Years after their eviction, residents of Delhi’s Bhalswa resettlement colony are still fighting for essential amenities

Its skyscrapers, rapid transport system, parks and beautification schemes are not enough to hide the alarming denial of basic needs to lakhs of poor people in Delhi. Pushpa, a social activist of Bhalswa resettlement colony in North Delhi, found it out the hard way.

“When I first came to this colony to take up educational work for an NGO a decade back, I was shocked by the prevalence of large-scale hunger. Two children who came near the library appeared very weak. Inquiries revealed no food had been cooked in their home for three days. The children had lifted bricks for hours, and only then could buy tea and mathi with their earning. How was I to get these children interested in books?”

The situation has not changed much since. Nearly 20,000 people who had shifted to Bhalswa resettlement colony from 11 slums are yet to witness promises made to them materialise. Uprooted from their livelihoods, the residents are still struggling to obtain even the most basic amenities. Most of the men and women start early for their workplaces and return late as their workplaces have become distant now. Many even lost their jobs in the process.

Non-profit organisation Ankur came to their aid by starting Bhalswa Lok Shakti Manch (BLSM), a people’s organisation where people could come together and group action could be taken for solving problems. Though it yielded positive results, Ankur’s activities unfortunately did not extend beyond the project period. Activists like Pushpa, however, owing to the close involvement with the people, decided to continue working in the area on an independent basis.

Located near a land-fill site, groundwater pollution is a grave issue here with residents being forced to drink polluted water in the absence of piped drinking water or water supplied in tanks. Due to BLSM’s insistence a detailed survey was carried out in collaboration with the Hazards Centre.

High costs of installing electricity meters deprived most of the families of electricity connection. BLSM's mobilisation efforts led the authorities agreeing to reduce the rate to less than half and agreeing on payment of the remaining amount through easy instalments.

BLSM methodically used the Right to Information tool to obtain detailed information regarding people's access to basic needs. It came to its notice that sites provided in the colony's master plan for building schools had remained unutilised at a time when the existing schools were overcrowded.