“Resettlement policy” for Delhi jhuggis: evict, demolish, make slum dwellers wait for years
The Supreme Court ordered the demolition of 48,000 jhuggis in Delhi. But have the authorities been able to resettle those who were evicted in the past? The likes of Rajendra Paswan were evicted from the Yamuna Bank in 2007, despite paying for alternate housing, and continue to await for redressal. Read the second part of the slum dwellers series to learn about the painfully slow process of resettlements.
In the first week of September, the highest court of the country ordered the demolition of 48,000 shanties in Delhi located along the railway tracks within three months. Notably, legal experts say that the court didn’t even bother to hear the arguments of the slum dwellers before passing the judgement.
The Indian Railways had started putting up notices on the shanties that are to be demolished. Notably, the plan to resettle the people living in them is still being carved out.
The Supreme Court, on September 14, heard the petition challenging the eviction order filed by Congress leader Ajay Maken. Later, the Indian Railways, in its statement, said that it will not "dismantle any encroachment without proper decision along with the MOUD (Ministry Of Urban Development)" and the Delhi government.
The stakeholders are now debating upon the plan to resettle 48,000 slums, but what has been the history of rehabilitation of slum dwellers in Delhi? To know this, Asiaville tracked down the eligible beneficiaries of previously demolished slum clusters who were supposed to be rehabilitated.
The endless wait for a home
All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Dilli Haat, and the INA Market are a few iconic Delhi locations near Kidwai Nagar. Lutyens Delhi is a few minutes away from here. The INA Airport is within a stone’s throw. When it comes to property rates, the locality could end up featuring in one of the costliest areas of Delhi.
Back in the 1980s, the situation was a bit different. Kushak Nallah – one of the modern city’s oldest and biggest drains – was operational even back then, but the area didn’t have as many public offices and private properties as it does today.
Nirmal Chandra Das – a native of West Bengal’s Uttar Dinajpur – had settled right next to Kushak Nallah in Kidwai Nagar in 1988. Das recalls, “There was nothing except the trees and shrubs. Kushak Nallah was still there. The new buildings around, the expansion of nearby Ring Road, this iconic Barrahpullah, every development took place in front of our eyes. Our slum cluster stood witness to all of these changes.”
The slum cluster here is known as JJ Camp Kidwai Nagar and Das lives in Bengal Camp. Those living in Bengal Camp mostly hail from West Bengal’s Uttar Dinajpur and Bihar’s Purnia districts. While the men work as painters and construction workers and do odd jobs, women work as maids in the nearby colonies.
The Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010 brought tectonic changes for the national capital. The government wanted to transform Delhi into an ideal global destination. The national capital was flooded with money and infrastructure projects, but on the other side of the coin, this turned out to be a nightmare for slum dwellers.
Ahead of the CWG, the shanties in the Kidwai Nagar slum clusters were razed down.
Mahendra Das is 61-year-old and is yet to forgive late Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit. He holds the Dikshit government responsible for bulldozing their homes and properties.
After the CWG was over, the slum dwellers once again settled near the drain. Slowly, they rebuilt their houses. But the situation was far worse this time.
Imagine these living conditions: cramped lanes, tiny one-room shanties for families with six to eight members, no washrooms, and an open drain outside which is a breeding ground for water-borne diseases and also leads to waterlogging of houses.
The residents of this slum cluster now dread the heavy rains.
“Within minutes, the water from the nallah enters our house. During this monsoon, a couple of times, the water level had almost reached the level of my neck,” 55-year-old Maya Das said. Like in all other shanties here, there is a broad rack at a height of nearly three to four feet. They keep their valuables on this rack to keep it safe from waterlogging and it also doubles as a bed. In this one room, she lives with her son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren.
Right next to the slum cluster, the National Buildings Construction Corporation Limited (NBCC) – a Government of India undertaking – is building an ambitious cluster of high rises. These posh towers have residential flats, commercial properties and office spaces located right on the Ring Road.
It was the augmentation of this project that made the resettlement of the slum cluster a top priority for the administration.
According to DUSIB officials, the NBCC has paid for the resettlement of these slums and the process of rehabilitation of the slum dwellers is in the pipeline.
After decades of living right next to the drain, witnessing the razing down of shanties and even battling fires in the cluster, they will finally be resettled under the housing scheme for the poor.
But here is the catch. The eligible beneficiaries of the slum cluster paid for the flats nearly 15 months ago, yet they continue to wait for the allotment.
Mahendra Das took a loan of Rs 32,000 to make the down payment for the flat. He will have to pay Rs 1.10 lakh within five years of receiving his allotment.
People who belong to Scheduled Castes or Tribes were asked to deposit Rs 31,000 as a one-time payment for the allotment.
“When I deposited Rs 31,000, I believed we will be relocated to new flats immediately. During the Delhi election, (CM Arvind) Kejriwal ji had told us the flats will be allotted right after the voting is over. But we are still waiting for the (allotment) letter,” Sangeeta Das told Asiaville.
Nirmala Rahi showed us the DUSIB certificate and the receipt for the payment of Rs 31,000 that she made in June 2019.
“Ek ek mahina kar ke intazar ab lamba hota ja raha hai. Ek saal se jyada ho gaya abhi tak humme bataya nahi hai ki flat kahan milega (The wait is becoming endless now. It’s been over a year but they (DUSIB) have not told us where our flats are),” Rahi said. Her 33-year-old husband, Babu Rahi was born and raised in the JJ Camp Kidwai Nagar.
Asiaville checked the reason for the delays in assigning people their allotments. A DUSIB official anonymously said, “The resettlement of Kidwai Nagar slum dwellers is our priority. They were supposed to be resettled by the end of March but the pandemic had started by then. The resettlement can’t be done unless the pandemic is over.”
The hundreds of residents of this slum cluster will have to wait until the COVID-19 scare is over.
However, the delay in the allotment of flats has become the norm in the national capital. At least, that’s what the trends show.
Rajendra Paswan, 48, was evicted from the banks of the Yamuna in 2007. He made a payment for the allotment of land. The process was initiated but he still waits for his allotment today.
“We used to live on the Yamuna Bank at the back of the Rajghat. In 2007, we were evicted from the land as the authorities wanted to develop the area for the Commonwealth Games. Later, the Millennium Depot came up at that spot. While a bunch of families were allotted land by the DDA in Delhi’s outer areas such as Bawan, Narela, nearly 900 families were left out,” Paswan said. He further added that because of the controversy around the allotments, the process was put on hold by the Lieutenant Governor.
“I had paid Rs 14,000 for the land in 2007. I along with other eligible beneficiaries waited till 2016 and then filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court. While most of us are living in rented apartments, those who couldn’t wait any further were forced to return to their native villages,” he said.
Where are the houses for the poor?
According to the Delhi government data, under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), a total of 45857 one-BHK flats are at different stages of construction in the national capital.
While 3680 of these flats are ready to be occupied in Ghogha, 1060 flats in Sultanpuri will be ready for occupation by December 2020. Roughly 24,000 flats are expected to be ready by March/April 2021. The remaining 16,600 will be ready by December 2021.
Even if all of these flats are utilised, they will fall short by a couple of thousand if everyone who is to be evicted by the Railways as per the SC order are taken into consideration.
Sunil Aledia of the Centre for Holistic Development points out the loopholes of the state machinery.
“Roughly 15 shanties of Anna Nagar slums were washed away in this monsoon. The residents were first forced to live on the street and were later moved to a government building. Why can’t the authorities allot the flat which has been built and are lying vacant for years to these people who are in its dire need,” Aledia - who works on the issues of the homeless and slum dwellers - told Asiaville.
According to a 2010 survey of the DUSIB, Delhi’s slums had 4 lakh households that had a population of 20 lakh. As per the DUSIB’s data, Delhi has 675 slums out of which 196 are on Delhi government land. This means that a majority of the slums are on lands owned by departments under the Central government and the civic bodies.
For instance, nearly 28 per cent of Delhi’s slums are built on lands owned by the Railways.
Supreme Court lawyer Kamlesh Kumar Mishra, who has been fighting the legal battle for the resettlement of slum dwellers in Delhi, said that until the 2018 Ajay Maken – Shakur Basti judgement there was a lot of confusion and bureaucratic bottlenecks for the resettlement and the construction of flats for the slum dwellers.
Mishra said that after the Delhi High Court judgement in the Shakur Basti case, the DUSIB had been identified as the nodal authority for the resettlement of the slum clusters.
As per the policy, in case the jhuggi jhopdi (JJ) cluster is on land owned by the Central government or its agencies such as the Railways or the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), they may carry out the resettlement on their own or could request the DUSIB to do the same.
However, if it is done through the DUSIB, the land-owning agency (LOA) will have to bear the cost of resettlement: that is, the cost of the construction of the alternate housing, the cost of the land, and the cost of relocation.
This is where the bottlenecks start. The LOA often faces a fund crunch when it comes to the resettlement of the slum dwellers.
“In the majority of the cases, the agencies which are supposed to bear the cost of the resettlement don’t have funds. So even if the flats have been built unless the respective pays the amount to the department which has carried out the construction, resettlement can’t happen,” a senior DUSIB official told Asiaville.
“The agencies have to bear roughly Rs 9-10 lakh for a 32 square metre flat. For instance, the MCDs don't have funds to pay for these flats, and hence the resettlement process gets delayed,” he further explained.
Another DUSIB source said, in the past 5 years, under the housing scheme for the poor which has been renamed as Mukhyamantri Awas Yojna by the Arvind Kejriwal administration, nearly 15 slums were resettled. The houses under the JNNURM are being refurbished.
In December last year, CM Kejriwal distributed certificates to 65,000 low-income families and slum dwellers. The officials said that while these families have been identified as eligible beneficiaries, the flats will be allotted only to those who can furnish the required documents and money as and when they are asked to.
A senior DUSIB official and Mishra pointed out the instances of resistance shown by the slum dwellers in shifting to these flats.
Under the new resettlement policies, the alternate housing arrangement is ideally to be done within 5 kilometres of the existing slum. However, under the earlier policies, the housing colonies were constructed on the peripheries of Delhi or at distant locations.
This posed a threat to existing earning opportunities and an increase in the living cost of those already surviving on a meagre income, Mishra said.
The senior DUSIB official pointed out, “Often these families have larger living spaces in the slums. They find the 32-metre square flats too small for their needs.” The family size of those living in the slums is often too large to be accommodated in a single one-BHK flat.
Duno Roy, director of the Hazards Centre, told Asiaville that the policy framework of the allotment of flats for the poor is flawed in itself.
His organisation works on issues such as land, housing and sanitation, and creates spaces for the poor in policy making.
“The houses which have been built for the poor and are lying vacant are unliveable. The DUSIB, in its affidavit, had said that it will take them (until) March 2021 to make them habitable and make the structural changes,” he said.
“Even if the flats (which are lying vacant) are refurbished by March 2021, it will not be occupied by the poor. These flats will be eventually occupied by the middle class. For them, it will be the cheapest option available. Instead of buying one, they will buy two and make the structural changes as per their requirements,” Roy said.
The director of the Hazards Centre said that over decades, the working class in Delhi was forced to make slums because the DDA – which was responsible for constructing houses – and their employers didn’t provide housing options.
“The relocation policy actually emerged out of the failure of the DDA to provide housing for the poor. If you read the old judgements, dating back to the 1970s, it reads very clearly that you (the authorities) have to rehabilitate these people because you failed to give housing,” Roy said.