The Ground Beneath Their Feet

Yamuna Pushta is history now. If the average citizen of Delhi ever registered its existence, Pushta was just another eyesore that disappeared under the bulldozers in April 2004 - 27,000 homes demolished, 150,000 people rendered homeless, more than 100 acres of land liberated from occupation and freed up for development in just five day-long operations. 

The Delhi government is now unwilling to mount such mega-operations, with the attendant risks of media coverage and protests by activists. Although around 20 sites were cleared and an estimated 200,000 people forcibly evicted from their homes on account of the Commonwealth Games (CWG), these were all swift and silent operations affecting a few 100 families in each case. Preliminaries like issuing notices were short-circuited or dispensed with altogether. There were no promises of resettlement. 

Ironically, the Pushta families can consider themselves lucky on one count - while those evicted during the Games were left to fend for themselves, at least they were resettled in Bawana. Granted, Bawana was a dreary wasteland on the city's outer fringes. Granted, they had to fight to lay claim to postage-stamp-sized plots with no more infrastructure than four bamboo poles and a tattered piece of matting. Granted, they are significantly poorer here than they were in Pushta. But they can pride themselves on being among the tiny proportion of families living in 'bastis' - self-built settlements - who have been recognised as having as much right to live and work in the Capital as those with more distinguished addresses.   

The story of resettlement in Delhi is a combination of grandiose rhetoric in policy documents and diminishing entitlements on the ground. The 1990 resettlement policy would today seem like a dream to the Pushta and CWG families. It envisioned well laid out colonies with clusters of four to six houses around an open common courtyard. A pucca plinth of 18 sq. metres with a kitchen slab and toilet was provisioned on which allottees would be free to construct their own house. Eligible families - those who could prove residence in the 'basti' on and before January 31, 1990 - had to pay a fee of Rs 3,000 (US$1=Rs 44) and become members of a cooperative society, which would entitle them to become leaseholders of their own house.   

This was the policy under which around 50,000 families were relocated from bastis in various parts of the city, to Bhalaswa, Holumbi Kalan, Dwarka, Molar Bandh and other resettlement colonies in the 1990s. Predictably, some of the frills fell off as the proposal moved off the paper. No more than three or four cooperatives were actually formed. The loans did not come through. The cost-sharing arrangements between the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) fell apart and the kitchen slabs and indoor toilets were dropped. The amount to be paid by allottees went up from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000. Amenities on site were little more than toilet complexes and community water taps. 

A High Court ruling in 1993 resulted in a further whittling down of entitlements. Plot holders were be given licences rather than leases. Allottees now had to make a deposit of Rs 5,000 along with a licence fee of Rs 2,000 that entitled them to occupy their plots for 10 years in the first instance.   

Even in its trimmed-down form this package, applicable for all evictions from 1992 until 2000, is substantively more generous that what was offered to Pushta evictees. A revision of the guidelines in 2000 extended the cut-off date to 1998, but limited the entitlement of those who came after 1990 to plots of 12.5 sq metres against a payment of Rs 7,000. Licences were issued for only five years, with no promise of renewal. Resettlement sites had bare plots rather than built-up plinths.  

Once again, the High Court intervened to undermine even this limited entitlement, moving the cut-off date back to 1990 and decreeing that squatters on public land could be summarily evicted without being provided alternatives.  Fortunately the Supreme Court partially stayed this order, allowing the resettlement policy to operate in a limited way, as in the case of the Pushta evictees.   

Much of the blame for the mess around resettlement was laid at the door of the MCD and its Slum and JJ Department. In July 2010, its functions were taken over by the newly-created Urban Shelter Improvement Board. Judging from its website, the primary concern of the Board seems to be to carry out "studies, seminars and meetings and conduct of fresh comprehensive socio-economic surveys" of slums in Delhi. The Board plans on drawing from "various approaches followed by other cities as well as international experience" to draw up a comprehensive strategy to address the problem. While the Board organises study trips to glean lessons from international best practice, what of the increasingly insecure residents of the six lakh bastis in Delhi that can make legitimate claims to resettlement?    

The only hope these families have of ever finding a secure foothold in Delhi is the Rajiv Ratan Awas Yojana, announced in September 2007 on the eve of the Assembly elections. Speaking at the launch, the Delhi Chief Minister made the scheme sound like something from a private developer's glossy brochure. A lakh of flats in four-storey blocks were to be constructed, consisting of two rooms, a bathroom and kitchen and with a floor area of 25 sq. metres. Half of the cost of Rs 2,00,000 would be borne by the government, and loans would be arranged for the rest, repayable over 15 to 25 years. Licences would be issued in the joint names of husband and wife for an initial period of 15 years. 

The cut off date for eligibility continued to be December 1998. Transparency in identification of beneficiaries was to be ensured through a door-to-door biometric survey.  

Hundreds of families rushed to put in their applications. The biometric survey was rolled out and some id cards issued, but nothing more was heard for almost a year. In December 2008, the government invited applications for 9,800 houses constructed under the scheme. The cut off date was now stated to be 2002.  

In January 2010, a number of media reports slammed the government for failing to allot the flats, which had been ready and were lying vacant for two years. Speaking to the media, Delhi's Housing Minister admitted that very few people met all the eligibility criteria.  

In February 2010, new guidelines were announced. This time, the cut-off date for eligibility was moved to 2007 and the income limit was raised to Rs 1,00,000, more than doubling the number of potential allottees. It was specified that those who were not present in their homes on the date of the survey would not be allowed to apply even if they met all the other eligibility criteria. 

Silence again for the next year. In March 2011, when the uproar around the CWG died down and other issues came back to public attention, a newspaper reported that only 87 flats out of the 1,184 in Bawana had been allotted, and the complex was crumbling for want of maintenance. The resulting uproar in the Assembly finally broke the torpor.  

In April 2011, the Delhi government put out fresh advertisements, announcing that 15,000 flats would be distributed to eligible people from 32 locations. The terms of payment had changed - those residents who had been in their 'bastis' before March 2002 would have to pay Rs 75,000 for a one-room flat, while those who had come between 2002 and 2007 would have to pay almost double the amount.    

Meanwhile, according to the newspaper report, the 87 families who were lucky enough to be relocated to the Bawana complex are now desperate to escape. They are distressed with the isolation, lack of amenities and poor connectivity. The nearest school and hospital are three kilometres away. The government primary school refuses to enrol their children in the middle of the year. There are no jobs for women in the Bawana Industrial Estate. Commuting is expensive so men who have jobs in the city come home only on weekends. Water is supplied for only 30 minutes a day. The construction is of poor quality - walls are peeling, roofs are leaking and there is no one to listen to complaints.    

Ironically enough, these families find themselves in the same situation as their predecessors in Bawana, the Pushta oustees, who were swept into near-invisibility seven years ago. The economic and social consequences of this brutal relocation have been rigorously studied and documented. The apprehension that relocated families would be permanently trapped in poverty has been borne out by their subsequent trajectories.  

Can the Delhi Government be completely unaware of these tragic histories? Can it be so blind to the mismatch between its exclusionary approach to resettlement and its rhetoric on making Delhi an inclusive city?
By arrangement with WFS 


More by :  Kalyani Menon Sen

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