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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Slum dwellers say promise of a permanent house a ‘poll jumla’

In September 2013, Sheila Dikshit, the then chief minister of Delhi, had laid the foundation stone of the 3,000-flat complex just before the assembly elections.

delhi Updated: May 07, 2019 02:35 IST
Risha Chitlangia
Risha Chitlangia
New Delhi
slum dwellers,permanent house,poll
Lok Sabha elections 2019: Slum dwellers say promise of a permanent house a

Shailendra Kumar, 17, who recently completed class 12, has grown up listening to his father about owning a house in the 14-storeyed under construction housing complex, located 200-metres away from his ‘kuchcha’ house at Nehru Camp in south Delhi’s Kalkaji Extension.

The complex touted as Delhi’s first in-situ redevelopment project, was part of the Delhi Development Authority’s ambitious project (to be implemented in three phases) to rehabilitate 8,000-odd families living in three nearby Jhuggi-Jhopdi clusters (JJ cluster) — Nehru Camp, Navjeevan Camp and Bhoomiheen camp.

In September 2013, Sheila Dikshit, the then chief minister of Delhi, had laid the foundation stone of the 3,000-flat complex just before the assembly elections.

“The complex is nowhere near completion. I don’t know whether we will ever get to live here or not. Now my father has also lost all hope,” said Kumar, who lives in a two-room set in the slum.

With 30 lakh people living in 675 slum clusters, ‘housing for all’ — especially ‘Jahan Jhuggi, Wahan Makan’ or in-situ slum rehabilitation — has been a key poll promise by all political parties in successive elections – Lok Sabha in 2014 and the assembly polls in 2015.

The Congress conceived two in-situ projects — Kalkaji Extension and Kathputli Colony — when it was in power both at the Centre and the state. The issue has been key promise in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) manifestos as well.

During the 2015 assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to make Delhi slum-free by 2022 and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal had promised ‘Jahan Jhuggi, wahan makan’ (in-situ redevelopment).

In-situ projects: key promise, but a distant dream

While the political parties are yet again promising a house for all, citizens say they will not fall for the “jumlas” this time. Rajpal, a grocery shop owner, who had been living in Nehru Camp since 1980, said, “It is a jumla (false promise) which they make every election to garner our support. But all political parties conveniently forget about it. We will not fall for this now.”

DDA officials say the complex, which was to be completed by 2016, will be ready in the next three-four months.

Before Kalkaji Extension, the land-owning agency had planned an in-situ project on Public-Private Partnership at Kathputli Colony, which couldn’t take-off due to litigation and stiff opposition from the residents.

Residents of Kathputli Colony, which was a part of the New Delhi seat, are confused about which parliamentary constituency they belong to now. In 2017, residents were shifted to a transit camp at Anand Parbat, which comes under the Chandni Chowk constituency.

All the residents of the transit camp have got new voter IDs made. Dilip Bhat, head of the Bhat community, said that the Kathputli Colony had close to 14,000 voters. “But now, we are no longer a votebank, as some have shifted to the transit camp while others were moved to Narela. There were many who were found ineligible for rehabilitation. Political parties don’t care about us now,” said Bhat.

Those living in transit camp after the Kathputli Colony was demolished by the DDA in 2017 have just one demand from all the political parties—expedite the construction work.

Patasi, 60, a puppeteer and member of the Bhat community, said so far no main political party has visited the transit camp for campaigning. “Only an independent had come here last week. Now that the work has started at the site, we just want it to be completed at the earliest,” she said. The colony, Patasi says, has close to 10,000 voters.

Congress’ New Delhi candidate Ajay Maken, who was the urban development minister when the project was conceived, said, “I had conceived it as a pilot project in 2007 for the future development of slums in the city. The BJP-led Centre and AAP government in Delhi have not come out with new projects. They have put the old projects on slow burner instead of taking them concluding them.”

BJP MLA Vijender Gupta, who is a member of the DDA, countered Maken’s claim. “The Congress was in power both at the centre and state till 2013, why couldn’t they start the project?”. He said it was BJP that got the project “kick-started”.

However, Gupta also blamed the AAP for not coming up with new in-situ projects despite it being a key poll promise of the party.

Gopal Rai, AAP’s Delhi convener, blamed the central government. “The Centre has curtailed our powers. We don’t have the power to appoint an official. We don’t have control over land. This is why we are fighting for full statehood for Delhi so that we can give houses to the poor,” said Rai.

Ruksana, a resident of Shakur Basti whose six-month-old niece died during the eviction and demolition drive in 2015, said, “We don’t understand what full statehood is all about. We just want the government to fulfil their promise of giving us a house.”

Ashok Pandey, coordinator with Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) and convener of Shehri Adhikar Manch (an organisation which works with urban poor and homeless), said, “The government agencies don’t have a clear idea about the exact number of slum clusters in Delhi. There are hundreds of slums which don’t find mention in the DUSIB’s list. The government has failed to provide affordable housing to urban poor. There is a need to do fresh survey to identify cluster.”

Rehabilitation: the
policy and politics

While the AAP is promising a house for every family in Delhi in the next 10 years as part of its Lok Sabha election campaign, the BJP and the Congress have criticised it for not implementing the housing projects it already has in hand.

In north Delhi’s Shakur Basti, residents say they were promised houses either at the same site or nearby locations. “All political parties had come and promised a house. It’s been four years, we are struggling to get essential services such as clean drinking water. No political party has come here since then, except the Congress which filed a case the court in our support,” said Zamir Alam, Rukhsana’s husband. Residents say the Delhi government has only constructed a community toilet.

At the Basti, there are posters of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Maken, who had filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Delhi High Court to stop the eviction drive by the Railways. In March this year, the court had ruled in favour of the slum dwellers. The court also said that once a slum becomes eligible for rehabilitation, the land-owning agencies would “cease” to view the dwellers as “illegal encroachers”.

In December 2017, the Delhi government had notified the Delhi Slums and JJ Relocation Policy, 2015. Blaming the AAP government for ignoring urban poor, Vijender Gupta, who is the leader of the opposition in the Delhi Assembly, said the state government’s Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) and Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) have constructed over 30,000 flats for the rehabilitation of slum clusters.

“But DUSIB has allotted flats to just 1,931 families since 2010. It has 10,214 flats vacant flats. It has collected ₹39.4 crore from 5,173 slum dwellers as per the rehabilitation policy. But, they are yet to get a house. What is stopping the government rehabilitating slum dwellers when over 30,000 flats are vacant?” Gupta asked.

Clarifying the AAP government’s position, Rai said, “We have relocated some people and have planned for the relocation of 20,000 families in the next phase, which will be implemented after the model code of conduct is lifted.”

The thrust of the slum rehabilitation policy was on in-situ rehabilitation or within five km radius. In 2017, the Delhi government relocated 464 families from Nehru Camp slum cluster along the NH-24 in Patparganj to Dwarka sector 16, nearly 40kms away, as the land was needed for the widening of NH-24, now called the Delhi-Meerut expressway.

Sonu Kumar, who used to work as a security guard at a Mall in east Delhi, says he doesn’t know whether to be happy or sad. “We are happy that we have finally got a house of our own in Delhi. But there are very limited job opportunities here. People are not ready to pay even half of what I used to get there,” said Kumar.

Sarita (name changed on request), whose daughter works at a government office in east Delhi and husband works in an export house in Noida, said the family spends nearly Rs 6,000-7,000 just on commuting. “It is the fastest way to reach east Delhi, but commuting in the Metro is very expensive. We are happy that we have a house of our own, but I wish it was somewhere nearby to our cluster,” she said.

While election campaigning has entered its last leg, residents said, their only demand is a better livelihood option. “We will vote for a party which will promise better livelihood options,” said Mohd Sikander, who drives an e-rickshaw. These residents will be voting for the first time in Dwarka in the polls.

Dunu Roy, director at Hazards Centre, which provides professional services to community and labour organisations, says that the new policy is the worst thing to have happened to slum dwellers. “They have lost their livelihood after being rehabilitated and have got houses which don’t meet their demands. In the previous policy, people were given plots where they could build a house as per their requirement. But now, the government is providing flats which don’t meet their requirement as their family size is big. A majority of these people work in the informal sector. Giving them flats on the outskirts of the city is having a huge impact on their livelihood,” Roy said.

First Published: May 07, 2019 02:35 IST