In the recently released book, Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation, the section on the Emergency observes: “Sanjay Gandhi had, by then, emerged as a leader of great significance. He also promoted slum-clearance, anti-dowry measures and literacy but in an arbitrary and authoritarian manner much to the annoyance of the popular opinion”. In so far as it pertains to slum clearance in Delhi, I can assert, on the basis of my personal experience and records of the Delhi Election-Office, the Metropolitan Council and the Municipal Corporation, that this observation is wrong. Those involved in the production of the book appear to have relied on hearsay or old press clippings containing superficial or biased reports. Had they applied their minds and taken the trouble of researching the subject, they would have discovered that there had been no forcible evictions of slum-dwellers in Delhi.
What was carried out during the Emergency was the execution of an innovative project called ‘clearance-cum-resettlement-cum-development project’. It had been approved by the Union government prior to the Emergency, and I had been executing it as an administrative head of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). Much applauded schemes involving Nigambodh Ghat, Kela-Godam-New Delhi Railway Station, Purana Qila-Matkapir etc., were implemented before the Emergency. Some others were executed during or after that period.
When the contents and procedures remained similar before and after the Emergency, where does the question of excess or arbitrariness arise? Neither Indira Gandhi nor Sanjay Gandhi had ever asked me to do anything outside the scope of the project.
In fact, during the Emergency, slum-dwellers were treated well. Land worth Rs 2,000 crore (1976 prices) was given free. Building loans worth about Rs 9 crore were disbursed. Forty-one resettlement colonies, with about 145,000 residential plots and about 10,000 shop plots, were developed. About 200 km of metalled roads, 400 km of storm water drains, 500 parks, 2,500 public hydrants, 4,000 hand pumps, 60 tube-wells and 14,000 permanent lavatories were among the numerous facilities provided, besides schools, dispensaries and community centres.
Earlier, there were about 1,400 clusters, scattered across the city, with 71.8% without water taps and 68.9% no lavatory seats. Here they lived in extremely unhealthy conditions, with the stench of human excrement all around. It was from these sub-human conditions that the slum-dwellers were relieved during the Emergency. The resettlement colonies were also appropriately integrated in the overall development pattern of the metropolis. The Dakshinpuri resettlement colony was set up near Okhla Industrial Estate, while resettlement colonies in the trans-Yamuna area were linked with new industrial colonies in that area.
The rationale of the whole project was to create organised settlements, take advantage of the economies of scale and concentrate on environmental, educational, cultural and recreational facilities. Living near the fast-growing industrial areas, the settlers got ample opportunities for securing regular jobs. They became regular employees with fixed hours of work. Delhi too became a neat, clean, orderly and organised city with a personality and identity of its own.
In the elections to the Delhi Metropolitan Council and Municipal Corporation, held after the general elections of March 1977, these resettlers voted overwhelmingly for the Congress. In fact, Indira Gandhi’s party lost in almost all the constituencies except those covered by the resettlement colonies, an impossible feat if they had been forcibly evicted.
I was on the verge of setting up eight migrants’ colonies, when extensive political changes occurred and I had to leave the DDA. Those who came to power did not bother either to understand the rationale of the project and used it to to malign Indira and Sanjay Gandhi. If truth is to be the soul of history, we have to look at it with clinical precision, without passions, prejudices and predilections.
Jagmohan was the vice-chairman of the Delhi Development Authority from 1975 to 1977. The views expressed by the author are personal.