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Displacement Development and Disposession

October 27, 2009

The Story of
A Beautiful Delhi

Building Grandeur on a tomb that buries incredible loss and Despair.

by Syed Shoaib

The enchanting dreams for a vibrant Delhi, flourishing with parks, six to twelve lane expressways, hi-tech malls, residential complexes, verdant footpaths, Metro, Low Floor Buses Captureand every luxury present in the world, that one could realize. In our time these have quite been the benchmarks for development. Capitalism has always been quite obsessive with quantitative figures, be it in the realms of national income, economic development or poverty or any. Incomes, Losses, Costs, Profits, Wages can all be quantified, but unfortunately human happiness, loss, despair cannot be, although remain to be the most imminent part of human living. One of the questions in this relevance is, “when malls are built, gardens are laid, industries are moved, slums are swept away, how must the costs be decided and who must decide these costs? Who should have the authority to decide these costs, keeping or prevaricating upon the lives of millions of people? Should it be the Builders, the Government or whom? 

In our age, where the logic of market seems to keep everything gay and perfect with Adam Smith’s logic of “The Invisible Hand”, it is assumed that Builders will build, household would migrate (to wherever there is economic benefit) and the governments would heed to demands of people (since they are answerable to them). But what happens if the economic conditions are so poor that households have nowhere to migrate? What happens if the democracy has been totally nabbed of its meaning, where all political parties hearken to the large industrial houses, agricultural lobbies, and corporate houses which fund them? When the court has taken Socio-economic development to be synonymous to Neo-Liberal Capitalism, and thinks that bulldozing poor houses for supposed greater gains would bring the deprived masses into economic mainstream? Then who is going to care for the variables which can not be quantified and are of little or no interest to either corporate, governments or judiciary? Who is going to calculate the costs and the gains? Who is going to decide what is just and what is not?

The story of modern India is full with stories of demolitions of lives and livelihoods, people being displaced (with neither shelter, nor the assurance of it) while the heavily voluble nation marches into the pretense of being world’s superpower by 2020 (or who knows even before). In this precious and perspicuous spirit, the story of people of Narmada, or of the people of Bawana (a government allocated resettlement area for people displaced by slum demolitions) is the story of the Modern India.

The story of Bawana, for many, starts from a havoc in the lives of residents of Yamuna Pushta, in the cold January of 2004, as the tourism ministry of the Government of India announced its plan to develop a 100-acre strip of land on the banks of Yamuna into a riverside promenade which would be marketed as a major tourist attraction. For the remaining others there had been similar havocs which have left a deeply penetrating painful echo in their hearts. This is how Kalyani Menon-Sen and Gautam Bhan describe the awe of the new morning in the lives of people, part of this awful story:

“Our first sight of Bawana was horrifying. The hundreds of people sitting on the bare ground amidst whatever possessions they had been able to save seemed too stunned to even grasp the extent of their dispossession. We ourselves were still dazed by the failure of the campaign to stop or even delay the evictions, and by the insensitivity of the Supreme Court.”

And such was the plight of people who had managed to save something, or at least gain a vulnerable 12 sq. m roofless area for themselves as repose of security. A survey conducted by Delhi Development Authority before the evictions recorded only 16,000 genuine claimants’ for the plots , while newspapers reported around 35,000 families in residence, indicating that even less than 50% of the people of Pushta, were considered eligible for the 12sq. meter wretched anarchic life of Bawana, the rest of course were free, homeless, absolutely deprived, left.

One might imagine that the life of people of Bawana would have been restored back through the span of these five years. It surely has, at least according to many government circles. And the government is proud of it, JJ Colony (the Jhuggi Jhopri Cluster of Bawana), now has schools, roads and vital infrastructure. JJ Colony now has five primary schools, albeit none worthy for education. In our field discourses there, we have not come across a single parent, who didn’t complain of wastefulness of sending their children to school, since there was no effective education being provided. Even to this moribund education, seeking admission into it is nearly impossible. There are even a few pukka houses now, though economic destitution has forced residents to rent or even sell their houses. NGOs like Raina Prayas, have worked towards providing poor people with pukka housing. And rest, the drains are still rarely cleaned, drainage water is all spilt upon the roads, where people during rains have no option but to dip their feet in the stinking drains, and sleep in their houses filled up wholly with the same stinking water (which runs inside, when the drains overflow, the level of housing is lower than the drains). People who applied for ration cards have still neither been provided the cards nor any answer from the authorities. Bawana, being far from populous Delhi, has little or unworthy employment opportunities. Ensuing people resort prominently to gambling and trading in drugs and alcohol. There are still many families (one family even has up to 20 or more members) who had their houses surveyed by DDA in 2004 but still have not been allotted plots. Such people reside illegally in Jhuggi in empty spaces. The literature of injustice, cruelty, economic and social deprivation surfeits humane bearable capacity.

These are perhaps some of the most important questions to ask: If killing people, or terrorizing them through hijacking, holding hostages etc. is a crime, who decides, whether nabbing people of their livelihood, of their homes and of all their lifelong possessions is a crime or not? Or is it a way towards development? How does beautification matter to the society when majority of its individuals lose their lives under helm of it? If killing is a crime, then who decides whether pushing people to slow death and literally into the gambit of alcohols and drugs is a crime or not? The Supreme Court of India says, it (Destruction of lives in this pattern (the statement was reported in case of destruction of lives of people inhibiting the Narmada Valley)) would bring them, the people who are forced to move into city slums and jhuggis, into the “mainstream”.

It was of course not the style of Supreme Court since antiquity, Supreme Court often defended the right to housing and safe shelter under the fundamental right to livelihood. (as stated in its judgements in Shantistar builders vs. Narayan Khimalal Ghotame and others (1990)and in many likewise historical judgments).

The whole plan seems simple and that is to leave every stretch and every type of resource for corporate plunder and thus unravel the so called growth potential of our nation. Of course there would be tremendous spawn in the economic activity, when slums and housing of tribes are demolished, when malls and dams are built, when the village communities are deprived of their long held precious Common Property Resources and these are given to plunder for minerals and stones, when governments spend wastefully on economic infrastructure, while people struggle for living, while they take guns and grenades to protect their lands, homes and families. It seems today that corporate globalization, governance, judiciary and the media are all on a unanimous roller coaster ride, marching hand in hand, to create one of the most glistening tombs burying stories grave losses and despairs of Indian masses.

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