Before, After Shakur Basti: No Place For Poor in World Class Delhi
The eviction and rehabilitation debate needs to focus on meaningfully accommodating the poor in World Class Delhi.
The judicial criticism of the demolition drive at Shakur Basti in Delhi’s bitter cold, which caused the death of a toddler and innumerable hardships to the squatters, grabbed headlines last week. However, it is just another episode of the failure of the state to protect the rights of the poor while engaging in the violent act of forced eviction to make way for public infrastructure.
Among Indian cities, Delhi has a very chequered history of city planning where the vision for a better city, such as the Master Plan Delhi 2021’s vision of a “global metropolis and a world class city”, is seen as a way to rid it of urban poverty and free up space for development. Of course the city must improve its infrastructure – such as what the railways is proposing in the Shakur Basti squatter land. But unfortunately the social costs of such development is almost always borne by the urban poor and adequate compensation or rehabilitation is never factored in the development plan beyond tokenism.
This was most blatantly demonstrated during the makeover of Delhi for the Commonwealth Games of 2010. As every Delhiite knows, Delhi did not become a “clean, beautiful, vibrant, world class” city despite the heavy investment in urban renewal and sporting infrastructure for the games. However, the development involved grave human costs in the form of slum demolitions, arrests of homeless citizens and beggars, destruction of livelihoods of the urban poor, and environmental degradation.
Need for a Rehabilitation Plan
- Row over eviction at Shakur Basti in Delhi showcases the state’s failure to protect rights of the poor while making way for public infrastructure.
- Widespread removal initiatives deployed in slum clusters has actually led to a 25% fall as revealed in the 2011 census.
- But the resettlement sites are devoid of basic amenities, a prime example being that of Narela on the outskirts of Delhi.
- Proposal in the Master Plan Delhi 2021, that of rehabilitating poor amidst high rise buildings has also not gone down well, revealed in the resistance by Kathputli colony residents.
Pushed to the Margins
According to the Delhi Shramik Sangathan, in the five years from 2003 to 2008, close to 350 slum clusters housing nearly 300,000 people were demolished, and only about one-third of these families have been resettled.
Data compiled by the Hazards Centre further shows that between 2000 and 2006, over 100,000 families were forcibly evicted from their homes in Delhi, the majority without any resettlement provisions.
Slum Withdrawal and Population Decline
Delhi has actually witnessed a decline in its population, revealed in the 2011 census: a 25 percent fall in population in central New Delhi vis-a-vis 2001, even as the overall population of Delhi exhibits a decadal growth rate of 21 percent.
This decline in population is attributed to the widespread slum removal initiatives since 2001 and particularly in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games from the most prominent locations of the city.
Squatter Settlement Plans
A “three-pronged strategy” for dealing with squatter settlements was approved by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 1992. It included the following:
- In situ upgradation of slum clusters whose encroached land pockets are not required by the landowning agencies concerned for another 15 to 20 years for any project implementation.
- Relocation of slum clusters located on land that are required to implement projects in the “larger public interest”.
- Environmental improvement of urban slum clusters, irrespective of the status of the encroached land, based on the provision of basic amenities for community use.
However, most city development projects in Delhi involved removal of squatter settlements, often through forced evictions during monsoon, height of summer and in the biting cold of winter, followed by selective relocation, often conditionally and in the middle of the school year, in far off un-serviced land in the outskirts of the city.
45 resettlement colonies have been developed by DDA providing 250,000 plots till date. These planned resettlement sites in the peri-urban wards have been empirically shown to be some of the prime poverty and deprivation hotspots of the city. People’s testimonies confirm that life was indeed better for them in the inner city squatters than in the far-off resettlement sites.
No Basic Services
Take the case of the six resettlement sites in Narela where eligible families received 12.5 sq metre empty plots. Even after 14 years of resettlement, there is no basic services such as piped water, sanitation or electricity, adequate social infrastructure or opportunity for people to upgrade their settlement using municipal funds. Additionally, there was loss of livelihoods, social networks and decent schooling for children.
This was the planned vision for the poor in the previous masterplan. In MPD 2021, the vision is different. The poor are now stacked in 25 sq m flats in high-rise buildings, preferably in the same location, but after freeing up at least 40 percent of the land for developers to make high-end towers, malls etc as in the proposal for Katputhli Colony.
The fact that this first-of-its kind project has faced tremendous resistance from residents who refuse to vacate their homes is a case in point about the validity of this new planning vision for rehabilitating the urban poor in Delhi.
Follow All Rehabilitation Measures
Coming back to Shakur Basti, the recommendation of the Delhi High Court to the Railways for providing alternate arrangements for rehabilitation of the jhuggi cluster residents in the biting cold is a very welcome one. However, in the light of Delhi’s failure to ensure basic services and amenities needed for the survival and development of the urban poor, particularly children in alien vacant sites, and failure to execute the high-rise alternative as housing options for the poor and their rehabilitation through formal means is easier said than done.
The city in order to fulfil this wish would need different imaginations, including respecting informality as a resource for managing the conditions of poverty and guaranteeing the rights of the poor to live in the city both through formal and informal means.
(The writer is an urban designer who works on climate change adaptation issues.)