Right to shelter

The party that ruled India for most of its seven decades as an independent nation, and has ruled this city for the past 15 years, launched its election pitch by announcing a right to shelter for the poor. The  right to shelter however seems to have been enshrined in our Constitution as a right to life as guaranteed by article 21 of the Constitution. It seems tragic that even after 68 years of Independence, the right to shelter should be an election issue potent enough to seduce a seizable vote bank. But this is the reality. Delhi has over 4 million of slum dwellers and many live in 'homes' like the one in this picture. The conditions in such slums are abysmal to say the least.

Promises of regularisation of slums and of building proper housing for slum dwellers are regurgitated at every election by political parties of all shade and hues. I have been witness to this for the past 15 years. More than two decade ago, I had met Geeta Dewan Verma, an urban planner and author of Slumming India. According to her the root cause of urban slumming lies not in urban poverty but in urban greed. And to feed this ever growing greed, politicians keep the issue of housing for the poor on the back burner and resuscitate it at every election to garner votes. Master plans that earmarked land for the poor are redrafted over and over again to benefit industrialists and the rich and famous. In an interview Verma says: This is happening because of the moral bankruptcy facing our intellectuals, activists and celebrities. They are allowing our cities to die rather than taking steps to the contrary. To cite a few examples, if sprawling farmhouses for a handful are allowed to occupy prime space, then the poor will be forced to huddle in huts, as there is just so much urban land to go around. If fancy malls, used by a few, are allowed to occupy a lot of space, then shops catering to the needs of the majority will come up on the roadside. If only a few industrial houses are given prime sites, then smaller factories needing propinquity to ancillary establishments will come up in residential areas. I guess anyone residing in Delhi will get the picture.

Maybe, and let us continue to be cynical, there is a hidden agenda, just like the one in an education system that stubbornly refuses to hike the pass percentage from a paltry 33% to a respectable 50 so as to keep a large chunk of society illiterate and thus an easily manipulated vote bank. Promising housing to the poor is a good election plank! And when the bulldozers ultimately land up at their doorstep, then all the politicians are conveniently AWOL. I have seen this with own eyes time ands again. Election version 2015 is yet another repeat performance of a jaded script. Every party is wowing the poor. I guess they know that wooing the rich is of no avail.

One party has even come up with a Draft Bill aptly entitled "Delhi Right to Housing, Shelter and Property (rights) to Slum Dwellers Bill 2015." It will of course be shelved well out of sight once elections are over to be dusted and resold five years down the line. What can one say.

It is difficult for those of us who live in proper homes, to fathom what living in a hole is. If you look at this picture carefully you will realise that you have to crawl into the 'home' in this picture and cannot stand once you are in it. And yet many live in such places and hope for the day the promises made to them will turn into reality. They promise makers however are still busy making drafts bills and spouting empty promises. It is time they stopped and began walking the talk. As of now all political parties are projecting  themselves as messiahs for the poor, the very poor that will forgotten once the votes are counted and the new dispensation is in place. The right to shelter is a basic human right. It is time we understood this.