The year is 2007. Commonwealth Games are three years away and Delhi is being spruced up — constructing roads, subways, flyovers and leaving no stone unturned in transforming it into a world-class city. But sprawling slum clusters, authorities believe, need to make way for newer facilities and public infrastructure.
A mega exercise is planned to relocate thousands of slum dwellers, mostly migrants from the countryside reeling under an agrarian distress, to upcoming low-rise building blocks on the city’s outskirts. Authorities are flush with funds with the launch of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), a new city modernisation project named after the country’s first Prime Minister.
Located 40 km from Connaught Place, Bhorgarh is one such relocation spot. Far removed from the din of city life, yet within comfortable distance of the capital, it is more of a location private developers would perhaps describe as a ‘retirees heaven’. The government, instead, markets it for the working class.
Under the Basic Services to the Urban Poor (BSUP) component of the JNNURM, authorities start building housing blocks in places such as Bhorgarh, Bawana, Narela, Ghogha, Baprola — localities that fall outside the coverage areas of the then upcoming Metro network.
Between 2007 and 2019, 31,424 one-BHK flats were built under the scheme by various agencies, including the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (DSIIDC), Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and Delhi Development Authority (DDA). Around 24,000 more are at various stages of construction, according to official data available with The Indian Express.
But a crucial element is missing across the sprawling colonies: people. Not more than 2,000 of these flats are currently occupied, a top official of the Delhi government — under which DSIIDC and DUSIB come — said.
In a city of nearly 2 crore people, half of who live in slums and unauthorised colonies, there are barely any takers for such affordable housing. According to official estimates, there are 675 JJ (jhuggi jhopdi or slum) clusters in the city which house 3.06 lakh families, and nearly 1,800 unauthorised colonies, home to a mix of low- and middle-income families.
The Indian Express visited three colonies at Bhorgarh, Ghogha and Sultanpuri, which came up in 2011, 2010 and 2015 respectively. There are 1,272 flats at Bhorgarh, 3,434 at Ghogha and 1,060 at Sultanpuri. All are unoccupied.
Years of neglect means the colonies are decaying, with overgrown shrubs having taken over most of the area, wide cracks across buildings, broken window panes, doors, damaged floors and rusting metal.
Gates at Bhorgarh are locked from inside, but there are no security guards. At Ghogha, two private security guards man the complex, gates of which have collapsed, round the clock. The Sultanpuri project, the newest of the three, is relatively better off.
In flats at Bhorgarh and Ghogha, most facilities are damaged to an extent that officials admit it will take several crores to repair.
Among the few EWS colonies where people live is the one built by DSIIDC in Bawana in 2008. On paper, of the 1,184 flats, 300 have been allotted. At the colony, conditions are appalling — sewage blocks most lanes and streets are littered with garbage.
Of the 300 allottees, hardly anyone lives there anymore. Many have sold the flats to people, who have rented them out. The area has two prominent shops of property dealers. “We may be running a business here, but there’s no demand. Who would like to live in these conditions? Even those staying would go elsewhere, given a choice. The rent is between Rs 1,500-Rs 2,000. Those who have electricity meters installed lease out their connections to others. There is no water pipeline,” Jagmohan, a property dealer, said.
Bhavna, a homemaker living on rent, said: “I have never seen a sanitation worker here. We clean everything on our own. Our children keep falling ill.”
Ramcharan, a house painter who moved to the colony five years ago on rent, said most families are tenants. “With not a single functional streetlight, the area becomes highly unsafe after dark,” he said.
Geeta, who works in a small fan manufacturing unit and moved here as a tenant nine years ago, said: “When we moved here, we never thought we would land in a situation like this someday. The rows of building blocks you can see are all full of tenants. You will not see anyone who has been relocated from a slum here. But we are worse off than those living in slums.”
What went wrong
Official records show that from the beginning, there was a lack of coordination among various arms of the government, which also carried out a series of policy flip-flops. “It was like the left hand of the government did not know what the right hand was doing. Funds kept coming in and construction was carried out mindlessly, without thinking if there will be any takers,” a senior official said.
Experts believe part of the reason the projects failed was the location of the colonies. Swati Janu, a visiting faculty at the School of Design, Ambedkar University, said the current model of relocating people to the fringes of the city, far from their livelihoods, doesn’t work.
“Through my work, I have realised that often people do not want to live in multi-storey housing which disconnects them from life on the street. High-rise housing has already been proven a failure in western countries such as US (Pruitt Igoe housing) and UK (Aylesbury Estate). Yet, we are bent on emulating the same models and, hence, the same failures. Mid-rise, high-density neighbourhoods are seen to be more successful models of housing with a vibrant socio-urban fabric, preferred by the residents as well,” Janu said.
Evita Das, an urban researcher and member of civil society platform ‘National coalition for inclusive urbanisation’, said in-situ rehab was the only solution.
Das said the housing inventory, mostly on the periphery of the city, does not work because housing is just seen as a structure, not as a right. “What about their livelihood, access to basic services, how will they commute to the city? There has been a clear political shift in viewing the urban landscape. A place is being built where urban poor will be made invisible further and further,” she said.
In fact, construction of houses meant for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) was the simplest part in the early phases, with Central funding being around 40% for every BSUP project.
The DDA, for example, built 2,840 flats under the JNNURM scheme but later proposed that the project be dropped altogether. Work on the pending DSIIDC projects has come to a halt as the Centre stopped funding in April 2017. “Since progress is about 50%, a huge amount of funds is required for completion of the project. The matter is being taken up for a policy decision,” an official note of the Urban Development Department said.
While the location of housing colonies, up to 40 km away from the city centre, is a factor, policy flip-flops and one-upmanship are equally responsible for the current mess.
In 2010, the Sheila Dikshit government created a policy to govern the allocation process. The year 1988 was decided as the cut-off date of eligibility, which left out lakhs of families. Subsequently, 119 clusters were identified in which the DUSIB carried out a survey and found only 30-35% eligible families.
“Ahead of the Commonwealth Games, the government became desperate to relocate slum dwellers to those colonies. Not all families were willing to shift to places far from their sources of earning. Eventually, the government managed to shift around 266 families,” an official said.
Later, the cut-off date was relaxed to 2009 in a new policy which replaced the earlier one in 2013. By that time, the UPA government had launched the Rajiv Ratan Awas Yojana to provide one-time assistance to the urban poor to move into these flats, with the vaunted aim of a “slum-free India”.
Authorities in Delhi signed up for the scheme and pledged to bear 50% of the cost of the flats. The remaining 50% had to be paid by beneficiaries. Under the policy, around 50% of JJ cluster dwellers were found eligible for flats. “Still, nothing moved as the state elections took place in 2013 and 2015, and the general elections in 2014. Elections meant relocation of slum dwellers, a political hot potato in Delhi, became a no-go zone,” a DUSIB official said.
Urban Development Minister Satyendar Jain did not respond to calls and messages seeking a comment.
In 2015, the AAP government rode to power, with ‘jaha jhuggi wahan makaan’ as a key promise. In its first Cabinet meeting, a decision was taken to halt all demolitions, pending a review of existing policies and framing of an in-situ rehabilitation scheme.
That policy, called ‘Delhi Slum and Jhuggi Jhopri Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy’, was eventually notified on December 11, 2017. The policy acknowledged that building resettlement in faraway places does not work since the poor return to their place of work. It also recognised the PMAY (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana), which had replaced the Rajiv Ratan scheme after the BJP came to power in 2014, a decision that was reversed later.
Earlier this year, Delhi government decided to rename the policy as ‘Mukhya Mantri Awas Yojana’, effectively stalling a proposed survey across the 675 JJ clusters to find potential beneficiaries of the scheme. The government then decided to withdraw from the scheme, saying the assistance amount of Rs 1 lakh per flat could be absorbed without any Central help.
DUSIB was made the nodal agency for relocation/rehabilitation of slums and the cut-off date was again revised to 2015. The policy also said that any jhuggi that came up after January 2015 will be removed without a promise of alternate housing.
DUSIB had floated tenders for construction of 5,310 dwellings at Bhalswa, Dev Nagar and Kasturba Nagar, which would have been the first in-situ project under the Delhi government’s policy. But tenders failed. Now the board is trying to use completed projects at Sultanpuri and Bhalswa — having 1,060 and 7,400 vacant flats each — to carry out rehabilitation.
“One clause of the AAP government’s policy, which allows for rehabilitation on the same land or in the vicinity within a radius of 5 km or more in exceptional circumstances is coming in handy in this case,” an Urban Development Department official said.
DUSIB also aims to partially fill up another vacant colony at Savda Ghevra with around 1,900 families while low-ranking CISF officials, numbering around 2,100, are likely to be allotted flats at DSIIDC’s Baprola project. Overall, DUSIB managed to allot flats to 1,927 families in 2018-19 and plans to cover 3,400 families in 2019-20.
But the board is responsible for rehabilitation of only 176 out of 675 slums which are on Delhi government land. Allottees also have to pay Rs 1.12 lakh per dwelling and an additional one-time maintenance charge of Rs 30,000 for five years.