Stories of evacuation are not new to the world and especially not new to India. The marginal section has always been at the mercy of government and is often dispersed suiting the government’s need. In 2002, a similar incident took place in the national Capital which created a lot of buzz but failed to reap any substantial results.
After 22 years of miserable existence not much has changed for the Yamuna Pushta slum dwellers, only now they are termed with a different name, the Bhawana villagers.
Roshan has lived in the Bhawana village for twelve years still she can not forget the night her 30-year-old house was taken down. “We started our lives in Delhi with that house and around that area. We were living in Yamuna Pushta for 30 years and we invested all our saving in the house. The government charged us Rs 7,000 for a piece of land in Bhawana area which is a secluded region of the city.”
The problem with resettlement is not banishing slums but the story after the same. Slum dwellers from Yamuna Pushta were promised a better place but were apparently dumped into another slum. “A big farm was cut into small pieces which were allotted to families without considering their size. The major drawback for me and other dwellers was to leave a house (in which most they invested their life savings) for nothing but a piece of land. We were also deprived of basic facilities like electricity, bathrooms and drinking water,” said Roshan.
According to locals, they were provided with proper water supply after two years of their settlement in the region, before which women in the village had to walk kilometres to fetch water from the only handpump in the area. The situation hasn’t changed much as the area with a population of over 2.5 lakh have only five bathrooms and no regular water supply.
“The condition of the bathrooms is beyond repair, they are not suitable for use as they are only five for the crowd numbered in lakhs. This force us to defecate in open,” said Roshan. With no basic facilities Bhawana, a possible structured province has sadly turned into a proper slum, prone to diseases. This can be proved with the fact that approximately 40 people died of dengue this year. If the locals are to be believed, casualties are not new to them as they have seen worst in the past.
In spite of being an area prone to diseases, it does not have any hospital or even a dispensary. “Being an isolated region it’s difficult to get immediate transportation during emergencies. So if a person is in a critical condition chances are that he/she may not survive,” said Arjun, a school teacher.
Like any other slum, health wasn’t the only issue with people of Bhawana. With people living hutments, cooking gas tanks, fragile electricity wires cause frequent fire episodes in the area. “Earlier we were scared to leave our children alone in the house alone as every week fire used to destroy many establishments. And it was difficult to control such situations as there is no fire brigade in the region,” said Aftana Khan, a resident.
Fire episodes substantially reduced when Robin Rana foundation, an NGO built pukka houses for around 22,000 people in the region. Living in the house of bricks is a sign of relief for many but the majority still remains deprived of the basic leisure. With no cooperation from MCD, the area still lacks a proper sewage system and the houses built by the foundation also fail to provide bathroom facility. A proper shack has improved living conditions but the issue with sanitation remains the same.
Relocating isn’t only about shifting home, social capital is equally at stake for the people. A majority of the slum dwellers are poorly educated labourers and rickshaw pullers and their work is mostly based in central Delhi. Those who used to live close to their workplace found themselves 15 to 20 kilometres away, resulting in higher transportation costs and even loss of livelihood, in some cases. Considering the fact that their earnings are as meager as their living, there is not much left to save.
“I leave my home at 4 in the morning by bus and it takes 3 hours to reach central Delhi. There I have my rickshaw parked, I work for the whole day and reach home by midnight. There is this fixed transportation cost of Rs 2500 which I have to bear whether I earn or not. Considering the amount that I spend on my travelling, there is not much left to save,” said Raju, father of three.
Because of rapid inflation and high costs of living, Bhawana has turned out to be among the preferred destination for the migrant population. Being an affordable area, the migrants are willing to adjust in these cramped and squalid settlements of the colony. “A lot of people from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are settled in this area. People living in this region give rooms at marginal prices to people from their natives place,” said Vikram Singh, DCP, outer region.
Resettling a colony is a delicate issue which requires government's full attention. Ironically, this didn't happen in the case of Bhawana colony. Poor people living in different regions of Delhi were brought to one place and were asked to rebuild their lives around the most inhabitable space.
Dreadful living conditions along with insufferable poverty, the circumstances in itself are criminal generic. It took a little time for the area to become a hub of criminals. “Criminals are apparently produced in this region”, says Vikram.
Helplessness and the urge to make quick buck nudges youngsters to fall into the vicious circle of criminal activities. And ones a person realises that making money out of crime is a lot easier, chances are that violence and crime will become his natural companions.
“The living conditions in such resettled colonies are not very different to what we have in jail. Therefore, youngsters don't hesitate in committing a crime. The urge to escape the suffocating world of poverty prompts them towards corrupt, false means,” said Vikram Singh.
“I saw the condition of these slum dwellers shifted from Yamuna Pushta slum in the year 2006 and I saw it grow into another Dharavi. I then decided to remove the word slum from this region and to build concrete homes for these people. There is no proper range system in the area and the existing drains are never cleaned. Apparently, there are dead animals trapped inside these drains which are causing diseases. Every fifth home have one handicapped child in the region,” said Robin Rana, founder of Robin Rana foundation.
In an era of smart cities, bullet trains and foreign investments there lies an area in the national Capital unknown to those in power.
Then and now
According to India’s 2011 census there are 4,49,761 houseless households/families existing in our country and if our government has to meet the promise of giving a roof to every head in India, there is a need to build about 55,000-60,000 houses each year to give shelter to all of them by 2022. The worrying part is the rise in the urban homes, which have grown 20 per cent in a decade from 2001 to 2011.
During the commonwealth beautification drive in 2004, the city authorities planned to make Delhi completely slum-free for the arrival of thousands of foreign athletes for the Commonwealth Games which were to be held in the year 2010. “World class city” is a phrase you often hear getting associated with the forthcoming tournament.
More than $1billion was spent overhauling the city’s transport links, securing reliable electricity and water supplies, and regenerating the city centre, not to mention building the sports facilities. Then Chief Minister Dikshit said more than 1,00,000 low-cost homes were to be built. According to the then government ultimate strategy was to serve the long-term interests of the poor.
Sanitation is the major issue in this region. According to an NGO, the area has only three to four bathrooms between four blocks. On an average one block comprises of 1,200 to 1,800 plots, which means there are four bathrooms between 5,000 plots. Each plot/home in the region has approximately 7 to 8 members. Therefore, on an average, there are four government bathrooms between 35,000 people by the government.
Every year the area is hit by diseases like dengue and swine flu. This year seven people died of dengue in the region. The nearest dispensary is five kilometres away which fails to provide treatment of major diseases.
Approximately 40 per cent of the labour class travels every day from Bhawana to main Delhi. Most of them are either rickshaw pullers or contract labourers whose work lie mostly in the central part of the city.
60 per cent population consists of migrants in the colony from adjacent states like Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana and West Bengal. The rest 40 per cent comprise of people forcibly evacuated from slums like Yamuna Pushta, Bhati man and Sanjay Amar colony.