Remove The Poor



Where slumdogs lived, millionaires will come for recreation. Avalok Langer reports on how Delhi is following Mumbai’s deplorable redevelopment policy

Uprooted Slum-dwellers in Delhi collect their belongings after a demolition drive
Uprooted Slum-dwellers in Delhi collect their belongings after a demolition drive
Photos: Tarun Sehrawat, Vijay Pandey

IT WAS lunch time. Two children, unconscious of their ‘status’ in society, quietly ate their half-filled steel bowl of soupy rice, half-aware that all was not well. Their 34-year-old father Subodh Bind sat amongst the rubble of what was once their home, blankly staring at people collecting bricks, plastic sheets, pots and pans scattered on the floor. “For the government, we are like cattle who have strayed into their fields uninvited,” explains an emotional Bind as he showed bruises from police lathis. “We are also Indians, don’t we have rights? We came in search of a better life, opportunities. So that our children would have a future.”

Mrityunjay Dubey, 36 Under Safdarjung Flyover
Mrityunjay Dubey, 36 Under Safdarjung Flyover
He lived next to the rail tracks for 25 years. When the authorities demolished his cluster, they told him, “You have lived here long enough, now go back.” But his UP village is still a backwater without facilities. “We have our ID cards. Aren’t we protected by law?” he asks. He has been given a shelter, but no means of livelihood
Photo: Tarun Sehrawat

Bind’s father migrated from Bihar, settling near Kashmere Gate. Along with 450 others, Bind sells spices on the flyover above his jhuggi. On 30 September, the railways demolished their dwellings, raining lathis on those who resisted. According to the law, living next to a railway track is unsafe. They are being given large halls to live in but no alternative livelihood.

On the eve of Diwali, residents of 44 slum clusters in Delhi prepare for demolitions in the government’s first phase of ‘relocation and improvement’ this month. The goal is to create a ‘world-class city’ in a ‘slum-free India’, but since the government has not been able to wipe out unsightly poverty, it just removes the poor.

This is a story of the duality of Delhi. Where some families have legal rights because of laminated cards tucked away in wallets or closets. And end up owning, on average, assets worth Rs 7.3 lakh, way above the national average of Rs 3.07 lakh. Whereas illegal squatters who build our roads, our buildings, our Metro, look after our children, wash our dishes and work in our factories don’t enjoy the same rights. Delhi faces a yearly migratory influx of 2.5 lakh people wanting to be part of India’s 8 percent ‘growth story’.

Ironically, the Delhi government did provide for low-income housing in three successive Master Plans (1962, 1981 and 2001). However, the data compiled by the research group Hazard Centre reveals that by 2001, the government had a backlog of roughly 12 lakh dwellings.

“The Master Plan is legally binding but the state has failed in its duty. Slums are a result of this failure,” suggests Dunu Roy, director of Hazard Centre. “The courts, instead of taking cognisance of this failure, have prosecuted the slum developers who have completed the work that the government didn’t.” Though many people term this housing illegal, nowhere does the Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956, define it as such. “If the state fails to do its job and the society does it for them, how is it illegal?” asks Roy.

Moreover, though planners and private developers are now eyeing the land on which 32 lakh slum dwellers live, the truth is that though they comprise 24 percent of the city’s population, they live on only 2-5 percent of land. They have not caused the ‘scarcity’ of land.

Anil Laul, a Delhi-based architect, avers there is no land scarcity. “To clear all the slums of Delhi you need only 7,000 acres (roughly 30 sq km) with a population density of 80 dwellings per acre.” In fact, the Delhi Development Authority seems to be sitting on 12,000-15,000 acres of this valuable asset allotted for housing.

Over the years, slums came in handy to politicians as votebanks and for collecting illegal gratification. “Each slum dwelling pays Rs 300 to the local official, Rs 300 to the local cop and Rs 300 to the local politician. Now multiply 900 into 12 into the 6 lakh slum dwellings. That’s an illegal take of Rs 6,480 crore annually,” alleges Laul.

What is more execrable is that demolition decisions, while citing public purpose, have a hidden profit motive. This is exactly the tactic employed by the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh for acquiring farmland, which has led to widespread unrest. “Land that was taken for ‘public purpose’ in Chanakyapuri, rendering 90 percent people homeless, became the site for Leela Palace Kempinski as recently as 2010. Land taken for reforestation in the Vasant Kunj ridge gave way to a cluster of malls,” explains Abdul Shakeel, a lawyer working with the Urban Rights Forum for the Homeless Citizens.

But if the government does relocate slum-dwellers and gives them housing, is there still a problem?

Ask Ramkali, 53, who lost her home so that a parking lot could be built for the Delhi Secretariat at Yamuna Pushta in 2000. She laments, “They took us to Bhalaswa where even a dog wouldn’t live. It is next to a landfill where the city’s garbage is dumped. Our children have lost out on their education and their future. The system is such that the poor will remain poor.”

Ironically, these citizens long to go back to slums, where conditions are more hygienic and there is some employment nearby. “There was a stigma attached with living in a slum,” recalls Shakuntala, 45. “Our relatives would say: you may be living in the city but you live in jhuggis. It hurt. So when the government officials said we would have a house of our own, we jumped at the chance.”

There has been a pitiable story ever since. So far, the Delhi Jal Board has not laid pipes, so the people depend on hand pumps for water, drawing ground water contaminated by the landfill. There is no sewage system, only public toilets. Since the land is low-lying, there is constant flooding. Children are forced to either wade through water or walk 90 minutes to get to the only school in the area.

Now, there is apprehension that since the 4,000 households in Bhalaswa were given only a 10-year ‘licence’, if there are grander plans for the area, they will be asked to move.

Back in the city’s government offices, the expenditure report for Bhalaswa claims Rs 50,000 was spent on development per plot. The government sanctioned over Rs 70 crore for 15 infrastructural requirements like roads, 12 schools, a sewage treatment plant, shopping centres and parks, none of which exist. “They had promised us houses, but there were just lines drawn with chalk in the mud,” recalls Najma, 36, who paid Rs 7,000 for this hoax. Must have been very expensive chalk.

When the government has land and the money to create affordable housing for the people that build and run the city, why doesn’t it? Many believe that the gameplan is only to regain possession of land once neglected but now valuable, treating the people who live there as dispensable.

Forty-four slum clusters in Delhi are being demolished and relocated to create a ‘world-class city’

AS USUAL, the intentions look honourable on paper. Following up its announcement of creating a ‘slum-free India’, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs launched the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) in 2010 to facilitate the creation of low-cost housing for 32 million slum dwellers in 250 cities across the country. RAY accepts the failures that resulted in the creation of slums and offers aid to state governments to create such housing.

While RAY guidelines read like a dream, the realities on the ground are a nightmare.

Though RAY emphasises upgrading or redeveloping slums on the same location rather than relocation, the Delhi government has listed 33 clusters for demolition and relocation. Those found eligible will be shifted to the 15,000 two-room flats that have been constructed in Bawana and Narela. Again, they will not own the houses but will have a 15-year licence. It’s unclear what will happen after that. In Delhi, the cut-off date for this entitlement is 31 March 2007, excluding all the people who immigrated to the city in 2007-11. However, those who can prove residence before 1 April 2007 will have to pay only Rs 75,000 for the flat while those who came in 2002- 07 will have to pay Rs 1.32 lakh (these rates are subject to change). If the slum dwellers can pay, the government will arrange loans to be paid back gradually. The total cost of building each flat is Rs 3.4 lakh.

“We have everything here, schools, hospitals, Metro station, railway station, bus and market place, why would we move? The government should just give us plots here and we will develop it ourselves. I don’t want a flat in Bawana,” exclaims Sheikh Mushtaq, a resident of Anna Nagar, a slum cluster behind the WHO office. “If we are moved, will I be able to run my tailoring business? Will my children be able to go to school? I’m sure the cost of living will go up. How will I afford the loan?” he asks. If found eligible and given a house, his daily commute to central Delhi via Metro and bus will cost him Rs 80 and take five hours for the round trip.

Shahina, 16,Bhalaswa Resettlement Colony
Shahina, 16,Bhalaswa Resettlement Colony
For 11 years, Shahina and her family have lived in a house without water supply, drainage or sewage system. Having a personal toilet is illegal, as a public loo is provided. For bathing, they make do with a white plastic sheet draped outside. “The government says we are lucky to have housing but the slum was better,” she says
Photo: Vijay Pandey

In Mumbai, slum-dwellers relocated in this way sold their flats illegally and returned to the slum. “Delhi is going for the same flawed plan,” exclaims Laul. When approached by the Delhi government in the early 1990s to come up with a solution for the ‘slum problem’, he created an interlocking structures based on traditional architecture. “No steel beams. We stuck to traditional materials that require zero maintenance. We proposed housing on stilts, to leave space for storage, cycles or carts. It is about understanding the needs of individuals. Each unit would cost Rs 44,000.” His drawings were rejected.

What the government prefers, apparently, is a policy of exclusivity and multiple land-owning agencies. Cut-off dates, ID proofs and eligibility criteria designed to keep people out. Every city has a different cut-off date for awarding citizenship: Ahmedabad’s is 1982, Mumbai’s is 1995, Delhi’s is 2007. “Cut-off dates are a violation of an individual’s fundamental right, because you are denying citizenship. You give ration cards but not the right to shelter under Article 21,” avers Roy of Hazard Centre. “If the residents were out for work and the door was locked, the surveyor marked the dwelling as vacant.” He contrasts this, devastatingly, with the Emergency, when all present at the time of demolition were entitled to resettlement. “Even when the State was at its most oppressive, the right to shelter was recognised,” he points out.


Delhi’s Underbelly

The number of ‘illegal dwellings’ counted in Delhi in 2001

Delhi’s slum population. This is 24 percent of Delhi’s population

30 sq km 
The amount of land needed to accommodate all the slum-dwellers of Delhi

The land (in hectares) given for housing against DDA’s promise of 27,000-32,000 hectares

Rs 75,000 
The price to be paid for new flats by those who came to Delhi before 2002

Rs 1,32,000
The price to be paid for flats by those who settled in Delhi in 2002-07

1,483 sq km 
The land mass of Delhi, of which only 782 sq km is under use. 701 sq km is vacant


Now, however, there are surveys, although Delhi’s Lt Governor commented once that this method of determining rehabilitation programmes is flawed. According to the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), Anna Nagar and Vijay Amar Colony have 1,122 households, of whom roughly 820 have filed their documents. However, another survey on the DUSIB website of Anna Nagar and Vijay Amar Colony jots up 3,000 dwellings.

Developers venturing into low-cost housing have a fund to protect the risk. The poor get no such guarantees

A local who worked at the colony polling station explains, “In 2001, there were 1,122 houses. Today, there are 3,150 houses and a voting population of 6,156. But the government has opted to use the lower number.” Those who have commercial set-ups will not qualify; those who don’t have their names on the electoral list of 2002, ’07 and ’10 will not make the cut. If the house is on rent, they are out. A policy of exclusion or inclusion?

On-location upgradation of slums is fraught with similar problems of cost, survey, and exclusion, but at least the daunting distance factor is not there. At Kusumpur Pahari near Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, where tenements will be built at the same spot, the population is 75,000 people, roughly 15,000 families, but according to sources, only 3,000 flats will be built. If any doubts remain about the rest, Delhi Urban Development Minister Raj Kumar Chauhan clarifies the government’s stand: those not found eligible will fend for themselves.

The issue of resettlement is further complicated by multiple land-owning agencies: the DDA, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the railways, the Metro and the armed forces. It is widely believed that the Metro follows the best practices. “Not a brick was removed until every household was shown the new place and resettled,” said Mushtaq, referring to a patch of land in Anna Nagar.

While the railways have post-monsoon conducted multiple demolitions across the city offering no rehabilitation, the DDA is conducting a survey. The unofficial word is that demolitions will be held off till the 2014 elections.

RAY has also come up with the questionable idea of tradable development rights. Private players venturing into low-cost housing can use part of the cleared land to set up a hotel, mall or office complex. But a seven-story tenement would reduce the property value of such a commercial venture, so the central funding under RAY can be used as a Viability Gap Fund. Profits are protected with public money.

“I used to have my own cigarette shop where I also sold tea and pakoras,” says Bibi Ayesha as she sweeps a night shelter. “I was able to marry off two of my daughters and bring up my son. But after they demolished my hut for the Commonwealth Games, I have been forced to sweep. My six-year-old daughter Monu cannot get admission in any school since I don’t have proof of residence,” she says. Her daughter demands, “Teach me how to write M in English, so I can spell my name.”

But the last word should go to Shamsuddin of Anna Nagar. “How would you feel if they demolished your house after giving you only two days to figure things out? But then again, it will never happen to you. You are rich.” He smiles.

Avalok Langer is a Correspondent with Tehelka.


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