Vote-Bank Politics & Vested Interests Trying to Save Kathputli
The future of India’s capital appears dismal, but some efforts to contain the growth of slums have actually started. Kathputli colony in West Delhi is a good case study. It has been in the news lately for a spate of demolitions conducted by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
As one of the oldest slums in Delhi it has been home to some 4,000 families and their progeny who have spread themselves over government-owned land for decades.
All slums, without exception, are the result of big players embracing the slum dwellers, as they offer prospects of capturing a captive vote bank. Whenever a new group of migrants seeks a place to basso (squat) – plenty of money passes hands.
The key players are always the same – a local gang lord who projects himself as benefactor-cum-protector who could be from any political party or even a fence-sitter. He is already hand-in-glove with pliant officials from the DDA, MCD and the police who all connive and share the earnings obtained for the right to squat.
Local politicians – MCD Councilors and MLAs – regardless of party affiliation, join hands (covertly). They provide the officials insurance against transfers and some take a share too. This has been the modus operandi for decades.
DDA Needs Kathputli to Be a Success
Kathputli colony is just one slum in Delhi out of a total of 750 slum clusters, spanning across 70 locations in the city, inhabited by over 3.3 lakh households. But Kathputli can be a case study because it has some unique features.
It is the first of its kind public-private partnership attempted by the DDA, where the
developer gets commercial use of the land after first building a transit camp, followed by high rise tenements for rehabilitating eligible slum dwellers.
DDA partnered with a developer (Raheja), through an agreement signed in 2009, whereby the builder was to get access to a share of the land for commercial use once he completes the rehabilitation related work.
In the last 8 years, umpteen tug-of-wars have taken place, but this time the demolition has gone through because it had a green flag from the top.
DDA is keen to showcase at least one example of PPP success and has turned somersaults to placate the developer who was ready to abscond, given the delay.
The colony inmates have been surveyed, resurveyed and each time more families have been added to accommodate elastic policy changes. Besides the transit camp, the
authority has allotted the slum dwellers flats in Narela (a tehsil bordering Haryana) at a cost of over one lakh rupees and even facilitated everything by arranging bank finance. (The flats, reportedly, fetch a price of Rs 15 lakh in open sale).
Pulling at Heart Strings to Save Loyal Voters
Strong vested interests have fanned the ongoing mayhem every time a demolition was planned. It is said that powerful NGOs who defend the Kathputliwallahs are in fact
the front face of local leaders who have nurtured this constituency for years and now fear losing their vote nest.
Pulling at heart strings is also used to make those in authority squirm. Huffington Post had dramatised the situation, three years ago, with a tear-jerking headline: “The World’s Largest Artist Colony is about to be Bulldozed”. Heart-rending descriptions of “the world’s largest collective of performers – puppeteers, drummers, monkey tamers, snake charmer’s, singers, acrobats” were guaranteed to pull heart strings.
That all slum dwellers live in extreme squalor, where the dividing line between sewage and potable water is non-existent and where eight human beings routinely squash into a single tenement does not bother the do-gooders.
For DDA it is a high stake situation. If rehabilitation succeeds in Kathputli colony, it could become a model to be applied to other city slums.
Delhi has a population nearing 18 million, more by some estimates. The city attracts lakhs of people, each year, who largely settle down in the slums or unauthorised colonies. Together both these groups have the power to swing elections.
The old Punjabi and Baniya families, that dominated Delhi’s politics until the late
nineties, have faded away. Their place has been taken by Biharis, Poorvanchalis and migrants from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – mostly the lower economic strata of the city.
The once “organised” colonies with smooth roads, elegant houses and green spaces have been replaced by congested and unwalkable agglomerations with the better-off
residents becoming increasingly weary of all government promises. They often vote out of pique, if they vote at all. They can be safely ignored by vote seekers.
“Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”
Shiela Dikshit won three elections in a row by wooing these organised colonies through her citizen-government partnership called Bhagidari, which was showcased by cleaning and greening Delhi, converting the entire public transport system to CNG and privatising a corrupt electricity board.
Delhi was then at her feet. When she she lost the 2013 election, Delhi went under President’s rule. Enter the new chief minister in 2015 backed by a mind boggling majority. The first group to receive attention were the three million slum dwellers –
politically the most important. He won them over permanently by straightaway putting a moratorium on demolitions.
Another illegality that every political party has espoused with extraordinary zeal has been the regularisation of thousands of unauthorised colonies. These clusters have always been disproportionately important to them because they constitute another
large and predictable vote bank.
Years ago, the occupants bought agricultural land cheaply and converted it to residential land use, illegally.
The organised colonies that constitute the bulk of Delhi’s taxpayers have become the new have-nots with little voice and no bargaining power.
Unless political parties mature beyond voter appeasement and policies and laws show zero tolerance for squatting on government land, Delhi’s unplanned and frenzied ghettoisation will be its ruination.
Far from being the shining capital of India, the city is destined to remain dirty, smog filled and unruly. Just to win elections!
(Shailaja Chandra is former Chief Secretary Delhi and one-time Secretary Government of India. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)