Remove the Poor

Remove the Poor screams the headline of an article in a recent magazine. These words seem to have become a mantra of the rulers of our city. We have heard it time and again. We need a stadium, a mall, a new swanky hotel, a cinema complex, a gated community easy peasy just find a slum, bring your bulldozer and raise it to the ground. Voila! You have your piece of land and all you need to do is start building. Oops there is a problem. Who will build them. The poor of course. There is something wrong don't you think so. But anyway we have been mute and indifferent spectators to this game played with obsessive regularity in our very city.

They are at it again. Slums are being removed while the like of us are busy shopping and preparing for Diwali. The goal is to create a ‘world-class city’ in a ‘slum-free India’, but since the government has not been able to wipe out unsightly poverty, it just removes the poor states the article. It goes on to say that illegal squatters who build our roads, our buildings, our Metro, look after our children, wash our dishes and work in our factories do not have the same right as those who can boast of laminated cards in their wallets. This is the new duality of Delhi.

I have time and again brought this reality to light as I have seen first hand the agony and pain of homes being destroyed in a jiffy. What is even more galling is the fact that the Government has time and again mooted low income housing schemes but these have failed miserably. The failure is almost Freudian. How can we give precious land to house the poor. But we need them so we get them from their far away homes to build our desiderata and then leave them to fend for themselves in the big bad city. Hence the slums.

The article gives some interesting and mind opening stats. The poor comprise 24% of the city's population but occupy less than 5% of land. You will be surprise to know that there is no land scarcity. 7000 acres only would be needed to house the poor in dignity and the Government owns more than 15000 acres. But that is not all hold your breath slums are a fab mean for collecting illegal gratification. Slum dwellers pay cops, politicians and officials a whopping 6840 crore rupees a year. Profitable isn't. Now you understand why slums are allowed to exist

There is more. Demolitions are carried out citing public purpose. But there are hidden agendas as recently people were rendered homeless in Delhi to build a 5* Hotel and a cluster of malls. True there have been relocations of slums and one would like to believe that this should solve the problem. Far from that. In 2000 the slums on the banks of the Jamuna were relocated to Bhalaswa a place not fit for humans as it is located next to a garbage landfill. There is no water and all the people can accede to is hand pumps that draw water contaminated by the garbage next door. 7o crores were sanctioned for schools, roads, water treatment, shops etc but needless to say none came up. There is one school located at 90 minutes walk for the 4000 households. New schemes are conjured particularly near election time but nothing happens on the ground. Or if they do see the light of the day the schemes are wrought with much red tape and ensure that a large part of potential beneficiaries are found to be ineligible.

So as you and I look forward to Diwali and celebrations, there are many who wait for the bulldozers to roll and for their lives to crash. Adults will loose their possessions and livelihood, children their chance to education. Does this seem right in a country where citizens are protected by constitutional rights? But who cares for the voiceless children who hanker to go to school.

We at project why has lost bright children to slum destruction. We have seen families loose everything they possess. How can I forget my Lohar camp that stood proud and vibrant for years before being raised to the ground? Once again I feel helpless and can only share my angst in words. Over the years I have been witness to the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, but I have also seen how bright and smart poor children are and how rich their potential if given a chance.

Those who planned our city a long time back envisaged a city where all would live side by side. One of the starkest example of this vision is the presence of Government schools in almost every nook and corner of the city. Yet every day the poor are being pushed to the farthest limits of a city growing in quantum leaps. One has to find a way to give humane dwellings to those who are undoubtedly a dynamic and vibrant part of city life. When will our rulers realise this, O wonder.