Guest Column | Slum-free city: Why a strategy shift is needed

With the bulldozers looming, many dwellers ran from pillar to post with documents, from the DC office to the Chandigarh Housing Board, trying to prove their eligibility for alternative allotment, but to no avail, though their voter IDs, Aadhaar cards, gas connections and electricity bills all listed their address as Colony Number 4
Only a few months ago, election campaigning was taking place with gusto in Colony Number 4 , which has now been deemed illegal. Their address, which was accepted while casting votes, has all of a sudden been declared illegal. (PHOTO COURTESY: Jitesh Malik)
Only a few months ago, election campaigning was taking place with gusto in Colony Number 4 , which has now been deemed illegal. Their address, which was accepted while casting votes, has all of a sudden been declared illegal. (PHOTO COURTESY: Jitesh Malik)
Published on May 08, 2022 02:09 AM IST
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ByAnu Sabhlok

The elite wanted to live in a slum-free, word-class city, so all those who had until recently had called Colony Number 4 their home suddenly found themselves displaced, while the city “reclaimed 65 acres of land worth 2,000 crore.”

The next day, it was proclaimed that there was no resistance. How could there be with 2,000 police personnel and 10 magistrates deployed, and Section 144 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in place?

After the eviction, Hira Lal, a mason, who is known for his exquisite attention to detail as he adorns walls and floors with tile mosaic and brick patterns, ironically found himself without a home. His daughter, who was to take her Class 12 exams the next day, saw the only home she had known being torn down. Is relocation trauma only a middle class phenomenon?

Rendered illegal after polls

With the bulldozers looming, many dwellers ran from pillar to post with documents, from the DC office to the Chandigarh Housing Board, trying to prove their eligibility for alternative allotment, but to no avail, though their voter IDs, Aadhaar cards, gas connections and electricity bills all listed their address as Colony Number 4. While a slip from the estate office proves their eligibility for allotment, their name does not feature among the 600 people who will be getting alternate allotment as these unlucky daily wagers were out for work the day officials came to collect biometrics. Regardless, only a few hundred flats have been made available for the 10,000 people who had been residing in Colony Number 4.

Only a few months ago, election campaigning was taking place with gusto in the colony, which has now been deemed illegal. Their address, which was accepted while casting votes, has all of a sudden been declared illegal.

“Nobody came to support us,” a resident of this five-decade- old colony says, adding, “It was like a military operation, instead of tanks there were bulldozers.”

The “successful” operation lasted six hours and 290 people from these 2,500 homes were given apartments in Maloya on rent. The homes built painstakingly brick-by-brick, the dreams and aspirations of the people who toil hard to keep our city clean and functional, were all razed in a fell swoop. The PM’s Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana has not been able to build homes for the majority of the country’s poor, and now the ones they built for themselves are gone.

A park without children

City Beautiful will build a park on the land that has been “reclaimed.” A park for whom? Colony Number 4 was perhaps the only residential settlement in the industrial zone. There are now no children to play in the park. But we do want the city to look pretty when we drive past in our fancy cars. Sociologist Amita Bavishkar rightly calls these aspirations of the elite ‘bourgeois environmentalism’.

In Chandigarh, we sit on the ruins of our predecessors. At the birth of the city, Nehru had proclaimed it was a step into the future, unfettered by the traditions of the past. Now, those who had manually worked on constructing Chandigarh have been erased from the map. What business do these migrants, who gave decades of their lives to build the city, have in the city once it is built? They must leave, and find another city to build.

Let us pause and give this idea of a slum-free city a rethink. Why is it that city plans including the ‘smart’ ones, never account for the thousands of labourers that will move in to construct and sustain the city? And even when they do, the estimates fall short by the thousands. As our strategies are inadequate, the labourers auto-construct, innovate, and adapt and as urbanist Gautam Bhan reminds us they build incrementally to accommodate changing needs. In that sense, they contribute towards the state’s responsibilities. Yes, slums are filthy, they are dens of unregulated construction, and basic services here are insufficient. Does the lack of hygiene, infrastructure and regulation in these slums reflect a failure on the part of the slum dwellers or is this a failure in urban planning and governance? These are the maalis, masons and mechanics that we rely upon, but can they rely on us?

(The author is associate professor, department of humanities and social sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali. Views expressed are personal.)

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