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It all started with a bulldozer in Jahangirpuri

The site of the contested demolition drive carried out by North Delhi Municipal Corporation recently, Jahangirpuri, was born ironically out of a somewhat similar exercise. Here's how.

Written by Adrija Roychowdhury | New Delhi |
Updated: May 11, 2022 7:43:03 am
File photo of the anti encroachment drive at Jahangirpuri in New Delhi. (Express Photo)

The site of the contested demolition drive carried out by North Delhi Municipal Corporation recently, Jahangirpuri, was born ironically out of a somewhat similar exercise. As part of Sanjay Gandhi’s ‘urban renewal’ plan in the mid-1970s during the Emergency and ahead of the Asiad Games of 1982, many slums were removed and people relocated to resettlement colonies. One of these was Jahangirpuri.

The beautification of Delhi, as envisaged by Sanjay Gandhi, had two elements to it. The first was the construction of infrastructure like modern stadiums, flyovers, wide roads etc; and the second, removal of slums from the central part of Delhi, where the Games were to be held. “In a short period of 1975-76, an estimated 1.75 lakh to 2 lakh people were removed from slums. The number of slums came down dramatically from about 2,000 to 1,100,” says Dunu Roy, Director of Hazards Centre.

The 34-40 resettlement colonies where the people were moved to were in the periphery of the city. These included Jahangirpuri, Mangolpuri, Dakshinpuri, Trilokpuri and Seemapuri, among others.

Delhi heritage enthusiast Sohail Hashmi says Jahangirpuri was originally an old village on the outskirts of Delhi, dating back to the period of Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s rule in the 16th century (hence the name).

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The demolition and resettlement process was undertaken by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which was at that time under the vice-chairmanship of Jagmohan Malhotra. In each of these colonies, plots measuring around 25 yards were marked out for the dwellers, and provided to them at a subsidised rate.

Urban planner and former DDA chairman A K Jain said the slum-dwelling population of Delhi was seen as a human problem. “These were people who came to Delhi in search of jobs and were mostly employed in the informal sector. The idea was to give them the pride of owning a property in Delhi,” he says.

However, on the ground, there were complaints of the process being arbitrary, with bulldozers uprooting people overnight. The affected people, like now, said the demolitions were carried out without any prior notice. The few rare instances of stay orders from courts were ignored.

Being relocated so far away from the urban centres, many of those moved to the resettlement colonies lost out on means of livelihood. Roy says the labourers had come in to build New Delhi between 1947 and 1975, and once work was done, gradually took up other occupations. Much of this work was no longer available once they were resettled.

“An MCD report from the 1980s suggests that close to 80% of the relocated people left their new plots and moved back to the city in search of jobs,” says Roy. Many to the slums that were still standing.

It is the newer waves of migrants who could not find place in the slums who were among the first to settle down in colonies like Jahangirpuri. For a time, a majority of them were from West Bengal, due to the violent political churning there as well as the push for industry, depriving them of land. The migrants from West Bengal included refugees from newly formed Bangladesh.

The early 1990s saw a new brand of politics, where these migrants were routinely slammed as “Bangladeshi infiltrators”, with drives launched with fanfare against them.

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