NEW DELHI: Out of the almost 50 years that she has spent in the capital, a considerable part has been spent shifting around Nehru Place, says Nausar as she scrapes through her belongings in a tin box — a few bread slices, an onion, a potato, a charger and toothpaste. She is getting ready to prepare lunch by the roadside in Nehru Place. In 2017, Nausar was one among over 50 such families displaced from under the Nehru Place flyover during a beautification drive. For a significant number of them hailing from Ajmer district in Rajasthan, the roads are their ‘homes’ in Delhi.
The disturbing pattern of eviction in India is the punitive and counter human rights approach, points out Miloon Kothari, the former UN special rapporteur of housing. In Delhi, over 1,500 homeless persons evicted in 2017 for “beautification” of its flyovers have still not received any relief or resettlement, according to an advocacy group Housing Land Rights Network (HLRN) report.
“Our voting ID cards are that of Rajasthan. But we have stayed in Delhi all our lives. We do odd jobs here — we mostly work as day labourers, scrap dealers,” Nausar says. The extreme weather conditions, vehicular and air pollution cause further deterioration to those suffering from chronic or acute health conditions. Asked if they know of the central government’s promise of ‘Housing for All’ scheme, they reply in the negative.
“We saw so many elections here. No leader has ever visited us...nothing changed for us,” said Beena, who appeared to be in her late 60s. While for the middle-aged the only two wishes are for ‘roti’ and ‘makaan’ (food and housing), Roshan, 12, who has no access to schools, quips in, “I want slippers, shoes, toilet, water and a job in the police force”. “It is very disturbing that such a large population has no access to a dignified life. There is no investment in social housing and low-cost housing. Facilities for homeless remain grossly inadequate and poverty is criminalised. For a welfare state, the government should take responsibility,” Shivani Chaudhry, HLRN executive director, said.
At the Nehru Place MTNL slums, which was demolished earlier on March 5, around 150-odd people plan to not exercise their electoral right by boycotting the voting if no political leader visits them. “We want answers from the government. Modiji claims he was a tea seller. How is it that his government does not understand the woes of the poor? No political leader addresses these questions. I challenge the government to answer why we should vote at all,” said Sonia Kumar, 35, who is living in a makeshift arrangement at the spot.
When the demolition drive occurred, children were preparing themselves to appear for their exams in the schools. The sudden demolition drives push the younger generation permanently out of the schools. In the evictions reported at the national capital last year, the affected communities did not receive any prior written notice of the impending demolition of their homes, claimed the HLRN report.