Cast away for rehabilitation

Rajiv Awas Yojana promises moon to slum dwellers but only offers isolation, unemployment and insanitation
Monday, May 14, 2012

Somewhere between Alipur and Narela Sub City lies the village of Holambi Kalan. Around 47 km from Delhi's showpiece Connaught Place, this village was chosen for the relocation of families from JJ ( (short for jhhugi, jhompri) clusters on Minto Road and R.K. Puram, two of the most prime areas of the capital. This move, under the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), was supposed to change the lives of dwellers for better and ‘reintegrate’ them into the mainstream by providing affordable housing and bringing their lifestyle on par with other residents of the national capital region (NCR). However, this socio-economic experiment of the government has gone horribly wrong.

Ten years hence, the 70-odd hectare area still lacks a proper sewage system. The pipelines haven’t yet been laid. Clean drinking water is still not available. “The tanker comes once in every five days, and we have to ration our water accordingly,” says Michael, who was rehabilitated from Minto Road slum. Residents of this place are not happy with the quality of Jal Board’s water. They allege that it’s yellowish hue and odour renders it unfit for drinking purposes.

The pipelines haven’t yet been laid. Clean drinking water is still not available. “The tanker comes once in every five days, and we have to ration our water accordingly

Lawlessness is another problem in this area. As the night approaches, liquor is sold without permission and openly consumed. “It’s unsafe to venture beyond our houses after 8 pm,” adds Michael, who has formed a Residents' Welfare Association (RWA) to tackle some of the area’s problems, but funds remain a major worry for its operations. The medical facilities are inadequate too. With only a doctor at their call, the residents have to go to Narela and Alipur, the roads leading to which became risky at night in absence of proper lighting.

Though RAY does not cover the employment related issues and virtually no scheme does it for the urban poor, unemployment remains a big problem. As a result, locals have to work in nearby factories at rates lower than national average. In fact, they allege that some of them worked in a nearby chhapal factory at Rs 2,500 per month, 12 hours a day, a wage well below the stipulated average of Rs 8,000 for unskilled labour in Delhi.

Another case in point is Bhalaswa Dairy, a place where slum dwellers of I.T.O , Nizamuddin and various other localities were relocated in 2002. A study conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute found that water supplied to the area was unsafe for drinking purposes. Residents were given a plot of land in knee-deep sewage water and told to construct their houses.

Lack of drinking water, unemployment, unhygienic living conditions, and overall a living worse than rats, this is the situation in almost all the rehabilitation colonies of the city. Surrounded by drain on all sides, and no road abridging the 100-metre chasm, the residents of erstwhile Nizamuddin cluster are isolated, physically as well as socially. “How can an ambulance reach here in case of an emergency," asks Suresh, an area resident. Unemployment is a malaise common to such areas. “I have to to take off from home at 5 in the morning to reach my workplace on time”, is the most positive answer one finds pertaining to employment. Most of the people work here as contract workers on inferior terms and wages and are hardly able to sustain themselves.

Surrounded by drain on all sides, and no road abridging the 100-metre chasm, the residents of erstwhile Nizamuddin cluster are isolated, physically as well as socially. How can an ambulance reach here in case of an emergency?

Education and electricity is the best thing you see, but electricity is more a burden here rather than a blessing due to scanty, impermanent income. Child labour is not a taboo. After all, who cares? While Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) clearly stipulates rehabilitation of the slums to the same place, or if unfeasible, to the nearest possible place, little attention has been paid while relocating these slums since the lucrative cost of prime land is too precious to be wasted on the poor. Residential quarters for government servants will soon come up on the land behind Maurya Sheraton hotel from where many families have been uprooted. RAY also warrants that relocation should be done in such a way as to not to affect the livelihoods of the people, a point flagrantly violated. Unavailability of proper sanitation and other basic amenities such as potable drinking water also dishonours the pledge of RAY.

One thing that has been provided on time to all these residents is a voter card, which hardly comes a surprise given the value these citizens bring to the vote bank of any party. It is because of these votes that not a single sitting councillor in these areas could retain a seat in the recently-concluded elections to the Municipal Corporation Delhi. Though there was some developmental work done in the months preceding the election, voters were clearly not amused. They took a gambit and trusted the opposition candidates. So, as Congress lost in Bhalaswa, it was BJP who bit the dust in Alipur, the two major rehabilitation posts.

Edited by Aswati Anand

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