Delhi slum dwellers worry about future, politicians close in

September 11th, 2008 - 3:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyNew Delhi, Sep 11 (IANS) Rameshwari, a migrant from Bihar who stays in a squatters’ colony in south Delhi, does not want to relocate. She has four children and there are days when they starve because her ailing husband, who is a policeman, spends all his money on liquor.She has been worried after the Delhi government last month announced a mega rehabilitation scheme for slum dwellers.

“None of us want to leave our old homes. If they remove the liquor shops nearby, give tenancy rights to us, check the spiralling house rents and take care of the power and water supply, it will solve our woes,” Rameshwari, who lives near Camp Saraswati in R.K. Puram, told IANS.

The Delhi government’s In-Situ Slum Rehabilitation Scheme is aimed at Delhi’s four million shantytown inhabitants who live in dingy, dirty conditions, often without basic facilities like power and water. The land will be sold through tenders to a private partner for the construction of multi-storey homes.

This is over and above the Delhi Development Authority announcing 5,000 new homes on a freehold basis for lower income groups.

But Subedar Munna Lal, a senior resident of the Kusumpahari slum cluster near Vasant Vihar in south Delhi, said: “We don’t want to go anywhere. We don’t want the flats that the Delhi government has promised the slum-dwellers. We want to stay here if the problem of erratic supply of drinking water is addressed.”

The fact that slum dwellers form almost one-fourth of the city’s population has not escaped the attention of political parties.

While the Congress has appointed committees to look into slum resettlement and rehabilitation with an eye on the election due later this year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has jumped into the battle using the plight of squatters as a poll plank.

“If the BJP comes to power, it will ensure that the dwellers are rehabilitated within one kilometre of their vicinity so that they do not lose their livelihoods and shell out the minimum money. The Congress is emotionally blackmailing them with the promise of new homes,” said Vijay Kumar Malhotra, deputy leader of the opposition and MP for South Delhi.

A programme, “The Jhuggi Jhopadi Sammelan”, organised by Malhotra last week to mark Onam and Ganesh Chaturthi in the capital Sunday took up the problems confronting the slum-dwellers in the capital and focused on their plight and endangered livelihoods.

“Their key problems relate to the threat of displacement, inaccessibility to drinking water, poor sanitation, lack of good roads, rising house rents and the absence of healthcare,” Ajit Singh Tokas, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) councillor for Munirka, who was present at the function, told IANS.

Kusumpahari, a shantytown with 30,000 people, stands in odd contrast to the posh concrete and glass facades of the private apartment blocks of Vasant Vihar that lie at a stone’s throw.

The residents, mostly daily wage earners, labourers, guards, shopkeepers and petty traders, are worried for they might lose the hovels that they have nurtured into homes for the last 35 years.

The threat of eviction looms large as a committee of five people, called the RWS panel, prepares for a headcount before deciding whether to sell the land to builders.

Said Munna Lal: “The government has just started distributing application forms and thousands have applied for homes after paying an initial fee of Rs.100. But how many of us will get the homes and where will they be built? We cannot move far from our vicinity,” he said.

The slums in the capital are virtual vice dens. “Eviction and poverty apart, liquor addiction and substance abuse are the two major scourges that we are battling at the moment,” said social worker Meera Thakur.

Thakur has been looking after the dwellers and mediating in their disputes at the Saraswati Camp in the Sector 3 area of R.K. Puram. The camp is made of 250 homes inhabited by nearly 3,000 migrants from Bihar.

Like Kusumpahari, which has nearly 20 illegal liquor shops with a juvenile addiction rate of 40 percent that includes abuse of narcotic substances, the island-like Saraswati Camp has four illegal liquor vends that cater to a clientele of men and children.

“We have been campaigning against the removal of liquor shops for the last 10 years, but our efforts have not been successful,” Thakur said.

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