Today's Editorial

28 February 2017

Woes of urban relocation


Source: By Bharat Dogra: The Statesman


Urban relocation projects generally involve shifting of urban poor people from central parts of a city to the outskirts. Despite reservations expressed by eminent urban planners, such relocation of slum dwellers and the homeless have become more frequent in several cities. It may be interesting to look at the experience of some groups whose relocation goes back a decade or more to see if with the passage of time they have become more comfortable.

A large number of slum-dwellers living in Banuwal Nagar in North-West Delhi were shifted about 24 kms away to G and H blocks of JJ Colony, Bawana in Outer Delhi about a decade ago. A recent visit to this colony revealed that in terms of the most important issue of livelihood, people are now in a worse position than they were.

Umesh Singh, a community leader who works as a mason explained: “In our previous home I was so well connected that I would just be roaming around and someone would call me for work. Employment was easy to get because we the service providers were living close to the more prosperous people who needed these services and could pay adequately. Then they resettled all the service providers together but in this area away from the main city. Who will use their services?

He adds: “It is not only we as construction workers, carpenters and plumbers who have suffered. When we meet upper and middle class people of colonies where we worked earlier they tell us that they also now have much more difficulty in getting various services. So if our problems have increased and their problems have also increased then who has benefited from this resettlement?”

Livelihood problems have worsened particularly for women domestic workers. As they could not get work at the new place, many of them still go to their earlier employments in and around Saraswati Vihar about 24 km away. There is no direct bus. They have to leave home at or even before 6 a.m., grabbing a roti or two before leaving if they can get the time for this. Earlier they could return home for some rest in the afternoon. Now they do not get this rest because the home is so far away. They manage to return home only late in the evening and sometimes at night.

People complain bitterly that they still do not have access to usable toilets and have to walk a long distance for open defecation and that too in insecure conditions as an area near a canal is prone to crime. Several of them have been victims of crime. Overall sanitation is very poor as this is contracted out. Piped drinking water is not available and people have to make their own arrangements.

There is another settlement in Bawana JJ colony in front of K and L blocks. These are people who were evicted from Paschim Vihar in west Delhi, a distance of about 30 km, about a decade ago but unlike the relocated people of G and H blocks they do not have legal papers for this relocation. They have built small huts and planted trees, creating a new colony on their own. They do not have ration cards. They do not have sanitation and water facilities either and have to walk a considerable distance for a toilet. School education particularly for girl students is difficult as they have to go a long way and face harassment from goons. The nearest government hospital is also a long distance away.

Most of them are construction workers but some of them also work in nearby industries. People say that there are several industries but the prevailing wage rate of Rs. 4,500 to Rs. 5,000 per month for an eight-plus hour working day is so low that no one can survive on this. But keeping in view the poverty and desperation of people and the lack of alternatives these industries keep the wage rates so low and manage to employ desperate workers, particularly women.

A Block jhuggi in Shahbad dairy is another cluster of people shifted mostly from Shalimar Bagh area more than two decades ago. Despite the fact that the young men of this colony have grown up here, their existence remains precarious and devoid of essential facilities. There are no usable toilets and women going to relieve themselves in the open face the threat of not just harassment but even molestation. Due to lack of drainage, some houses suffer from water logging. Water supply depends on a tanker and hence is very uncertain. The nearest school needs repairs so children are being sent to a village school further away.

Hence it is clear that relocation often increases the many sided problems and vulnerabilities of urban poor households. While there is a clear need for changing urban policies which emphasise relocation, there is also need for immediate action to meet at least the most pressing and basic needs have relocated people.