Understanding effects of rapid urbanisation in Shahpur Jat, New Delhi.

The Lal Dora



“The metropolitan town of Delhi has grown on agricultural lands acquired from its old inhabitant villagers. Initially, in building up of Lutyen's Delhi, the villages were relocated; later only their agricultural lands were acquired and the residential areas were circumscribed by a red line and that is how the term Lal Dora came into use.”

This red boundary has, over the years, been squeezing the villages like a vice. Urban Delhi has grown like an unyielding jungle around them while the villages have remained like islands; its inhabitants confined to do as they please within their tiny spaces.

135 of these lal dora lands exist in Delhi today. Their numbers grow with each Master Plan laid out for Delhi. In the current formal administrative and planning mechanisms, these villages are largely unaccounted for, leaving their fate in the hands of powerful village administrators, caste heads, property dealers and brokers, all of them working to fill their own pockets, leading to large scale exploitation and widening cultural divides.

A very complex culture of class discrimination and alienation exists within these communities. Along with the vertical growth and urbanisation these former farmers and their families, have been dealing with the loss of their primary economic activity, soaring real estate prices, rapid gentrification and very high incomes from rents. Unprepared to face these new circumstances, these factors have had devastating effects on their culture, education and wellbeing.

“The Report of the Expert Committee on Lal Dora”, outlines their proposed future. It paints a picture of great prosperity and economic growth. The vision laid out by the Committee claims to take “maximum advantage of the opportunities that urbanisation has to offer” and proposes further vertical growth to accomodate for the growing industry to take Delhi into the future.

'With increase in population and limited space, one has to shed the reluctance in going vertical. If other world-class cities have skyscrapers, why must we limit our constructions to 4 or 8 storeys? If DDA can have a 23-storey tower and MCD plans to have 28-storey Civic Centre, why should a private enterprising citizen be denied the opportunity to go still higher - a tower that provides for most of the requirements of its residents in situ and is a self-financing (and profitable) endeavour? Liberty and opportunity to private sector has to be provided if our dream of making Delhi a world class metropolis is to come true.'

The report also outlines the civic and financial problems of the villagers as a result of the land acquisition and economic downturn. But, being a report on urban planning, fails to mention the impact it has had on culture, and does not attempt to caution future interventions.

It then becomes clear, that there is a huge gap between these idealised notions of development vs the reality. Crossing the Lal Dora is an initiative to make the voices of the residents of Shahpur Jat heard amongst the larger public, as a cautionary tale about the costs of development.

To know more about our study, download the report here.

Delhi Map


What is Lal Dora?

The term 'Lal Dora' was used for the first time in the year 1908. It is a classification given to that part of the village land which is part of the village “Abadi” (Habitation). These areas were marked by the land revenue department by tying a Red Thread (Lal Dora in Hindi) around it, to make a boundary and to distinguish the settlement area from the agricultural land.

In 1957, the Delhi Municipal Corporation issued a notification and the government listed the lands under the Lal Dora classification, within and on the outskirts of Delhi, 135 of these have been declared urban till date.

Lal Dora Map

The moment a village is declared urban under section 507 of DMC Act, Lal Dora ceases to exist. The agricultural land is acquired, leaving behind the residential areas as it is. This shrunken land, then becomes the urban village.

Lal Dora Map
Shahpur Jat Balconies


The Report of the
Expert Committee on Lal Dora 1

The Union Ministry of Urban Development vide its order No. K- 12016/5/2006-DDIB dated 26.7.06 set up a Committee of experts to look into the issues of application of building regulations and development control norms in Lal Dora and Extended Lal Dora areas and their integration in the overall process of the planned development of Delhi in the light of Delhi Master Plan 2021.

"The Committee feels, strongly and unanimously, that the solution lies not in making futile attempts at resisting the wave of urbanisation in Delhi, but in taking the maximum advantage of the opportunities that urbanisation has to offer. Our national capital has to be the pride of our great country.

The following shows why urban villages like Shahpur Jat is the way they are today. The report clearly outlines:

- Clear indication towards the intention to promote vertical growth in Urban Villages.

"The counseling and extension effort should aim at motivating the village community, especially the youth, to go in for planned compact development (even if it entails construction of high-rise buildings) to meet all of their floor space requirements within the village and its vicinity. This will also yield monetary benefits through increased rental and property values."

- These urban villages were excluded in the city planning at large.

"The revised Master Plan - MPD 2001 - that was enforced in 1990, did lay emphasis on integrated development of rural areas. Unfortunately, the zonal plans, area development plans and redevelopment plans prepared by different authorities did not indicate abadi (Lal Dora and extended Lal Dora) on the maps and attempts, if any, to implement whatever had been planned or to integrate the development of abadis with the surrounding areas remained thoroughly inadequate."

- The majority of the 'power' resided in the hands of the local Jat leaders, who were generally heads of a particular caste, and therefore had a big role in influencing the political and economic decisions regarding the village.

"Under the existing disposition, original inhabitants in villages that are not declared as urban are exempted from seeking planning permission for extensions and alterations to their residential premises provided the altered/ extended premises are to be used for residential purposes only and are limited to 2 1⁄2 storeys with height restrictions. This exemption has been misconstrued and it is now the general impression amongst the village folk, actively supported by their leaders that all kinds of development are allowed without the need for seeking any official permission."

Shahpur Jat Workshop


About the village

Shahpur Jat

Shahpur Jat is an urban village in South Delhi located within Siri Fort, one of the ancient capital cities of Delhi. Surrounded by ruins of the old fort, a part of the village2 still reflects the architecture of the old agrarian society while a major part of it has urbanised into niche marketplaces and housing complexes.

Attracted by the comparatively lower rentals, hundreds of restaurants, cafes, and boutiques have mushroomed in these areas over the years, attracting more people and turning the village into a major shopping destination for the urban market.

Shahpur Jat Boutique


Originally, the Jats were mostly farmers who were dependent on their farmlands for agriculture. This land was later acquired by the government for construction of Asiad games village, Panchsheel colony and Gulmohar park under the development plans of Delhi. Although the villagers were justly compensated for their land, what they lost in the process was their livelihood. Having had only agrarian skills, they were left jobless. As an immediate measure for sustenance, they began renting out small sections in their houses, to labourers working in nearby industrial areas.

After the boom in real estate, villagers started getting large sums of money as rent, did not feel the need to work anymore. Not having to work has become associated with the pride of the community. The men are seen sitting together in groups outside a house on the streets smoking hookah or playing cards during the day. This became associated with the very identity of being a ‘Jat man’.

In a society that conforms to hegemonic masculine ideals, loss of the their primary bread earning method has had a far reaching consequence. The elder generation of men continue to hold on to hookah, whereas the younger generation loiter in the by-lanes, eve-teasing, giving in to illicit acts in the parks at night. The middle aged men, get drunk, beat up their wives, gamble and indulge in illegal drugs. Different generation of men, in the name of holding their honour within the community resort to domestic violence in situations where their masculinity becomes a performance in front of the rest, especially the opposite gender.

With rent being the biggest income source, urban tenants are welcomed by the landlords. However, the modern lifestyle & culture that they bring along is starkly opposite to the villagers’ traditional patriarchal value system. Threatened by it, the men and elders of the community feel ferociously protective of their own identity. This has led to burgeoning diktats for the way the Jat women and children lead their daily lives.

The women, within this hyper-patriarchal social setup, have been confined to their homes for years — abused, invisible & trapped. While the men take pride in not having to work, the women feel concern and disrespect for their husbands who sit idle all day, drunk and purposeless. They feel strongly about making sure that at least their sons are engaged in some work and do not become like their fathers.

The younger generation is disinterested in going to school or getting educated because there is no need felt for anyone to get permanent employment. Education being synonymous with getting a job and earning a living, has become a futile activity for them.

More so, they are caught in between the duality of two contrasting cultures that are rife with highly conflicting roles for men and women. From language, clothes and work culture to gender dynamics, the boys feel largely disoriented in terms of their own conduct and behaviour. Owing to the traditional value systems and the surveillance of the streets, there are invisible barriers to interacting with the opposite gender.

This isolation among the subcultures is not just based on the gender dynamics but also rooted in the caste and class structures present within the village. Despite sharing the same space, interactions in between the various factions, namely Jat families, migrant families & boutique owners, are minimal based only around work and money.

This social hierarchy also starkly comes out in how the space is divided in the village. Different classes exist in clusters in the village. Rigid space use patterns reveal buzzing class and caste tensions that have played out in the reconstruction of the village post land acquisition. There is an inherent alienation within the communities, each faction existing in its own isolated silo.

Fasion Street, Shahpur Jat
Sweat Shop, Shahpur Jat

Within all this isolation, small stores in the inner parts of the village serve as important information nodes. Apart from their core services, they double up as social places where the men or women stop by for a small talk while walking through the lanes. The village news spreads through this network and is also the major time-pass activity of men and women during the day.

In the migrants section of society, telecom shops serve multiple functions like booking rail tickets, doing money transfer, mobile recharges, prints, and mobile repair services. They also download songs and movies from the internet and charge the villagers for installing songs and movies in their phones. Mobile phones are a widely used medium for entertainment. Most of these people speak Hindi, or their native tongues but prefer to watch Hollywood movies despite of not being able to understand the language.

Internet Cafe, Shahpur Jat


The outer lanes of the village are most commercial in nature and fetch the highest rent. A mix use pattern of buildings is seen where the ground floor and first floor are rented out to the cafes and shops, second floor and third floor to offices, and the remaining floors are either residential in nature or have other commercial establishments like studios, printing shops, property dealers, digital services, etc. The building height varies from three to eight floors with the average height being 5-6 floors.

Fasion Street, Shahpur Jat
Grocery Shop, Shahpur Jat

This pattern of mix use also shifts as we move from the outer lanes to the inner lanes. Behind these outer facing roads are inner lanes which fetch lesser rents and are generally rented out to smaller boutiques, cafes, grocery and general stores, dye shops, machine repair, cloth shops, and smaller eateries. A hint of residential village reflects in these lanes unlike the gentrified outer lanes. The construction of these buildings is older than the new front facing lanes. They rise higher and are more dense.

Going further inside, the lower floors are mostly rented to local stores selling groceries, hairdressers, cloth dyers, telecom shops and the floors above are residential in nature inhabited by the villagers. Here, we see small rooms converted into cramped garment factories, each with about 10-15 workers working in a small rooms.

Dark Lanes, Shahpur Jat
House, Shahpur Jat

The villagers have constructed buildings over 100% of the plot size, with balconies emerging out as extensions on the street, blocking sunlight and air flow on the lower grounds, making the space very dark even during the day.


"Crossing The Lal Dora" aims to spark critical debate & dialogue on how we as citizens think about urban development & growth. We’re hoping this dialogue eventually reaches the people in power to make holistic policies & decisions with a culturally resonant vision.

Treemouse understands & acknowledges the time it would take to see these changes in our policies take effect. We also see awareness, discourse & debate as the weapon to strive for a better future. It is with this we are equipping ourselves & you with a variety of mediums that could help spark a critical dialogue - the first step to any large scale change.

We will be continuously building this repository of materials that can help you in your effort to drive this change.


SJ Report


The Master Plan

SJ Study


Ethnographic Study



Walking the Lal Dora


SJ Ebook


Shahpur Jat Stories

SJ Poster Sticklit


Sticklit Stories



Rethinking Development

House, Shahpur Jat