauthorised constructions on Yamuna floodplains.
  • The Dongri building collapse in Mumbai claimed 13 lives and injured 25 people.
  • Seventeen people were killed in a fire at a hotel in central Delhi's congested area. The owner of the hotel had illegally built more floors than permitted.
  • Maradu flats in Kerala were built in violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Act. The Supreme Court had ordered the Kerala government to remove all illegal structures within a month
  • Illegal constructions have allegedly come up at the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS), which is a part of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR) spread across Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Ratnagiri districts of Maharashtra.

Why does illegal construction happen?

  • Population relocations driven by economic reasons have led to people settling in peri-urban areas (or areas in the periphery of the urban). 
  • Inadequate planning and governance of peri-urban areas by local governments are resulting in various problems like growth of unauthorized colonies and illegally built structures.
  • This situation is taken advantage of by unscrupulous developers who lure people in search of a roof over their head, later, leaving them to face the consequences of buying into or living in an illegal building.

Issues and causes behind growth of unauthorized colonies/illegal buildings Policy initiatives and reform measures

  • The Constitution (74th Amendment) Act
    • It came into effect in 1993, emphasizes to strengthen urban planning, regulation of land use, roads and bridges and providing urban amenities.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, 2005: Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission was a massive city-modernisation scheme launched by the Government of India under Ministry of Urban Development.
  • Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation: The Government of India launched the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) with the aim of providing basic civic amenities like water supply, sewerage, urban transport, parks as to improve the quality of life for all especially the poor and the disadvantaged.
  • National Rurban Mission, 2016: The objective of the National Rurban Mission (NRuM) is to stimulate local economic development, enhance basic services, and create well planned Rurban clusters.
  • The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare plans to increase production in peri-urban areas and thus improve the supply of food to cities. It will help in climate change adaptation and price stabilization.
  • Smart city concept
    • Though there is no clear definition of smart cities, it may include creative, cyber, digital, e-governed, entrepreneurial, intelligent, knowledge, harnessing the power of Information and communication technology (ICT). 
  • Ease of doing business: 
      • Good construction regulation matters for public safety, but also for the health of the building sector and the economy as a whole.
  • Now it takes only 60 days following eight online procedures to get a construction permit in Delhi and Mumbai, which are taken into account for India’s ranking in the annual ease of doing a business report.
    • India jumped to 63rd position in World Bank's Ease of Doing Business 2020.

Concerns: Urban Governance

  • 74th amendment act has been implemented half-heartedly by the states, which has not fully empowered the Urban local bodies (ULBs). 

Bypassing green norms:

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has issued a notification easing the green norms for the building and construction sector, wherein residential projects up to 1.5 lakh square metres (built-up area) will not require ‘prior environmental clearance’. 
  • Also, urban local bodies will now have the power to grant building permission. Considering the extent of corruption in municipalities across the nation, it is a worrying trend.


  • Planning is mainly centralized and till now the state planning boards and commissions have not come out with any specific planning strategies.
  • State planning departments and national planning institutions lack qualified planning professionals. 


  • There is no regulator, which can make a level playing field and check corrupt practices in the Real estate sector.

Land titling:

  • Land records are poorly maintained; they do not reflect the on-ground position.
  • It becomes difficult and cumbersome to access land records when data is spread across departments and has not been updated.  
  • One has to go back several years of documents, including manual records, to find any ownership claims on a piece of property.
  • The National Land Records Modernization Programme (now Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme) seeks to achieve complete computerisation of the property registration process and digitisation of all land records. 
  • However, the pace of modernisation of records and bringing them to an online platform has been slow.

Regularization of illegal colonies by govt.:

  • Unregulated constructions were being rampantly carried out with the hope that "someday such buildings will be regularised.
  • For example, Municipal Corporation of Delhi had started the sealing of unregulated constructions in 2006 prompted by the Supreme Court.
  • The National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Bill was introduced as an ordinance for regularizing the unauthorized colonies. 
  • Recently, the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry has notified regulations to confer ownership rights to residents of 1,731 unauthorized colonies in Delhi, setting a two-year deadline for the DDA to identify more such eligible colonies.
  • The Supreme Court is attempting planned development of Delhi relying completely on the masterplan. But the interventions by the govts.  comes in the way. 
  • Recently, the Bombay High Court set aside Maharashtra government policy to regularise illegal buildings in the state, saying that it was against the provisions of the State Town Planning Act (MRTP).

Way forward Improving governance:

  • Crafting National Urban Policy of India: Nationally the govt. should articulate a policy that would disincentivize demographic density beyond an acceptable limit based on the tripod of economic, environmental and social sustainability.
  • The state governments too must develop their state-specific policies and regulations in this regard based on their urbanisation patterns. 
  • Ensuring accountability: The emphasis must be to make every related department like Police dept., Fire dept., Municipalities more accountable in spheres of their functioning.

Improving local governance:

  • Constitution of Metropolitan Planning Committees (MPCs);
  • Provision of affordable housing, basic services, regional transport corridors and facilities
  • Developing a cluster of rural settlements/growth centres including census towns.
  • Reporting illegal structures: For example, one could log in on the official website of the Delhi development authority, or mobile app to report illegal construction.
  • time tested master plans should be strengthened instead of preparing quick fix City development plans
  • populist policies and reforms should have their logical conclusion
  • land development should be part of the planning of urban development
  • project management skills need to be enhanced = timely completion of projects
  • more PPP projects

Land reforms:

  • The Indian land titling system is currently based on presumptive titles. We need to move towards conclusive titles.
  • Rajasthan has passed landmark legislation providing statutory backing to land records, effectively guaranteeing land and property ownership. This will create an efficient and transparent modern land market.
  • Along with states, the Centre also needs to enact law/amend the Registration Act 1908, one of the central laws governing land as we lag behind in property registration as per ‘the Ease of doing business report, 2020.
  • The Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP) needs to be revamped. 

A land survey using drones and satellites:

  • The Centre should undertake a drone and satellite imagery-based GIS tagged fresh survey of the entire territory of India to harmonise data between the current and the proposed system.

Buyer awareness about illegal housing:

  • Ensuring that the property has a clear title and all permissions have been sought.
  • Asking the building architect to certify the flat's carpet area and consulting a professional to check the building plan.
  • Buying plots which are registered under the city municipality and avoiding investing in plots with no approach road.

Also read: Urbanization And Environmental Degradation Transforming Land Use Can Make World Carbon Neutral By 2040