‘I went without water for four days last summer’

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September 2007. Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of Delhi at the time, announced an ambitious plan to make the city JJ cluster-free in the next two years and provide the residents of these unauthorised settlements with a healthy ambience as well as basic amenities like electricity, water and sanitation.

September 2011. The residents of Sanjay Colony, an unauthorised locality, held a demonstration against the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) with a group of supporters from the Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS), a political organisation active in the area. On a rainy September morning, they thronged the gate of the DJB office and shouted: Delhi Jal Board Haye Haye! Paitees saal se Sanjay colony sookhi hai, Congress-BJP satta ki bhukhi hai! (Down with the Delhi Jal Board! Sanjay Colony has been without water for 35 years/Congress and BJP are merely hungry for power)

Sanjay colony is a slum cluster of about 50,000 residents, with four decades of impoverished and neglected history trailing behind it, in the Okhla II industrial area of New Delhi. It is mainly known for its small scale wholesale cloth market and generations of traders. Slumped right in front of the newly built Okhla Metro station, the street leading to the slum is littered with raw and organic garbage, pieces of cloth and numerous empty, small and big water storage tanks and broken buckets.

“I went without water for four days last summer,” says Omar Mohammad, a small time cloth trader who has lived in Sanjay Colony for decades. He adds that politicians often promise to look into their problems, but ignore them after elections.

The residents of Sanjay Colony get water from the DJB tanker distribution system. As soon as the tank trucks arrive, people flock around it. They push and shove, and at times, fights break out among people competing for the last drop of water.  Each tanker that is supplied to the slum belongs to a select group of 10-15 houses who have jointly registered for it. The process of availing water through registration allegedly favours those residents who have political patronage. The poorest of the poor have to either buy water from other sources or beg. This year, Sanjay colony witnessed a slight increase in the number of tankers. “They need our votes, so they will definitely send more tankers at the time of elections,” says a trader.

In 2006, a report by the Center for Civil Society (CCS) on the Sanjay Colony mentioned that despite the fact that a majority of residents were willing to pay for water supply connections, the DJB and the administration refused to provide water supply lines to the area. The DJB continued the flawed and inefficient distribution system of tankers on the pretext of providing free water. It added that it had no policy to provide water connections  in unauthorised areas – and even in ‘notified’ slums –  despite the residents’ willingness to pay for it.

Between 2006 and 2008 there have been a number of requests and demands from the residents for a better water supply system, which ultimately turned into protests in the face of repeated rejection by the administration. On 15th February, 2008, the Lok Raj Sangathan organised a delegation of women and other residents of the locality to meet Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit with their demand of water and sanitation. The demands were met with utter neglect and false assurances.

However, DJB offcials claim otherwise. “We supply 70 tankers daily to Sanjay colony, and some of them are returned because people have enough water,” says S Hasaan, Assistant Engineer (Zonal), DJB. But the overwhelming crowds around water tankers expose the vacuity of his claim.

In February 2013, the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) announced an ambitious plan to install e-water meters in many slums of Mumbai at relatively cheaper rates. Such a system could also be implemented in Delhi, but the DJB claims that there are  technical difficulties in doing so.

Sanjay colony is in the Tuglaqabad Extension assembly constituency, which has been a BJP stronghold since 2003. The MLA and the party, who are in the Opposition, blame the ruling party’s for the denial of their demands. When TEHELKA contacted Ramesh Bidhuri, the MLA of the constituency, he said, “So what if 80% of them want a water connection? This is not in the policy. If 80% of them would want to marry Katrina Kaif, should I go ahead and accept their demand?”

“Either the BJP and DJB have chalked out a plan to benefit from the tankers, or politicians force the DJB to not fulfil our demands, or maybe we are neglected just because we are poor,” says a resident. “You see that Metro station behind you. The government can build a metro station here quickly, but has denied us water supply and basic sanitation for years.”

The lack of sanitation facilities is another pressing problem. There is not a single functioning public toilet existing in the area. Residents, including women, have to defecate in the nearby jungles and fields. “There are no functional public toilets here despite many requests to the DJB as well as the administration. Our organisation has been supporting the residents and their demands since 2006. It is apolitical vote bank affair to deny us water and sanitation year after year,” says Birju Naik of the LRS. “Our women have to take a mobile phone in one hand a  lota (jug) in the other when they go to attend nature’s call. This is the condition of our colony.”

Walking down the narrow lanes inside the slum, you come across a sweet shop. The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, is soft-spoken. He was born and brought up in Sanjay Colony, like his late father who established the sweet shop around three decades ago. “To hope is a sin for people like us,” he says. “Two decades is a long time to get used to lack of water and defecating in the open.”

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