New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Wednesday gave its approval for the regularization of unauthorized colonies in Delhi, potentially benefiting some four million people from lower-income groups who live in these colonies.

The decision, which comes three months ahead of assembly elections in Delhi and covers 1,797 colonies, is significant as these neighbourhoods account for a sizable voter base in Delhi. Their regularization has been a key issue in Delhi and is a promise made in the manifestos of both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is in power in the state, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules at the Centre.

The decision in effect means that residents will get ownership and transfer rights to the land, as well as access to infrastructure and civic amenities. The rights will be conferred on payment of a nominal charge based on carpet area and plot size ranging from 0.5% to 2.5% of the circle rate. The government will introduce a bill in the winter session of Parliament to initiate proceedings. The bill will provide for registration charge and stamp duty on the last transaction, as well as address the issue of income-tax liability.

The term “unauthorized colonies" refers to residential neighbourhoods that have mushroomed in Delhi;many are inhabited by the poor and migrants—without the authorization of civic authorities.

Wednesday’s decision does not include 69 “affluent colonies" and those built in forest land.

“Today the population of Delhi is more than two crore. There has been a long- standing demand to do something about unauthorized colonies. The last attempt to do something was in 2008. There are unsafe structures and because they are unauthorized, the central government can provide no services there. This is the most farsighted and progressive step that has been taken by the central government," Union minister for housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said at a press conference.

The Delhi government had sought till 2021 and the Centre decided to move ahead, Puri said. Matters of land in Delhi come under the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs.

“Ownership rights will be given to the people living there. This will give them authority to take permission for construction and for loans. Most of these inhabitants belong to low-income groups so the rates will be nominal. The work will start immediately," Puri said.

Delhi chief minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal said that the revenue department will set up camps in these colonies to complete registration at the earliest. “We welcome the cabinet decision. There has been a long struggle to reach here. The next steps will be decided once we have more details. We want that this is done without any delay. The real thing is that people will have their registries in their hand. The revenue department is ready to implement this at the earliest. People in these colonies were living in poor conditions but since our government has come to power, we have worked on providing water, drainage," Kejriwal said.

AAP criticized the BJP for staying silent on the issue for 4.5 years and urged the Centre to bring an ordinance to speed up registration.

The Delhi government had sent a proposal for regularization of these colonies to the Centre in November 2015. In July this year, Kejriwal announced that the Centre had given its approval to the state government’s proposal. The Delhi government claims to have spent 6,000 crore on the development of these colonies.

The issue could have an impact on the assembly elections, which are likely to see a three-cornered contest between AAP, the BJP and the Congress.