Every evening, the residents of Delhi’s Shaheed Arjun Das Camp drape plastic sheets over the remains of their walls so they can sleep with a semblance of a roof over their heads.
But come morning, they must remove them—lest the police spot these as evidence that they continue to stay at the demolished site.
The bulldozers came to this slum cluster in East Kidwai Nagar on 13 January 2009 (without notice, the residents say), and demolished 300-350 jhuggis. The demolition was part of a drive to “beautify” Delhi in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games. But no form of rehabilitation or relocation has been forthcoming from the Delhi government to date, and the camp’s former residents live with no guarantee of shelter.
Dispossessed: Makeshift jhuggis at the Shaheed Arjun Das Camp. Madhu Kapparath/Mint
At least 250,000 people across the city have lost their homes as a direct result of the Commonwealth Games, according to Delhi-based advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN). The group is undertaking a detailed field study of the indiscriminate evictions and demolitions of slum clusters, recording stories and chronicling human rights violations. “The situation is very stark in all the sites we’ve visited,” says senior researcher Shalini Mishra. “The 12-day Games have ruined the lives of tens of thousands of families.”
The group’s preliminary findings indicate a blanket failure to provide due notice and reasons for demolition (Ishwar Kali, a resident of a slum cluster in Sewa Nagar, told Mishra: “If they had to break our homes, they could have at least told us”), as well as the use of force and a large police presence to minimize any dissent. “A woman in the camp gave birth to a baby girl on the morning of the demolition, and the shock of the bulldozers left her unconscious and helpless for nearly 4 hours,” Mishra says.
In Gurgaon’s Saraswati Kunj, among the clusters demolished a month prior to the start of the Games, nearly 5,000 jhuggis and one primary school have disappeared from a 2-3km long stretch. “The police came in about 30 jeeps and two buses, surrounding the camp. We had about 2 hours to rescue any belongings before the bulldozers arrived,” says resident Jaker Hosen. A paved road leads to the cluster entrance, but disappears under a vast expanse of rubble. Clothes, school bags, mattresses lie amid construction material. “I lost my ration shop, all the goods in it. All in all, about Rs 100,000,” says the elderly A. Muzam, who used to rent out huts in the area to families. Police vans pass by every 6 hours to make sure jhuggis are not rebuilt. The few residents left carry their redundant tenant verification forms like tourists carry passports.
The HLRN regards the UN’s “Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement” as the yardstick for due process in the event of an eviction. The principles provide for adequate notice, resettlement entitlements, and guarantees for basic services such as healthcare and education.
Mishra calls it a “beautiful document”. “If we start rating these demolitions according to the UN convention, they will all score a resounding zero,” she says. “We have only three people in all, working under severe constraints. Collecting data has been difficult and slow,” Mishra says.
Their immediate aims are modest. The government of Delhi’s department of urban development has a list of 44 JJ (jhuggi-jhonpdi) clusters scheduled for “relocation and rehabilitation” after the Games, but there has been no progress yet. “We hope we can prevent further indiscriminate demolition by submitting a list of recommendations and our report,” Mishra says. “A lot of the displaced are helpless—they don’t know who to contact when it’s the police who are causing them trouble. Hopefully, we’ll be able to form a committee of people—lawyers, doctors, activists, media persons—who can be contacted in times of need.”