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So near yet so far: Delhi slum dwellers supposed to get flats bear Covid brunt

The residents of the slums largely work as labourers, with several women working as domestic helps in homes nearby.

Written by Sukrita Baruah | New Delhi | July 12, 2020 1:51:59 am
Delhi slums, Delhi slum areas, Delhi slum areas development, Delhi slum development, Delhi news, city news, Indian Express Residents said the drain overflows every monsoon. (Archive)

For residents of two slums at Kidwai Nagar, the Covid outbreak has meant an indefinite delay in their rehabilitation to new homes, which was due to take place by April. This has been a wait of over 8 years for these 289 families.

In May 2018, on the High Court’s orders, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) and the South Delhi Municipal Corporation began a survey of residents of the slum, who occupy a low-lying strip of land right alongside the Kushak Nala, to determine how many of them were eligible for rehabilitation. Of the 400-odd families, 289 families were found to be so.

Subsequently, in November 2019, the Delhi High Court ordered that the DUSIB complete the process of relocation of those found eligible within a period of “five months on receipt of necessary payment”. By then, most of the families had already paid the amount — Rs 31,000 for SC families and Rs 1,42,000 for OBC families — while the rest reportedly paid in the weeks to come. They were told that they would get homes in Dwarka.

Eight months later, the families are still living by the drain.

“This is because of Covid. From December onwards, we could not do anything because of the elections. Then Covid struck. All the staff are now on Covid duty. We have also been handling shelter and food for the displaced. It is not likely that this can be dealt with until the Covid situation is over,” DUSIB member Bipin Rai said.

The residents of the slums largely work as labourers, with several women working as domestic helps in homes nearby. Work is yet to pick up for most of them. “We can also point to the situation and say that we have been living in a crowded slum during the pandemic. It would be much better and more secure for us to live in apartments with sanitary conditions. We have been told that once things get into motion, we will be the first settlement to be moved but there is no certainty on when that might be,” said Rajkumar (52), a resident.

“The monsoon is going to hit soon. Every monsoon, the drain overflows and the water comes up to the knees inside our houses. Clothes and kitchen utensils go floating away,” said Shanti Devi (45), a resident of Arjun Das Camp.

What has particularly rankled housing rights activists is that on Wednesday, 56 houses in East Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar were razed in a demolition drive, leaving the residents on the road. The East Delhi Municipal Corporation said they had done so because of a High Court order to remove encroachment, and they had to file a compliance report on August 17.

“It is absurd that there are authorities which are not complying with HC directives to give people homes and are citing Covid as a reason, while another authority has rendered a set of people homeless with no regard for the current situation citing an HC order. This is very misplaced,” said Abdul Shakeel, member of Basti Suraksha Manch.

For the residents of Arjun Das Camp and Bangali Camp, the wait continues. In 2012, over 180 residents of the settlement were relocated to Bawana, and others were left behind due to administrative and jurisdiction conflict.

“My brother was shifted to Bawana with others in 2012. It was promised that we will be shifted too. But we still find ourselves here in conditions worse than ever before,” said a resident.

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