Salia Begum, 60, and her husband moved to Delhi from a village in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, almost 20 years ago, hoping for a better life. For these 20 years, Tughlaqabad village in south Delhi has been their home.
After having moved to Delhi, Begum and her family have been earning enough to only manage three square meals a day. Everything else, she says, is a struggle. “A city life comes with the promise of better civic facilities such as toilet, clean drinking water and electricity. I can’t say we get all those facilities here,” she says.
Begum is not alone in this struggle.
The residents of more than 295 unauthorised colonies under the jurisdiction of South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) along with a clutch of semi-urbanised villages are fighting for a life of dignity.
With the municipal elections due on April 23, residents of Delhi neighbourhoods like Tughlaqabad, Madanpur Khadar, Deoli, Lado Sarai and Sangam Vihar don’t know what to expect from the polls. “It is not that these elections will get us a better life. We are tired of asking. It always falls on deaf ears,” says Begum’s neighbour, Reshma Khan.
The residents in these places are mostly migrant workers who live in rented accommodations. They say their landlords don’t care about their squalid lives. The civic authorities don’t either.
Neeraj Gupta, a councillor from Sangam Vihar ward, says he was not ignoring the citizens’ needs. But as the councillors’ fund is not applicable in unauthorised colonies, their development efforts are not visible.
Each councillor in the South Delhi Municipal Corporation gets Rs 30 lakh to spend as discretionary funds. “In unauthorised colonies, only MLAs can spend their development funds. Hence, even if we want to do something for them, we cannot. People do not know about this and blame us and the corporation for their problems,” said Gupta.
But officials at the corporation said councillors were barred only from spending funds on developing infrastructure development in unauthorized colonies. “What is stopping them from cleaning up the area? That’s something they can easily spend on from their funds,” said an SDMC official on condition of anonymity.
LIVING AMID GARBAGE
Every lane and bylane of these illegal colonies are storehouses of garbage, which accumulate for weeks. The residents say that for the corporation, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan did not exist.
“I don’t understand why the garbage can’t be collected daily? The sanitation workers come just once a week. Even when they come, they don’t do the cleaning properly. There is no one to listen to our complaints,” said Pratham Gupta, who owns a shop in D Block Sangam Vihar, which is dubbed as Asia’s largest unauthorised colony.
The councillors have themselves stated in the SDMC House that with so few sanitation workers deployed in their areas, it is not possible to clean the streets every day. “There are 272 lanes in my ward and for sweeping them SDMC has deployed only 35 workers. That means if a lane is swept today, the next time it is swept will be only after a month. Also, there is no beldar to clean silt collected from the drains,” said Kalpana Jha, a councillor from Sangam Vihar.
Open over-flowing drains is another problem in these neighbourhoods. “Last election, we were told these drains will be covered. That promise remains only on paper. As monsoon sets in, the drains get clogged. Wastewater overflows and the streets are covered with knee-deep water. It is out of compulsion that I am living here. In my village, even animals live in a better condition,” said Raj Karan, a smalltime vendor who sells goods on a cart. He has been living in Sangam Vihar’s G block for the past 20 years.
Around 6km away in Tughlaqabad village, most houses are surrounded by sprawling spaces filled with garbage that raises a stink.
“The waste often gets into our homes. Both my daughters remain sick most of the time. Every election, candidates promise to clean up this field of trash. But, in reality, nothing happens,” said Aslam Khan, a resident of the village. This area is inhabited by migrant workers mostly from Bengal and Assam.
In villages of Deoli, Lado Sarai and Madanpur Khadar too, the heaps of piled up garbage is hard to miss. The smelly gutter water overflowing in clogged drains makes it impossible to walk around in these areas.
“We will fall sick if we wait for the corporation to come and act. We have our own devices, which we use to take out dirt from the drains. But the ones on the main roads of the colony remains,” said Mahipal Singh who lives in Gali number 421, in Deoli village.
Ahead of the election, the south Delhi mayor decided to change the existing yardstick for deploying sanitation workers and said that 60 workers will be moved from each of the 40 wards to unauthorised and urban villages.
However, following criticism of the timing, the proposal was put on hold.
In most of these areas, there are no toilets and residents are forced to defecate in the open. In Sangam Vihar, not all houses have toilets. The few homes which do are not connected to any sewerage system. The filth just flows out from here to the colony drains.
“Even after paying a good amount in rent, we have to go in the open to relieve ourselves. No one here has thought about building community toilets which can be at least used by women and children,” said Ashok Singh, a resident of H block in Sangam Vihar.
Tughlaqabad’s story is no different. More than 200 families living in this neighbourhood don’t have a single toilet.
“In the monsoon, the waste enters our home. Whom do we go and complain? When we go to our councillor, he sends us back with assurances,” said Reshma, a resident of the area for the last 12 years.
COLONY ROADS NEVER REPAIRED
The roads inside the illegal colonies are broken and riddled with potholes. Not very clear under whose jurisdiction these roads fall under, residents said they had no one to go and complain to.
The law clearly states that roads narrower than 60 feet have to be maintained by the municipal corporation.
“When roads in Saket and Pushp Vihar, which are also part of the same ward, can be repaired, why are our’s ignored? We don’t even have streetlights,” said Rajender, a retired army jawan.
The Resident Welfare Association of Madanpur Khadar Extension, which is the part of Ward 104, also complained that they were tired of submitting petitions to their councillor to get colony inroads repaired.
SCHOOLS LOCATED FAR AWAY
Enrollment in municipal schools has been constantly falling and visiting these areas makes one realise the possible reasons behind the decreasing numbers. Blocks A, D and H in Sangam Vihar do not have corporation schools. Due to which, most residents end up sending their kids to privately run schools, which operate from one room or two room houses. None of these schools has government recognition.
“To reach a nearby school, children have to cross the main roads and go towards Tigri. Both of us — my husband and I — are working. So, it is not possible for us to take them to school every day. So, we thought it is best to keep them in schools closer to home,” said Munibha Jha, a resident of H block.
Along with Jha, Pawan Dev, a resident of Madanpur Khadar extension, said they too faced the same problem.
“Our village, Badarpur, is one of the oldest villages in the city. Still, we neither have government schools in the area nor do we have a dispensary. More than 15 years have passed since the BJP started ruling the corporations. But we are still deprived of basics,” said Dev.