The women of Bhalswa have filed nearly 350 RTI applications and have taken unsatisfactory RTI replies up the appellate process to the Central Information Commission.
From near ITO and Nizamuddin, Dakshinpuri and Rohini, and eight other prime locations in the Capital, slum dwellers were evicted nearly 12 years ago and dropped off at Bhalswa. They were promised resettlement at a location that would have all modern amenities, but to their dismay the dispossessed found the promised land was a myth. The land on which the Bhalswa Resettlement Colony was propped up stood on a slush-ridden wasteland and precariously bordered a landfill that poisoned the ground water they would be forced to drink.
Their struggle against the State began with a stark realisation: the hitherto unawareness of their rights. But for six women of the Bhalswa Lok Shakti Manch (BLSM), it was preceded by a bigger struggle – coming out of their homes. “At Nizamuddin, my husband purchased groceries and rations. I rarely ventured out. Here, he went looking for work and I was forced to buy rations. That is how I came out. Upon realising that shop-owners were denying us our rightful provisions, we started organising ourselves. Soon we started taking up other causes too. Then the RTI Act came and we realised that if armed with information, we can take any Government authority to task,” says Roshanara, a mother of five sons and a grandmother to nine children. Her colleague, Nazma, without hesitation and a wide grin on her face, adds: “Now we find it difficult to stay indoors.”
The activism of the women has not gone down well with some of the husbands.
These women are guided by Pushpa, who commutes every day from Jamuna-paar, to help them file RTI applications, meet Government officials and take up other community work. Pushpa and the Bhalswa women have filed nearly 350 RTI applications and have taken unsatisfactory RTI replies up the appellate process to the Central Information Commission. Once, when the CIC summoned top officials regarding fund allocation for roads, the works were taken up on a war footing -- just days before the appeal hearing. The women are fighting most for improving the PDS, schools and water supply.
A survey of 1,110 families here showed that 600 were APL cardholders, 278 were BPL, 122 had no ration cards, and 100 families had their ration cards cancelled when given for renewal. “This targeting of households into APL-BPL is arbitrary. We call food supply officers and find out when foodgrains and oil stocks will arrive at shops. Then we inform the womenfolk. We also complain on the PDS helpline when there are discrepancies. The lone ration shop in the colony caters to just one-fourth of the houses. The rest visit ration shops at Jehangirpuri,” says Shakuntala Sharma.
Pushpa says the Master Plan provides for two senior secondary, four middle and four primary schools in the colony. Outside several houses, children can be seen loitering about or working when they should be studying. “Of two schools in the vicinity, only one recently started offering classes up to Class X. There is a senior secondary school at Libaspur, 1.5 km away. But parts of the stretch are desolate. After a kidnapping attempt on a girl, other girls are being taken out by parents.”
A petition signed by 1,866 people here has been sent to the Education Department pleading for more schools.
While DJB supply is irregular, water tankers hardly ever come. The source of regular water for colony residents is from private hand-pumps installed outside most houses, which have been painted red by the DJB, to warn its consumers that this water is unfit for drinking. A water quality study conducted by the BLSM and Hazards Centre earlier this year showed that hand-pump water had a total dissolved solids count that ranged between 2,300 and 5,800 parts per million, far exceeding the desirable level of 500 ppm. People here have also regularly contracted gastro-intestinal disorders, muscular pains and skin ailments. A BLSM complaint on the water situation is proceeding before the Public Grievance Commission in which the Delhi Jal Board, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi are respondents.
Today, several lanes of this colony wear a clean look. After years of wavering, DUSIB’s decision to pave the streets here with concrete has led to the stagnant water puddles within the colony vanishing.
The women’s RTI queries revealed that over Rs.5 crore was sanctioned for this work. The residents have also pitched in, since then, by not dumping waste on the streets. But the paving is a work in progress. Just last year, residents here had to wade through knee-deep water for over a month after levels in surrounding water-bodies swelled during the rains and overran the colony.
But at one level, the women realise they have made much progress. “When we came here this was a snake-infested jungle. We have worked very hard in the face of an unresponsive government to get the colony this far. Today, the land here is very valuable as reflected in the circle rates at Jehangirpuri. We have been given a 10-year license to the plots here. We are demanding freehold rights like other resettlement colonies. Otherwise, we may get thrown out again,” says 60-year-old Bittu.