Suggestion made, in extension of two Public Notice responses and in context of "civil-society" proposals and unsuccessful attempts at official clarifications about these, vide letter of 15.11.2003  and placed in public domain on a dedicated mail-list1 in December 2003. 

The area of about 500 hectares near Safdarjang Tomb has rare redevelopment potential due to its location (between Lutyen's Delhi and diplomatic enclave, roughly in the middle of the ridge-river triangle in which came up Delhi's historic cities as well as recent 'south Delhi'), high carrying capacity (with lower density, better infrastructure - inclusive of metro corridor, higher ground water table and more green area than other parts of the city) and no exceptional constraints (not being part of ridge or riverbed). 

Recent proposals by Civil Aviation Ministry and a section of civil society appear to lack of clarity about the Master Plan and its processes and seem constrained by a site-level perspective of opportunities and constraints. In the context of the law about and positions in the proposals mooted for the site, the following 'suggestion' has been sent to earmark it in Delhi Master Plan 2021 for world-class development seeking riverbed / ridge / green belt / ground water notified area sites. Consistent also with nearly 2000 responses filed by citizens from all classes by due process of law in respect of change of land use in environmentally precarious areas, etc, this is posted here to facilitate broader participation in discussion about a rare potential site in the city. 

Suggestion to earmark Safdarjang site for "World-class Development" in MPD-2021

Delhi Master Plan is the statutory framework for development of Delhi, most accurately described as a document of citizens' entitlements in benefits of balanced equitable and sustainable development, entitlements that flow with weight of law from Delhi Development Act and land policy. The Plan can be modified for flexibility, but only by due process of law that guarantees to all accountability and safeguards against arbitrary downsizing of entitlements. There is no doubt there have been gross Plan implementation failures and recent expose of corruption at Plan minding levels in DDA and elsewhere point to reasons for these. It is imperative these reasons are dealt with and unconsidered Plan modifications checked to restore lawful planned development in widest public interest. It is from this perspective that a suggestion is made here not from personal opinion but merely from a planner's accountant-like job of "budgeting" all reasonable positions for Safdarjang Airport site in the context of recent reports / meetings and, more significantly, the Plan and its processes. 


According to the Master Plan Safdarjang Airport / Flying Club had to shift to International Airport. Use of the site, earmarked since 1962 for recreational use [District Park], has been in contravention of the Plan. Any proposal for the site other than District Park is a Plan modification requiring due process. Moreover, the Plan restricts change of recreational use except in "extraordinary circumstances". Since the site is not ridge / riverbed or green belt, an alternative use is at least open to consideration, but this, too, is required to be holistically made as per monitoring and review provisions set out in the Plan.

The site is in D-Zone, which is residential-institutional in character. The following are unjustifiable:

  • industrial / commercial work centres (since modifications that make major alterations to the character of the Plan are not permissible under the Act)
  • institutional use (since this is already over-developed in the Zone)
  • commercial use (as facility) beyond convenient/local shopping (in view of three non-hierarchy centres in the vicinity -- Sarojini Nagar, Lakshmi Bai Nagar and INA -- as well as NDMC's recent budget allocations for modernising markets in its jurisdiction)

Even if the site seems attractive for any of these, a more holistic assessment will find them unviable. The shelf of landuse options for the zone, within which land use decisions for the site must be confined, thus reduces by elimination to recreational (current), public/semi-public and residential:

  • A case for conversion of part of the site to residential use can be made out in context of backlog on population targets for D-Zone (6.3 lakh population was recommended by 1981, but only 4.9 was attained, and 7 lakh was proposed by 2001 as part of the densification strategy and given comparatively high level of services) and the rather high citywide population target for DMP 2021.
  • Public-semi/public use is justifiable from Zonal perspective (in order to blur the edge, so to speak, with the Safdarjung Tomb precinct) as well as on account of suitability of the site (in terms of central location and now also planned Metro access) for city level Public / semi-Public use.


MoUD/DDA: MPD-2021 vision presentation at Vigyan Bhawan on 15.10.99 spoke (under "Planning Options for the Next Millennium" at no.3 of 3 and at recommendation 7 of 37) of higher density / optimum use of unutilised / underutilised land parcels, mentioning Safdarjung Airport among others.

Ministry of Civil Aviation: As per reports of 13.07.03 and 13.10.03, in December 2002 MoCA formed a committee to suggest use for the site in line with a decision to use land adjacent to all airports and as PM has proposed two world-class convention centres in India, it has offered the land for one.

CII and ITPO: According to news reports of 13.07.03 and 13.10.03 Airports Authority of India received references from CII and ITPO in 2002 for leasing out the airport as an exhibition center.

Activists (on the dais at IHC Agenda meetings of 21.07.03 and 10.11.03)

  • Ms Alpana Kishore (activist, area resident) seems worried about risk to open space and heritage. In the meeting of 10.11.03 she made a power-point presentation about Airport/Club with ideas for adaptive reuse in form of "airport/museum/leisure hub with bio-diversity park", etc.
  • Mr Kamal Meattle (activist, entrepreneur, area resident) seems to have a businesslike concern about loss of greens for short-sighted real estate gains as well as about non-transparent processes against which he suggested at both meetings recourse to PIL.
  • Mr Ravi Agarwal (activist, environmentalist, of NGOs Toxic Links / Shrishti) seems persuaded "greens do not figure in urban planning" and Master Plan and its processes are best ignored, "Delhi has less than 10 per cent of green cover, whereas a healthy city should have about 30 per cent" and development on Safdarjung Airport "will mean the loss of a huge green area".
  • Mr Arun Rewal (practicing architect) made at both meetings a case, with reference to cities abroad, for conserving/reusing the Airport, etc. He is quoted (as planner) saying in the news report of 11.11.03 that a convention hall "would entail a change of land use for which the due process has to be followed". The same, of course, applies to Airport/Flying Club as well.

Other positions / s.11A Public Notices for land use change with similar existing/proposed use

  • Over 1700 objections filed in response to Public Notice of 15.09.02 for change of land use in green belt -- applicable in principle also because of comparable heritage significance of Sultangarhi Tomb site and MoCA responsibilities in areas in vicinity of International Airport
  • Responses to Public Notice of 16.12.02 for change of land use in riverbed for Metro property development -- applicable in principle also because of Metro corridor parameters.


Concern about redevelopment: The Master Plan land use of Safdarjang Airport site is District Park. Except perhaps Mr Agarwal, none of the foregoing seems to be advocating this. As such there seems a consensus on re-development / Plan modification and, on this count, conflict in positions is illusory.

Concern about use intensity: MoCA's convention center proposal and activists' proposal of adaptive re-use of Airport are identical in land use terms. Both require only part site (1300 acres in all, according to Mr Rewal) for exclusive semi-public use unlikely to be high intensity in net terms. Inter-se concerns about use intensity appear misplaced and, on this count also, conflict in positions is illusory.

Concern about greens: The Master Plan provides strong legal protection to environmental resources in the city. Conversely, protection of greens in disregard of the Plan can be difficult as the Plan also provides legal protection to competing uses. The case for "preserving" a District Park after misusing it for 40 years is very weak at level of the site. At level of the zone or city it falls apart, as this District Park that never was is prime land that even environmentalists may do well to use to save the ridge and riverbed from development that the city chooses to have but has no other space for. The conflict in positions on this count is really between those speaking for the Safdarjung Airport site and those speaking, through due process of Public Notices, for the ridge and riverbed, both notified by CGWA. It is not illusory, but it is negotiable. None of the parties proposing redevelopment in Safdarjang Airport should have any problem reworking their proposals to factor saving the riverbed and ridge, especially since a lot of world-class development is likely to be low intensity in net terms, and environmental concerns can readily be resolved through site design and/or holistic approaches (including, say, carbon credits -- suggested by Mr Meattle -- on lines of TDR rather than at neighbourhood level).

Concern about re-densification: This seems implicit in the activists' concerns, although their own suggestions are not strictly preservationist, and as a point of clarification it is reiterated that D-Zone has a re-densification backlog and carrying-capacity surplus compared to the rest of the city. Those opposing development on Safdarjung Airport site must equally pursue viable alternatives for zonal re-densification, without which their activism would amount to an attempt to preserve inequitably superior islands for themselves at the cost of stress and squalor, besides environmental loss, elsewhere.


Safdarjang Airport is rare potential site and there is no cause for its sub-optimal use. In view of all the above, I suggest that, as per permissible boundaries for Plan modifications, land use of a part of the site be retained as (non-exclusive) recreational and the rest be changed to exclusive world-class residential and public/semi-public use that otherwise seeks locations the city can't afford to lose. The following (totaling 90 Ha / 225 acres), for instance, could right away be relocated to Safdarjang Airport (unless abandoned / shifted out of Delhi):

  • Commonwealth Games village proposed / just starting illegally on the riverbed (20 Ha)
  • Metro IT project proposed / just starting illegally at Shastri Park / riverbed (15 Ha)
  • Sutangarhi scheme for international heritage center and mega housing illegally started / stopped by the court / sporadically re-started off and on since then in J-zone Green Belt (56 Ha)

It would also be possible to explore design options to optimize convention facilities, etc, in relation to these. Heliport, etc, could be developed as facility within all this. DMRC could raise quite a bit of its property development revenue target here. MoCA would find such a land use package more optimal. Environmentalists and architects could work out conflict resolution options, etc. Above all, a lawful and synergistic approach would make for conflict-free, efficient and meaningful participation and restore confidence in holistic planned development and democratic processes of participation therein.

Recent Proposals

  • 2003.06.16: In an interview in Times of India2 DDA Commissioner Planning spoke of better commercial use of areas like Safdarjung airport, etc.
  • 2003.07.13: The Hindu reported Safdarjung airport may end up as a shopping mall3, in view of Civil Aviations Ministry's plans pursuant to 'references' from CII and ITPO.
  • 2003.07.21: At an IHC Agenda meeting on Future of Safdarjung airport4 a section of the civil society made a counter proposal for retaining the Flying Club, etc, which Planners present pointed out was also a Plan modification, etc.
  • 2003.07.22: Clarifications made from the audience at the IHC Agenda meeting about the Master Plan and its processes, sent in a letter to MoCA5.
  • 2003.10.14: Letter to MoCA6 with reference to Times of India report about its proposal for world-class convention centre at Safdarjung airport site.
  • 2003.10.20: Letter to MoCA7 with reference to Times of India report about proposed malls Vasant Kunj / Mahipalpur area near International Airport in the context of suggestion to seek relocation of such proposals to Safdarjung site
  • 2003.11.06: Letter to MoCA, MoUD, DDA, etc8, about another IHC Agenda meeting on Future of Safdarjung Airport to request clarification of official positions, etc, before the meeting on 10.11.2003.
  • 2003.11.11: Express Newsline report on IHC Agenda9 meeting with no reference to remarks made again from the audience about the Master Plan and its processes, inclusive of engagements by citizens outside the IHC Agenda.
  • 2003.11.15: Letter to DDA10 to make a 'suggestion' for the area
  • 1. Safdarjung area redevelopment ideas
    The area of about 500 hectares near Safdarjang Tomb has rare redevelopment potential due to its central location in an area with high carrying capacity and no exceptional constraints.
  • 2. source:
  • 3. Safdarjung airport may end up as a shopping mall
    With no concrete plans just yet, the Airports Authority of India received "references'' from the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) in 2002 for leasing out the airport as an exhibition centre. (Retrieved 17th December 2012)
  • 4. source:
  • 5. source:
  • 6. source:
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  • 10. source:

Accounts of the ihc agenda meeting of 21.07.2003 about future of safdarjung airport

Safdarjang Airport

On 21 July there was a discussion at IHC about "The future of Safdarjang Airport". A citizen activist, an NGO and a business magnate were "saving" the flying club from Civil Aviation Ministry's plans for shopping mall, etc. CA Ministry was not represented and DDA representative was not aware of any such proposal. The civil society representatives, with no evidence, insisted there was a proposal, the sunset was jeopardised, PIL would be necessary, NGO participation is crucial in Master Plan, etc.

The flying club is illegally running on a site meant for district park, land use change decisions are beyond jurisdiction of Civil Aviation ministry and zonal plan considerations really would not permit any uses other than park, public and residential. I added these very precise and pertinent points to the discourse. And also connected it to the Mahipalpur bundh.

Civil society was, however, un-inclined to use my clever argument against CA ministry's alleged plans, perhaps because they equally affected if not the sunset the club over which the sun sets. They circulated "proceedings" completely disregarding my plannerly inputs, which did take up a lot of their discussion space and were duly acknowledged by two of four persons present on the dais, with a third admitting to his technical incompetence. I suggested to DDA to slap a misuse fine on the flying club while

asking about the alleged proposal and, for petty insurance against lassitude, have written to CA Ministry myself for whatever it is worth.

The airport site could do with some minding I think. The episode is worth chronicling also for the brand of NGO participation being advocated here and I'll post a full account as soon as possible

DDA denies any knowledge on Safdarjung Airport !!! 

DDA Vice chairman AK Jain, denied about any development plans happening for Safdarjung Airport. Speaking at a public forum at India Habitat Centre, on 21st July. The discussion was part of lecture series organised by IHC as “Agenda Delhi”. The other speakers were Ravi Agarwal, Ms Alpana Vasudeva and Mr Kamal Meattle 

The discussion was focused around the Ministry of Civil Aviation, plan to develop the land at Safdarjung Airport for shopping malls, entertainment complexes, corporate houses and govt offices, as it is no longer being used as an airport, the document from the Ministry of Civil Aviation show that the proposal is on and consultants have been hired to do the assessment study. The Minister of Civil Aviation Mr. Rajiv Pratap Rudy was supposed to speak at the forum but cancelled the programme due to some other engagements. 

Mr Jain said that "DDA is unaware of any such proposal mooted by Ministry of Civil Aviation". "According to the Master plan the land is reserved for recreational purposes", he added. He also stressed that "the airport is important as an heritage point, and it should be preserved as a green area also. 

Ravi Agarwal said that DDA, has always in the past denied for many projects and plans and suddenly they had resurfaced after some time. The DDA history shows that it has a very poor track record as far as preservation of green areas in Delhi is concerned. He stresses that in the DDA Act there is no provision for public participation and only notices are served once the decision is taken. Thus without the public participation it is very difficult to control the ambitious plans of planners. 

Ms Alpana Vasudeva, as a concerned citizen stressed to leave the airport as it is, because the flights have been banned for Prime ministers security, but the PM house can be moved in future and it could be used as a airport in the future, or for adventure activities like ballooning and gliding. 

Mr Kamal Meattle, another concerned citizen, wanted the organisations engaged in the Delhi's issues to work scientifically to find out some information and keep out arguments and defences ready, He said most of the problems in Delhi have been solved by a PIL in the court and we have to be ready with the information on the issue, because the govt agency will deny it over the time and will suddenly send you the notices, as there will be persons in the govt working on this for years. 

Thus the future of Safdarjung is uncertain and probably the only place to watch a sunset in Delhi would be gone if planners and govt will is not upheld. The people watching the sunset their would soon be watching the skylines of the shopping malls, and corporate houses.