The Delhi Government’s approval for a plan to give ownership rights to residents of 45 resettlement colonies to enable them to avail of proper title, loan facilities and even the right to divide them has brought cheer to nearly 30 lakh people. The scheme would also cover residents of newer resettlement colonies of Bawana and Bhalaswa, albeit at a higher price. But considering the condition of these colonies, the price is not too high if it fetches them the facilities they have been missing thus far....

The promise was that of a better life. When notices were plastered outside their shanties and officials sent to counsel, the Government had sent out the word that they had plans for the poor and the marginalised. Then came the bulldozers and levelled hundreds of jhuggi jhopris. Convoys of people, their worldly possessions and their dreams were driven out into the wilderness that was to be their home.

“That was 2006, we were sent here to live. Six years on, we are fighting to stay alive,” said Umesh a resident of resettlement colony in Bawana, the outskirts of the city. Umesh was among the hundreds of others who lived in the JJ cluster on Yamuna Pushta that was demolished in 2006.

“When we landed here we were assured of a plot of land for construction of a house and basic amenities. And what we have is worse than what our slum cluster used to be,” he said.

Garbage is strewn everywhere, sewage from the common toilet blocks is released into parks, toilets blocks are not clean, no street lights, a single route bus ferries people couple of times a day, doctors are missing from the dispensary, limited mid-day meals for school children are often the reason for fisticuffs and services for the economically weak like subsidised food and oil are denied to a majority.

The resettlement dream has turned out to be a nightmare for these relocated slum dwellers.

Residents in Block ‘F’ who live facing a park complain they are worse off than their neighbours. A leaking sewage pipe releasing toxic gases is right in the middle of the park and outside their houses. Each dwelling here has multiple family members who are chronically ill, the children have stunted growth and endemic diseases are discussed as an everyday occurrence.

“The children should be playing in the park, but it is always flooded with filth. There are no garbage dumps and no one comes to clean, consequently we have people coming down with dengue, malaria and other diseases all the time. The broken sewage pipe is next to the drinking water pipeline, contaminating the water. Sometimes the water is so dirty; we cannot even use it for cleaning. We can see worms floating in it,” said Meena another resident.

Complaints to the administration, the Delhi Development Authority in this case, have rarely been acknowledged. Residents pool in money to get garbage collected privately whenever they can.

Poor living conditions are not the only issues. Bawana being far away from the city centres where the jobs are, employment opportunities have been severely affected. People are forced to travel longer distances and spend a considerable amount of money to commute to their places of work.

“When I was in Saraswati Vihar I could at least earn livelihood. Now more than 30 km away from where I used to work, it is impossible for me to travel there. I barely make any money, and the government refuses to issue an income certificate that would allow me to apply for a ration card, because the official there does not believe that I earn as little as Rs. 3,000 a month,” said Sati Ram, a resident.

With adults forced to work for long hours, children’s health and education has also been hit. “There are a few primary schools, but the quality of teaching remains poor. Children are often loitering around unsupervised, the teachers pay little attention and the mid-day meals are inadequate and inferior,” complained another resident.

Plots to construct houses were given to a few, but for the rest of them, mostly from the JJ clusters on Yamuna Pushta, Rani Bagh, Paschim Vihar and Vikaspuri, the resettlement has meant fighting for water, power, roads, civic amenities, security and a means of earning their livelihood.

“We have realised that the Government has managed to get rid of us. Pushed to the back of beyond, unless we draw attention to our problems nothing will be done. So we formed the Bawana Sangharsh Samiti to fight for our rights. Over the years the government kept assuring us that they will work things out, we now keep knocking on those doors to make that happen,” Umesh said.

More In: Delhi