“People in resettlement colonies must learn to control their bladders. Yes, there are toilet blocks, but you cannot use them at all hours. So we must train ourselves to control our needs,” said Kamlesh of Bawana Resettlement Colony referring to the limited access to amenities including toilets. “And if you have to go at night, then there’s plenty of open space for that,” she is quick to add.
When the Government promised rehabilitation to the residents of JJ clusters that were demolished, civic facilities were assured as were toilets so that women would not be forced to defecate in the open. But in several such colonies, toilets continue to remain inaccessible; in some places it is the filth that makes the toilets unusable, at others it is the regulated hours and the money charged that encourages open defecation. “The contractors in charge lock them up at night. They open them at 5 a.m. and leave them open till 10 p.m. Sometimes they turn off water, and cleaning usually is done only once in a few weeks. I don’t recommend you see them from inside…the sight is repulsive,” Kamlesh pointed out.
Toilets are indicative of the resettlement colony promise that the Government has failed to deliver. Most of these colonies fare poorly when rated on parameters like health, education, sanitation and quality of living. “Bhalaswa is next to a landfill which has poisoned the water. Bawana is home to all these industries that were asked to relocate. A hazardous waste landfill is being planned there. The experience world over shows that people living near landfills suffer from severe illnesses and children get cancers. Despite knowing this, the poor were sent here. Clearly, the poor are treated as trash…to be dumped at landfills,” said Bharati Chaturvedi of Chintan, an Environmental Research and Action Group.
Dunu Roy of NGO Hazards Centre pins the blame on the Government for inhabitable conditions. “These colonies were not unauthorised settlements that came up on public land. These colonies were planned…supposed to be built by the government, supposed to have civic facilities before the people moved in, the planners here are at fault,” Mr. Roy said.
Resettlement as the Government sees it, Mr. Roy said, was uprooting people from the city nucleus and pushing them to the peripheries. “It is a deliberate design. When the people are thrown into the wilderness they will eventually begin to develop the area, make it liveable. That is what these people in Bawana, Bhalaswa, and Savda Ghera are doing. For the Government they are just a concealed investment. These people are cheap labour who are investing in development of the area,” he said.
Residents in most resettlement colonies complain they have been thoughtlessly removed and are remembered only at election time. They add that poor security in these colonies has made them crime prone and left women more vulnerable than before. Referring to the everyday occurrences of harassment and crime against women, Kamlesh citing the example of her own settlement said: “Women here suffer the most. They wake up as early as 4 a.m., rush to fill water, wash, cook and clean and then leave for work. Because the roads are not properly lit and there is no police presence, women are often harassed, there is no safety even at home.”
Residents also complain of poor implementation of welfare schemes claiming they are left perpetually fighting for their rights whether it is the ration cards, pension, or election cards. The Government’s decision to offer ownership rights to residents in some resettlement colonies is farcical, pointed out a resident from Badarpur Khadar. Requesting anonymity, he said: “Now that they have made these colonies liveable, the Government wants them out of here as well. They want these plots sold. If people here get ownership rights they will sell the plots, because what is the incentive to stay here. And once the poor are out of the way, there will be roads and water and power. The Government uses the poor to do the dirty work.”