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All aboard the safai express: At this south Delhi colony, kids lead the way

Apart from the beautification, the biggest challenge for Aga Khan Trust for Culture was connecting the toilets in the 144 homes to the main trunk sewer.

Written by Somya Lakhani | New Delhi |
January 7, 2018 1:39:38 am
This is how the area looked before the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s project. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Between the Barapullah Nallah and the pastel-coloured homes in Khusro Nagar lies a green patch, which Ayan Ali (10), Barkat Ali (12) and Abdul Mannan (14) are very proud of. What was once a garbage dump and a breeding ground for diseases is now their playground — one that they helped build.

Part of Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s (AKTC) Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Initiative, the 250 metre-stretch is a matter of envy for the neighbours now. “The project began in 2008. Then work began on the Barapullah flyover, so we had to temporarily suspend the plan. We resumed work in 2013 by cleaning the insides of the Nallah… and the community was involved from 2014-15 onwards,” Jyotsna Lall, director of programmes, AKTC, said.

On a sunny Saturday, the children were out in the park with their gilli-danda, even as their mothers soaked in the sun over peanuts. Trees planted in the area — Ashoka, Peepul and Jamun — are under the care of a child each.

“This was so dirty… everyone would throw garbage here, it would stink. We couldn’t even open the windows. Then, the AKTC team came and told us that mosquitoes and flies breed here, and how it causes pollution and makes us sick. They told us we can change it by telling our parents and neighbours not to litter here,” Barkat said.

Through games, movies and plays, the children became the crusaders of change. “In groups, we were allotted an area each and we had to ensure it wasn’t dirty… it was a competition. We also played games like ‘raja, mantri, chor, sipahi’ and ‘Simon says’, and helped pick up garbage,” said 14-year-old Mohd. Sameer.

The children also played games such as ‘safai express’ — where they formed a human train and began the journey from Kachrapur towards Safaipur.

Apart from the beautification, the biggest challenge for AKTC was connecting the toilets in the 144 homes to the main trunk sewer. “They were in such poor shape and had to be replaced with the help of the Delhi Jal Board. We want to use this stretch as a model for other areas. Work is not complete yet… it will take us another five years as we also want to treat the water eventually,” Ratish Nanda, project director, AKTC, said.

Dustbins, too, were provided to the households, and another project was started wherein household waste is collected on a cost-sharing basis.


The playground in Khusro Nagar alongside the Barapullah Nallah (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)


About the bright colours on the walls of the homes, Nanda said, “It has a big impact on urban landscape. It garners good attention for the Nizamuddin Basti, and the residents take pride and a sense of ownership in their space”. The project has been funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with residents chipping in as well.

The community programme began with AKTC asking the children to draw their aspirations for the Nallah — parks, boats and swings. Naheed, 40, a mother of two, said: “The children would come home and tell us not to throw garbage… looking at their enthusiasm, we changed. Plus, the area is no longer frequented by anti-social elements. We feel safer knowing the children are right outside the house.”

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