No wealth for these commoners
By Padmasai Lakshmi B

Now in mission mode to achieve world-class status in time for the Common-wealth Games, the Delhi government is altering the physical and social landscape of the city. The poor happen to be inconveniently in the way of the beautification drive – ‘Illegal settlements’ are being pushed to the margins, away from public gaze.

On a sweaty day in June, I visited two clusters of roughly 15 hutments each that face an especially precarious situation these are not formally recognized slums, but informal hutments. Located across the Nigambodh ghat, on the banks of the Yamuna below the metro line, the slum dwellers live under the constant threat of relocation. These urban landless live on land owned by the Public Works Department (PWD) and are termed as encroachers.

It was only a few months back that over a dozen families were evicted from a slum called as T-Huts near Shastri Park, just beneath the ISBT interstate bus terminus flyover in north Delhi. The slum dwellers had been living there for long. They had ration cards, voter IDs other identity cards scraps of paper that serve as proof of their existence. Farzana Begum, a resident for more than 10 years, recalled the day the families were asked to move. One morning some eight months back, the police arrived to serve an eviction order; residents were given 24 hours to clear out. They had not been served any prior notice. The next morning a police posse arrived with bulldozers and started pulling down their houses. Those who protested were beaten. Even a frail old woman was not spared, and four were jailed for resisting.

Their pleas to let them stay till Diwali, only ten days away, fell on deaf ears. Some managed to pack their belongings but many could not. They moved to the patch of land beneath the metro line, where they now live. The river Yamuna, reduced to a sewage drain, flows nearby, carrying the city’s unwanted, untreated waste of residents. The children are sick with respiratory and skin ailments. Farzana Begum smiles and says, “They ( the authorities) call us gande naali ke keede. But the urban people are the ones who pollute this water; for us it´s sacred.”

Farzana’s husband, Mohammad Alam, said the slum dwellers put together some money to install a hand pump, which yields yellow, stinky, toxic drinking water. Once in a while a water tanker reaches them, but somehow they are even excluded from having access to such a basic amenity. It has been three months since her four-year-old daughter, Savana, has been coughing. Farzana took her to Jag Parvesh Chandra Hospital, four kilometres away, bought expensive medicines, but the cough persists. Meanwhile, Alam takes up odd jobs to feed his family. Other residents are engaged in small agriculture along the Yamuna’s banks, some eke out a daily wage through manual labour, and others pull cycle rickshaws, while some do temporary jobs.

Farzana just got Savana admitted in a school nearby which is run by World Vision, a church-based charity. But they again got an eviction order from the police again; this time the date is 28th June.

The same story plays out in every slum cluster on the Yamuna’s banks, where people live amid dust and stink, consume unhygienic water and live in transitory shelters, under constant fear of eviction even as the city gets set to roll out the red carpet for the ‘Commonwealth’ games.
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