Slums, shops make way for 'world-class' Delhi

Billboards dotting New Delhi are exhorting city residents to imagine a future made up of tall buildings and sky trains that will take the Indian capital from “walled city to world city”.

The phrase “world-class city” is increasingly on the lips of city officials too, on a massive drive to tidy the capital in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

But in recent months, these visions have appeared out of sync with daily life in the city as traders have protested the closure of their shops in residential areas and as thousands of slum homes have been demolished.

“How can we stop being poor if they keep breaking our houses?” asked Tulsa Devi, a wiry woman with hair to her waist who lives in a slum neighborhood called Nangla Machi on the banks of the polluted Yamuna river.

Three weeks ago bulldozers and hundreds of police came and turned large parts of the neighbourhood into masses of rubble, enforcing a court order to ensure the riverfront slums are gone by April 30.

The aim is to transform the waterfront strip into a recreational area for the city. From her job as a cleaner nearby, Tulsa earns about 80 rupees a day ($2) and is unable to afford to rent at market prices.

It isn’t clear where people like her fit into plans for Delhi, especially since the official development plan for 2001-2021 is six years overdue and there is still no date for its release.

During that time, the city has grown and the builders have built. Now half of Delhi’s 14-million inhabitants live in slums and 18 000 structures outside of slum clusters have been deemed illegal.

The courts have increasingly stepped in, prescribing demolition drives against shops and slums in response to suits brought by frustrated residents.

“Most of these things you see happening are the result of public interest litigation,” said KT Ravindran, dean of studies and professor of urban design at the city’s School of Planning and Architecture.

“The judiciary is the body most responsive to requests.”

But with many of the suits brought by middle-class residents, Ravindran says the system is “not acting on behalf of the underprivileged but for the privileged”.

After a highly-publicised campaign against illegally located shops, the city is now worrying about the riverfront.

By the time it is completed, the campaign to evict slum-dwellers from the banks of the Yamuna will have forced an estimated at least 280 000 people from their homes.

“It’s creating an apartheid city, making very clear separations between the rich and the poor,” said Miloon Kothari, UN special rapporteur on housing rights.

“The situation in the resettlement areas is horrendous,” far from jobs and city services, he said.

Kothari said a huge slum demolition drive had been undertaken in the last three years, evicting countless thousands of people.

“It’s part of a pattern in Delhi to prepare for the Commonwealth Games,” he said.

Kothari said a huge slum demolition drive had been undertaken in the last three years with as many as 300 000 people evicted across New Delhi on top of the 280 000 who are being chased away from Yamuna banks.

But Delhi Development Authority planning commissioner AK Jain disagrees with the criticism of the clean-up drive.

“The priorities are many ... always there is criticism when you are dealing with the masses,” Jain told Agence France-Presse.

Jain said around one quarter of the 280 000 being evicted in the riverfront clean up drive could end up being resettled on the outskirts of the city but the rest would have to fend for themselves.

Jain said more low-income housing would be authorised but no timeframe had been set for construction.

The municipal authority has zoned the river banks as green space—one of the reasons given for the slum demolitions.

But a mega-temple complex that spans about 12ha has been erected there in the last five years and the Commonwealth Games village is to be located there as well.

“There are such big, big constructions on the Yamuna—no-one tears them down,” complained Mohammed Nasim (38) also of Nangla Machi, whose hair is streaked with grey.

Like him, many have stayed on in the area, even though there has not been any electricity and little water since the demolition.

The drains running between the one-room huts still standing have clogged and flies and mosquitoes multiplied. Children frequently run fevers due to the bad sanitation.

For those who live in areas being bulldozed, it feels like a drive against the poor.

“Rich people wouldn’t get their houses cleaned and mopped, food cooked, dishes washed if not for us,” said Anju Devi, another resident of Nangla Machi.

“And they’re chasing us away.” - AFP



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