With just days left for the MCD elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on subsidized flats provided to the slum-dwellers of Bhoomiheen Camp in South Delhi's Kalkaji, under the ‘Jahan Jhuggi Wahin Makan’ scheme to seek electoral gains.
Nearly a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 14-storey housing complex in Delhi’s Kalkaji, The Quint visited the flats and the Bhoomiheen jhuggi cluster to understand what residents think of the exercise.
With a bustling market on the outside of the slum, the camp is densely populated with haphazardly built 3-4 storey buildings, with a couple of cramped rooms on each floor. Narrow lanes, poor hygiene due to the unplanned construction, and the tag of being 'slum-dwellers' are some of the issues residents have been dealing with for decades.
In contrast, the new EWS housing complex with 3,024 flats built to rehabilitate the residents of Bhoomiheen Camp, does aim to provide basic amenities such as clean drinking water, electricity, and at the moment, since it's new, is also a cleaner living environment.
'We Are Happy, But…'
Speaking to The Quint, Nirpin Haldar (65), said, “We got to know about the flat over a month ago. We were included among the 575 flats, the keys for which were handed over by PM Modi.”
However, Haldar added, “We don’t know when we will get the house. We have been told that we can shift in 90 days. But if things like electricity connection, water, etc are not yet available, how will we move?”
Haldar, a resident of the Bhoomiheen camp for over 40 years, used to work as a painter before the COVID-induced lockdown. After losing out on work during the pandemic, he rented a shop within the camp to run a general store.
“We are happy we will get out of this basti. Humari aane waali generation aur behtar insaan ki tarah jiyenge. Our grandchildren will live better lives. There is filth here. At least there they will be happy,” he added.
Speaking about how will then earn his livelihood, Haldar said, “If they raze the camp, I may start driving an e-rickshaw and earn for my family.”
Several Households Fail Eligibility Criteria
The Bhoomiheen Camp will be razed once all eligible beneficiaries are allotted flats to make way for the phase two of the project, under which over 5,000 flats will be constructed for residents of two other camps in the neighbourhood.
Of the total 2,891 families (as per a 2019 survey by DDA) in the Bhoomiheen Camp, 1,862 have so far been identified as beneficiaries under the project.
On being asked why over 1,000 households were left out, VS Yadav, Housing Commissioner (DDA), told The Quint that there are various criterion for eligibility, including proper documents, and the cut-off date of 1 January 2015.
"Each claim made by the households has to be verified before a flat can be allotted," Yadav added.
The remaining EWS flats (1,162) will of course be utilised, he added, stating that they will be allotted through the next phase of the draw of lots, after being found eligible for rehabilitation by DDA's Eligibility Determination Committee (EDC).
Some Residents Fail to Pay for their Flats
Madan, 54, a tailor by profession, said that though his name was there in the list of eligible beneficiaries, he could not pay the subsidised amount (around Rs 1,47,000) to get the house.
“Those who had money, they paid. Those who just don’t have the money, how will they pay? Ek aadmi kamaane wala, 5 log khaane wale. There is just one person to earn and feed a family of five."
A resident of the slum for over 35 years, Madan said, "If we don’t pay, our name will be cancelled. But should we first feed ourselves, or pay this amount. We can survive in a jhuggi, but can’t survive without food."
He added that though many residents had taken a loan, he can not risk it since his work after the pandemic has reduced considerably.
'One Son Will Stay With Us'
Achche Lal, 69, and Shanti, 62, were at the EWS housing complex, submitting documents to register for an electricity connection. They also visited their future home.
The happy looking couple said, "We came to Bhoomiheen Camp in 1980. It has been 42 years."
With a two-storey house in the slum, Lal said that while they stay on the first floor, their two sons stay on the ground floor.
"When we shift to this new flat, one son will come with us, the other one will have to adjust and find another place," he said.
Lal says he had spent his life working as a contract labourer, while his wife used to clean utensils as a house help. But with both their sons working now, the couple looks forward to a slightly more comfortable old age.
But... No Ration Card, No Flat
Several residents told The Quint, that despite having stayed in the slum for decades, their names are not in the list of eligible beneficiaries.
Shiv Nath, a 31-year-old vegetable seller, stays in a two storey jhuggi, with one room for his parents and another for his wife and child.
While his mother's name has appeared in the list of beneficiaries, Nath said, "Five of us can not stay there (EWS Flats). We have visited the flats. There is just one room."
The flat, as described by Delhi Development Authority (DDA), is 25 square metres (269 square feet) with one bedroom, living room, two bathrooms, and a balcony.
Echoing the complaint of several dwellers, he added, "We had got a second survey done of the extra floors, but it was cancelled. We were told only those with a ration card will get a flat. Our names appear on our mother's ration card. We don't have a separate electricity connection either."
After the implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013, subsidised ration is provided through the Central government’s Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and a limit is set on the number of beneficiaries based on the population of each state.
The limit set for Delhi was 72.77 lakh beneficiaries.
Speaking to The Quint, Assistant Commissioner in the Food and Supplies Department of the Delhi government, Naveen Mediratta, said, "After the implementation of National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013, the process of linking ration cards to the Aadhaar card took place. In 2016 however, the limit of 72.77 lakhs under NFSA was exhausted. Only if some space is created, then a ration card will be made."
Mediratta added that even if a person applies for a new ration card, they will become part of a long waitlist.
Over 10.08 lakh persons in the national capital face the same issue as their ration card applications are still pending, according to data as of 31 May 2022 accessed by The Hindu.
On the other hand, VS Yadav, Housing Commissioner (DDA), also pointed out to The Quint that most residents at the slum added floors to their homes to accommodate their own family members.
"As per DDA policy, if those living on the extra floors don't have separate ration cards, they will not get a separate (EWS) flat."VS Yadav, Housing Commissioner (DDA)
After PM Modi inaugurated the housing complex, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate pointed out that the project had been planned and started by the Delhi government headed by Sheila Dikshit back in 2013.
She claimed that while the BJP is taking credit for Dikshit's work, there has been a 68 percent cost escalation and a six year delay in the rehabilitation project.
As per phase two of the project, the site of the Bhoomiheen camp will be used to rehabilitate two other such camps, Navjeevan and Jawahar.
However, with all the hurdles, red tape, and electoral politics involved, residents remain anxious about their future address and livelihood.