STOP EVICTIONS: DELHI SLUMS UNDER ATTACK
Delhi Slums Under Attack
Newsletter Jan – Apr 2004
In the May-August 2003 Issue of our newsletter, we had raised the issues of the status of slum dwellers in Delhi, urban space and relocation in the context of two anti-people orders of Delhi High Court. The court judgment not only vociferously defended the rights of the middle class residents but also more dangerously maintained that it would not consider the writ petitions of the jhuggi dwellers since they are ‘illegal encroachers’.
Fast-forward to year 2004 - In operations that evoke images of the Emergency, over 13,000 jhuggis have been destroyed in the Yamuna Pushta since mid—February. Though presented in most papers as a peaceful, voluntary relocation, it is anything but that. People are moving out under daily police harassment and beatings. Those in the forefront of the resistance are being arrested. Five people have died during demolitions and two have committed suicide. Demolitions continue each day in this stretch that extends from behind Rajghat to Old Yamuna Bridge, and in other areas of Delhi. Less than one in six families received alternative plots, tiny plots in places on the city's outskirts such as Holambi Kalan and Bawana, 25-35 kms away. A recent survey of these relocation sites has confirmed they have no electricity, schools, or health centers. Provisions for toilets and drinking water are deeply inadequate. But the vast majority - close to half a lakh people - has been left to fend for themselves, which ends the possibility of it being either a "relocation" or "voluntary".
It is expected that over 20,000 homes - and hence the livelihood of over a Iakh people -will be torn down. This large-scale destruction of people's homes and livelihood has happened - following a Delhi High Court order of 3 March 2003 - on the grounds that these "encroachers" "pollute" the Yamuna. Both these loaded words bear scrutiny; for years they have been part of the ideological weaponry aimed at ridding the city of a part of its working poor. A recently published study by Hazards Centre on Yamuna pollution and the Pushta reveals that a minute fraction of the 3,600 million liters wastewater generated in Delhi each day derives from those living on Yamuna‘s banks. There is an obvious relation between one's access to resources and the capacity to pollute. A government norm for supplying water to jhuggis is 40 liters per person a day. They actually receive much less, in many areas between 16-18 liters (2 buckets) per person. The middle class and the rich consume far more (450 liters per person in posh areas). That the poor pollute is a motivated lie. They don't because they can't.
The real reason for these demolitions is what they will leave behind: large tracts of land, on which there are plans to set up clubs, a tourism complex, convention centers and a financial district. The Pushta itself extends over 100 acres. The Delhi Master Plan 2001 and the DDA have grander ideas: the Master Plan talks of "channelization of the river to help improvement of the riverfront“. In 1998, the DDA submitted a plan to develop 24,250 acres of the river-bed. The cost of developing this land has been put at Rs 800 per square meter, and its sale price at Rs 2,660 per square meter, going up to 15,960 per square meter for commercial property. The large-scale destruction of people's houses is usually legitimized by presenting them as "encroachers" on public land. A court order of 16 February 2000, in the case of Almitra Patel & Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors., held: "Rewarding an encroacher on public land with a free alternate site is like giving a reward to a pickpocket." This jaundiced view reflects the hostility of the middle class and elite towards slum dwellers.
This begs the question: Who is the "public", and by what logic are urban poor considered "encroachers”? The majority of the Pushta's three lakh residents service this city through their labor. It has over 10,000 unionized rickshaw pullers, and a huge number of waste pickers. Many women work as domestic help in middle class homes around. Some sell goods on handcarts. Others work as casual labor. Yet others do construction labor, building some of the 52 bridges proudly promised. Some of these people have lived in the Pushta for three generations. We've met women who told us how their children were born there, and now they have married and have children. Why is their right to stay in this city any less than yours or mine? It is because, in the absence of any worthwhile planned housing for the poor, they have been priced out of the housing market. Delhi has thirty—five lakh people crammed in jhuggis in a fraction of its urban space because they can't afford any better. And hence condemned to impermanence even when they have lived there for decades, as in the Pushta.
The ambitions of city planners and politicians like Jagmohan is of creating another Singapore, of making the Yamuna banks another Thames riverside. These visions have no place for those who contribute to a city's development through their daily labor. Any notion of development, of a city or a nation, becomes meaningful only when its starting point is ordinary people. India may or may not be shining, but let's spare a thought for those making the bulbs.
VISTHAAPAN VIRODHI ABHIYAAN DEMANDS:
1. Due process of law should be followed by the courts to give a fair hearing to the affected parties.
2. Forcible eviction should be immediately stopped.
3. Full resettlement facilities should be made available to all those whose huts have been demolished.
4. The government should fulfill its constitutional responsibilities to provide livelihood shelter and services to all the people.