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Demolishing myths

Migrant colonies, resettlement projects and redevelopment plans were all in place even before the Emergency of 1975, writes Jagmohan.

india Updated: Jun 26, 2007 00:48 IST
Jagmohan

It is well known that the Emergency (June 25-26, 1975) was a tragedy. Its imposition led to a large number of unjustified arrests and caused many aberrations. What is generally not known is the true story of the so-called demolitions in Delhi.

A number of false stories were woven around ‘demolitions’ in Delhi during the Emergency. The notorious Turkman-Gate-Ranjit-Hotel story, which received wide publicity, was one of them. A Metropolitan Criminal Court in Delhi held the story to be a complete fabrication. The worst part of this fabrication was that many ‘eminent’ journalists wrote the same story in their books on the Emergency, as if they were themselves witness to it.

Similar was the position with regard to the alleged bulldozing of slums. The truth is exactly the opposite of what has been propagated. The slum-dwellers expressed their gratitude for being resettled in well-planned resettlement colonies. In the elections, held in mid-1977 for the Municipal Corporation and Delhi Metropolitan Council, votes were cast against Indira Gandhi’s party everywhere, but these resettlers voted overwhelmingly in its favour. Does it stand to reason that they would do so had they been bulldozed by her government?

To recapitulate, I was appointed Vice-Chairman of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in January 1971. Being primarily concerned with the planning and development of Delhi, I had nothing to do with the imposition of the Emergency. Earlier, I had worked as Commissioner for Implementation of Delhi Master Plan and was given the Padma Award for the “significant contribution to the formulation and implementation of Delhi Master Plan”. I had a passionate urge to make the Capital one of the cleanest and disciplined cities in the world. I was dead against encroachments, a phenomenon encouraged by selfish politicians to create vote-banks.

Much before the Emergency, I had been clearing encroachments and resettling squatters in resettlement colonies. This was in accordance with a scheme which had been approved by the Centre and Parliament and was an adjunct to the Delhi Master Plan. The highly applauded clearance projects of Nigambodh Ghat, Purana Quila, New Delhi Railway Station and Kotla Ferozshah were executed in the pre-Emergency days. Similar projects of clearance-cum-resettlement were carried out during the Emergency. The only new factor that emerged during the period was that the political elements and vested interests of racketeers were kept at bay. I did no wrong and nor was I ever asked by Indira Gandhi or Sanjay Gandhi to do anything that had no precedent.

I concluded that the existence of hundreds of haphazard clusters of squatters in Delhi was a menace to health and habitation of the people and frustrated the objective of securing planned development, besides causing huge losses to the public exchequer. I also observed that the residents of these clusters were the worst sufferers and lived in miserable conditions. The encroached-upon areas were mostly marked for public utility projects or on the embankment or the beds of open nullahs. Thus, no investment was made by any public authority to provide even the basic amenities.

The best way was to resettle the existing clusters on permanent sites and ensure future migration in a planned manner. The migration process was made skill and productivity-oriented, and not restricted to petty jobs or businesses in which the poor virtually competed with one another. I launched a massive ‘clearance-cum-redevelopment-cum-resettlement’ project. Before this project was undertaken, there were about 1,400 clusters, scattered all over the city in unhealthy sites. It was from these sub-human conditions that the squatters were relieved and accommodated in the resettlement colonies. The new colonies were integrated in the overall development pattern of the metropolis. Not only were residential clusters shifted but avenues of industrial and commercial employment were also opened. The superficial critics of relocation do not understand that in a metropolis undergoing expansion or redevelopment, there is little difficulty in locating resettlement or migrant colonies near new centres of employment. Today, almost all the 41 colonies that I set up constitute central parts of Delhi.

After this, Delhi was a neat, clean, orderly and organised city. Areas around historical monuments were cleared, landscaped and developed as parks and community greens.

I was planning eight migrant colonies when extensive political changes occurred at the Central and state levels. Those who came to power played the politics of slums and made my project a part of their campaign to malign Indira Gandhi’s regime. They did not bother either to understand the rationale of the project or to consider that it had nothing to do with the Emergency (1975-77). Reckless populism became the order of the day and false stories were spread about the clearance-resettlement-redevelopment project.

It is possible to create healthy and harmonious habitats in all our cities, if haphazard squatting is not permitted, if land is acquired for rational distribution among different sections of the citizenry and if migrant colonies are set up in advance near new places of trade and industry. To do all this, however, a constructive approach, strict urban discipline and statesmanship of a high order, and not the petty politics of slums, squatting and slander, are required.

Jagmohan is a former Union Minister.