Pushed to the margins: How Delhi's slumdwellers are left after demolition without rehabilitation

Left homeless after demolitions, slum dwellers are either waiting for rehabilitation for years or caught in red tape of agencies and most of the evicted families are left to fend for themselves.

Published: 02nd May 2022 07:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd May 2022 07:39 AM   |  A+A-

Slum dwellers near Lotus Temple Road in Kalkaji are now either staying in nearby slums or living on the premises of a local temple. Those with no savings are forced to make roadside their resting plac

Express News Service

Dinesh and his mother Prema Devi are yet to come to terms with losing their house and shop in a demolition drive. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had carried out the action at the slums near Lotus Temple Road in Kalkaji. 

"I was not in the city and had gone to my hometown Jhansi with my mother. When we returned after Holi, all the houses were destroyed. Officials arrived with police, two JCBs and three-four trucks. They demolished the houses and loaded bed, utensils, jewellery, money, documents, etc onto the trucks. Police didn’t allow people to remove or take their belongings," says Dinesh.

As of now, Prema Devi with the help of his two other sons - who work as labourers in Mumbai and Pune - somehow built a make-shift house amidst the rubbles. But not all are resourceful like them. At least, 50 families are homeless after the eviction in December. While a few of them stay in the temple premises and dharamshalas, some have rented accommodation in other nearby slums and many others live by the roadside with their belongings dumped in a nearby park. 

A batch of petitions against the Kalkaji demolition is now being heard in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. Several NGOs had filed the petitions on behalf of the jhuggi dwellers. In the court, officials have claimed that the land belongs to temple authorities and the DDA.

According to advocate Kaoliangpou Kamei, who is overseeing one of the petitions, the government should have considered the rehabilitation of people before demolishing their houses. "No existing rehabilitation policy was utilised by the government. When we sent a query to the DDA, it did not reply. Later, DUSIB said it will start rehabilitation only after the DDA provides money since the slums were demolished on DDA land," Kamei said.

DDA officials were unavailable for comments despite repeated attempts to get their statement on the eviction. In his petition, Kamei submitted that the mental and physical well-being of slum dwellers were under severe threat as they were vulnerable to communicable diseases, especially in light of the coronavirus. 

The advocate says the jhuggi clusters comprising over 50 houses exist since 1990. "The residents are mostly rickshaw pullers, daily wage earners and domestic workers who live below the poverty line. They are struggling to survive in the COVID pandemic," he said.

Livelihood matters

Prema Devi (45) says authorities gave her an option to relocate in Narela where they would be given a flat for Rs  11 lakh. "If I had money, why would I let my son and myself live in this rubble? We would have left and rented an accommodation nearby. Even if we get the house for free, what will we do in Narela? It is so far and our livelihood is here," he said.

Kamei concurs that authorities gave three options to the jhuggi dwellers during the court proceedings. Either to buy a flat in Narela for Rs  10-12 lakh, rent a flat in Dwarka for Rs  2,000 which the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) said that it will provide, or to live in night shelter homes. "However, all of this is not under any rehabilitation scheme," he said.

While the night shelters are mostly packed, the two other options are not viable for Prema who claims she was left homeless overnight after living for 30 years in the slum. Narela and Dwarka are located 52.4 km and 30 km away from Kalkaji.  

Another slum resident Ashma Rahim, who lives in a dharmshala for over 30 years, says her in-law’s family was given the place to stay by the temple authorities in 'Gau daan'. "The priests or the authorities never said a word and didn’t bother us ever. We lived cordially but the MCD came and demolished the houses," Ashima said.

As she works as a maid in the locality, Ashma contends her earnings will be hit if she moves to Narela. "Even if I go to Narela, how will I travel to Kalkaji where I work? Buses and metros take time. Autos are expensive," she said.

Part of the bigger mess

The crisis faced by slum dwellers of Kalkaji is repeated in other jhuggi jhopdi clusters as well. In Kalkaji Extension and Govindpuri, there are at least three clusters where people were promised to be rehabilitated to Navjeevan, Bhoomiheen and Jawaharlal Nehru camps, but nothing has happened in a decade. 

While the DDA plans to rehabilitate 3,024 families of the three clusters in a phased manner under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban, the allotment is yet to begin. Slum dwellers are piqued that the authorities are collecting documents from them but not giving a deadline for handing over the keys of their homes.

In Badarpur, the houses of about 40 families of craftsmen who migrated from Rajasthan were demolished in 2020. While the Supreme Court put a stay on further demolition, the families are perpetually on tenterhooks as the civic body keeps demolishing “illegal constructions”.  Thousands of artisans now live in the Bhatt camp, which is close to the Tughlakabad railway station.

According to Mazdoor Awas Sangharsh Samiti (MASS) convener Nirmal Gorana, as the camp is present on private land, it has nothing to do with rehabilitation. Nirmal is contesting a case in the Saket district court to seek a proper rehabilitation of the slum dwellers of Bhatt camp.

"These people are craftsmen and they perform at national and international events. They have a valid passport and other documents which show that they have been living in the area for the last 30 years. They are a valuable asset to our art and culture. Why can't the culture ministry come to their aid?"Gorana asked.

Interestingly, Bawana slum dwellers are facing a peculiar set of problems despite the DUSIB constructing houses under the Rajeev Ratan Awas Yojana. According to government officials, the flats were constructed in 2012 and the Delhi elections took place in 2013.

The Union Urban Development Ministry remained undecided on whether the Centre or the State would allocate the flats before putting the onus on DUSIB in 2017-2018. But, they said, the Centre stated that instead of flat allocation, only rental agreements would be done. The project was in limbo for two more years.

The flats in Bawana, meanwhile, have turned into ghost towns. With no proper security, it has become a hotspot for criminals who are scraping the iron and wood used in the buildings. "Over 18 years have gone by and yet Bawana slum dwellers are still waiting for their flats promised by the erstwhile Congress government," says Umesh Singh of Bawana Sangharsh Samiti. 

At Kathputli colony near Shadipur, the families are still waiting to move into their new houses after their slum was demolished five years ago to make way for Delhi’s first in-situ redevelopment project. The colony was home to puppeteers, magicians and singers from Rajasthan, UP and Bihar who had settled there since the 1950s.

The families, who were shifted to a transit camp in Anand Parbat, were promised a new housing complex which is yet to be completed.  In response, a DDA official said 720 flats will be distributed by September and 2,080 more flats will be handed over by next year. "This allocation is for close to 1,280 families," the official said.

Law on rehabilitation

The 2021 Delhi Master Plan envisages rehabilitation or relocation of the existing squatter settlement and jhuggi dwellers, informs advocate Helen Tungoe, one of the lawyers for the petitioners in the Kalkaji slum demolition case.

"It provides for relocation of the Jhuggi dwellers if the land on which their jhuggis exist is required for public purpose. The Jhuggi dwellers should be relocated or resettled and provided alternative accommodation.... However, the Kalkaji slum and Kathputli Colony are the prime examples of the gross violation of these rules," she adds. 

In several judgments, Helen says, the Supreme Court has recognized the right to housing as part and parcel of the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.  It has read "right to shelter" as 'right to adequate shelter' with emphasis on privacy and security, and not mere existence, she adds. "It is the state's responsibility to provide them (slum dwellers) with proper and adequate housing."

Lessons to learn

In March, the Delhi government announced to rehabilitate 78,000 families to permanent houses in a phased manner under which about 16,000 families would benefit in the first phase. Slum dwellers and other stakeholders, however, are cynical - given their bad experience. 

According to Nirmal, slum dwellers are urban service providers but enjoy no amenities such as affordable housing within accessible places, eateries or cheap mass transit modes of transport. They are being pushed to fringe areas of the city, the MASS convener rues.

"It is because of odd job workers like plumbers, household helpers, construction workers, mechanics, delivery persons, cart pullers that those in white collar jobs can do their work. These humble workers run the wheels of urban India. Then why don’t they get amenities?" he asks.

Dark underbelly of the national capital

Delhi has 675 listed and 82 unlisted jhuggi jhopdi bastis on the land of various government agencies, including Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri informed the Lok Sabha in February this year.

How big is the slum population?

In 2010, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board did a survey to estimate the slum population of the city. It was estimated that there were 4 lakh households with a population of 20 lakh back then.

How did the slums emerge?

Due to its favourable government policies and status as the national capital, Delhi emerged as an island of development drawing people from Tier 1 and 2 cities, towns and villages. Although the city needs the cheap labour of these migrants, the governments have failed to provide basic necessities as well as good jobs to them.

What is a slum?

The UN operationally defines a slum as one or a group of individuals living under the same roof in an urban area, lacking in one or more of five amenities - durable housing; sufficient living area (no more than three people sharing a room); access to improved water; access to improved sanitation facilities (a private toilet, or a public one shared with a reasonable number of people); and protection against forced eviction. 

Slums demolished without rehabilitating people

  • Dec 2016: Kathputli Colony slums

  • June 2019: Bawana slum cluster

  • April 2021: Kalka Stone Basti, Lal Kuan (South Delhi)

  • April 2021: Tughlaqabad Rly Basti, Chilla Khadar (South East Delhi)

  • Dec 2021: Kalkaji temple slums

Past and present schemes, policies of Centre and State for rehabilitating the poor 

  • Rajeev Ratan Awas Yojana  

  • Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Delhi 

  • DDA's Special Housing Scheme  

  • DDA's affordable rental housing complexes  

  • Delhi Slum & JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy


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