No room for poor: Why Delhi’s housing plans are ending up in ghost townships
Jagbeer Singh, a private security guard, whiles away his time at the entrance of a ghost town in outer Delhi’s Bawana — rows of abandoned apartment buildings constructed for 3,680 poor families currently living in slums tucked in the crevices of the national capital.
“I don’t know for whom these houses were built, but I do not mind guarding them as long I get paid (a monthly salary of Rs 10,000),” says Singh, pointing towards a road overrun by wild grass which leads to the desolate four-storey tower blocks with broken windowpanes and plaster chipping off the walls.
Singh, 32, is one of the six guards deployed outside the Rajiv Ratan Awaas township, which came up in 2008.
From Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to make Delhi slum-free by 2022, to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal pre-poll slogan - ‘jahan jhuggi, wahan makaan’, affordable housing for the poor has been on the agenda of all political parties. But the failure of successive governments to come up with a uniform resettlement policy and reluctance of the slum dwellers to shift to faraway places over livelihood concerns have ensured that finding an answer to the vexed issue of slum resettlement in the capital remains an elusive quest.
About 26,861 of the 28,344 flats constructed in the past decade by the Delhi government agencies for the have-nots lie vacant in different parts of the city — a testament to the government’s half-baked efforts at slum resettlement.
Kathputli Colony, the first in situ project
Eight years after mooting the plan, Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) started demolishing 3,000 slums at Kathputli colony, near Shadipur Depot, in October this year as part of its first in-situ redevelopment project under the Delhi Master Plan 2021. The authority’s plan to reclaim 5.2 hectares of land for building multistory flats for the eligible residents was resisted by a group of residents who claimed that the rehabilitation process was haphazard. The proposed 30 square metres, one-room flat costs Rs 1.12 lakh, to pay which the beneficiaries may get bank loans.
“Who doesn’t want to own a house? But they want us to live for two years at transit camps, which do not even have proper toilets, and are located far from the place where we have been living for the past 40 years,” said puppeteer Dileep Bhat, who leads the resistance. Over 2,000 families have been shifted to a transit camp in Anand Parbat, 3 kms away. Others have been relocated to government flats in Bawana, nearly 40 kms away.
The residents alleged that the DDA, which has approved rehabilitation of 3,292 families and rejected 771 claims, violated court orders by forcibly evicting them, a charge the authority refuted.
“As per the law, we do not need consent of beneficiaries in in-situ redevelopment projects,” said J P Agarwal, principal commissioner (housing), DDA. A case of 51 slum owners is pending in the court.
“We want to give houses to all eligible families, but it’s not possible to cater to all claimants,” said Agarwal.
Pushed to margins
Sadhna Haldar, 45, who used to work as a masseur in Laxmi Nagar, is looking for a new job. A resident of a one-room house in Savda Ghevra — projected by the Delhi government as a model of its slum rehabilitation plans — Haldar left the job as she couldn’t afford to spend Rs 2,000 in commuting to Laxmi Nagar, 35 kms away, where she earned Rs 8,000 a month.
“Travelling by bus would mean spending two hours and Rs 30 to and fro per day,” she said. Now, her teenage daughter, Deepika Haldar, has started working as a maid near Peeragarhi.
Just a kilometre away from Mundka station on Metro’s Green Line in west Delhi, Savda Ghevra is home to 60,000 people living in 10,000 houses constructed on the government land. Slum dwellers from Laxmi Nagar, Nangla Machi and Pragati Maidan were relocated here.
M Rasool, 36, who works at a Chandni Chowk spectacles’ shop , calls it a ‘dumping ground’ where livelihood remains a concern bigger than the lack of basic facilities.
“What would we feed our children if there are no jobs?” asked Jyoshna Haldar, who left a maid’s job that fetched her Rs 8000 a month to join a PVC factory at Tikri border that gives her Rs 5,000 a month.
A distant dream
In 2007, Daya Ram was 22 when he planted a sapling on the divider just outside his slum at Bawana JJ colony on the capital’s north-western periphery where his family shifted from Paschim Vihar. Today, the sapling has blossomed into a tree, but Ram, now a mason, is still waiting for the ‘promised land’.
“We have got the demand letter for a plot in M Block of the colony. But we are yet to get the land for house. It has been an unending wait,” said Ram, a Class 8 pass out and father of three who gets work only three days a week.
Umesh Singh, the 60-year-old leader of Bawana Sangharsh Samiti (BSS), has been, in association with NGO Hazards Centre, fighting for those who have been denied plots, and for creating facilities such as a police station and a hospital at the colony which inhabits over 50,000 people.
The recent protests during Kathputli eviction, is history repeating itself, according to Dunu Roy, director of Hazards Centre, who blames the government for not coming up with a viable policy for slum rehabilitation.
“Even in the colonies which came up in the 1970-80s at Seemapuri and Dakshinpuri, the municipality survey then showed that 80% of the residents were not the original people who were shifted there,” Roy said, opposing the concept of relocation of slum dwellers.
The rising number of slums, Roy said, is not a matter of population growth or unanticipated migration or even unavailability of land. “It is basically about the fact that there are no houses for people in the EWS category who form 98% of the unorganised labour,” he said.
Currently, slums are rehabilitated in Delhi under the land laws which deal with encroachment of public property. The central Act for slums -- Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1956, which defines slums as ‘habitations not fit for habitations’ and not encroachments – is hardly invoked. The rehabilitation exercise in Kathputli, for example, was guided by DDA’s ‘in-situ’ redevelopment scheme under its master plan which derives its legality from the Delhi Development Act, 1957.
Similarly, the Delhi government approves schemes proposed by Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) considering each case differently. DDA owns 80% of land under slums while DUSIB and other agencies own the rest.
The Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government had tried to come up with a policy for allotting the low-cost flats constructed under Rajiv Ratan Awas scheme. But it was scrapped as less than 45% of the total slum dwellers applied. The Delhi Slum and Jhuggi Jhopri Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015, passed by the Delhi government, has not been notified yet as it remains caught up in the Centre-state stand-off.
“We can’t do much unless the policy is notified,” said MK Tyagi, member (engineering), DUSIB, which is responsible allotting the vacant 26,861 flats at 12 projects in Dwarka, Sultanpuri, Baprola, Bawana, Ghoga and Bhorgarh.
It has been proven worldwide, Roy said, that the poor do not want to live in flats because they cannot work there. “Where will a rickshaw puller keep his vehicle or a vegetable vendor keep his cart?” he asked.
So, what is the solution?
“Why not provide better civic services to them where they live instead of making new houses. Give them plots and let them build their own house,” Roy suggested.