Monday, February 7, 2011

Chasing a mirage

Delhi government cleared several slums in the name of beatification of city ahead of the Commonwealth Games with the promise that oustees would be provided with alternative houses. But where are the promised houses?

Sangita Jha / New Delhi

The poor in Delhi paid heavily as the city hosted the Commonwealth Games last year. They lost roof over their heads. Those who criss-crossed the Nizamuddin bridge while going from Delhi to either Noida or Ghaziabad three years ago would have seen a large number of jhuggi-jhopri (slums) littered all the way. Now that stretch is clear.

The Delhi government had to ensure that the way leading to the Games Village did not show the “ugly” side of the city. The government succeeded as the jhuggis were either burnt down by incidents of fire or were demolished. Officials have now pegged shelterless in the Capital at about 47,000, who are largely construction workers and must have worked day and night to ensure that Delhi got high-tech infrastructure in place before the Commonwealth Games in October last year.

Delhi, like any other metropolitan city, has its own share of slum clusters. A large part of the land of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) are littered with slum clusters. The Delhi government in 2008 had made a commitment that it would shift the poor in the slums to low-cost housing flats. The Delhi government's infrastructure development corporation - DSIIDC (Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation) - was tasked to build low-cost flats in north-west Delhi. Now, the Delhi government has initiated the process to allocate the low-cost flats to the poor residing in various slum clusters in the city.

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit recently stated that the government would ensure that about 15,000 flats are allocated to the poor in the first phase by March 2011. The scheme under which the flats will be allocated is called the Rajiv Ratna Awaas Yojna. However, in two years that the Delhi government announced the launch of the scheme, it got entangled into bureaucratic red-tapism as well. The government wanted the funding from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Renewal Mission (JNNURM) as per its terms. It had envisaged the cost of the low-cost flats to be shared by central government, land owning agency and the beneficiary, who would have been provided with soft loans by the city government to pay their part of the sum.

After wrangling for over two years, the Delhi government eventually accepted the conditions specified by the Union urban development ministry. Now, the flats will be given to the slum-dwellers under the scheme of shifting the slum clusters as identified by the government. The city government is working out the revised cost of the flats as well as the funding pattern by the land-owning agency, the Central government and the beneficiary. The city government has identified about 46 slum clusters in the capital city which would be taken up as per the scheme. The first cluster which will be shifted is from the posh Chanakyapuri area, which is a diplomatic area. Interestingly, the first slum cluster which has been demolished is the area where a five star hotel is coming up.

The government has put in place a Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), which has been tasked with the work to conduct survey and identify beneficiaries for the Rajiv Ratna Awaas Yojna. The Slum and JJ department had formerly been with the MCD. The government and the MCD have been more often working on different trajectories when it came to the purpose of rehabilitating the slum-dwellers. Now that the DSUIB which has come into an existence following a legislation passed by the Delhi Assembly would oversee the work of finding affordable housing for the slum-dwellers.

"We have issued clear instructions to initiate process of allotment of around 15,000 available low-cost houses in the first phase. The flats have been constructed under JNNURM project," Dikshit stated after a Cabinet meeting recently. In fact, the flats had already been constructed and were lying vacant for many months when the Delhi government and the Urban Development ministry were slugging out on the funding pattern and to bring the scheme under JNURM. The DSSIDC had already constructed 9,660 flats and 5,184 flats are likely to be completed soon.

It is interesting to note that Delhi government had invited applications from the slum-dwellers in 2008. More than three lakh people had applied for a flat under the Rajiv Ratna Awaas Yojna and had even bought the application forms by paying Rs 100 as mandated by the government, while a large number of them had even bought the application forms in black. With a change in the policy, those three lakh people would no more be eligible, as the new policy is to shift the 46 identified slum-clusters to the housing scheme. Ironically, the Delhi government has not even returned the Rs 100 per application charged from the applicants.

The government has specified the changed eligibility criteria for the slum-dwellers. Now, the cut-off date for a slum-dweller for having resided in the slum has been revised from March 31, 2002 to March 31, 2007 in an attempt to cover a large number of slum-dwellers. Also, the annual family income limit has also been revised from earlier Rs.60,000 to Rs.1 lakh. So, slum and jhuggi-jhopri (JJ) dwellers who had settled in clusters on or prior to March 31, .2007 would now become eligible to claim low-cost flats, which roughly cost about Rs 2 lakh.

Delhi urban development minister, Dr. A. K. Walia, recently stated that the DSUIB is also planning to construct 10,200 dwelling units in Poot Khurd with an estimated cost of Rs.425 crore for which an implementing agency DSIIDC has also been selected. This will be in addition to about 15,000 flats which are being taken up for allotment to the poor in the first phase. In fact other agencies in Delhi are also knocking at the door of the DSUIB to relocate slums on their lands. The MCD has requested the DUSIB to remove or relocate 31 slum clusters from the civic body's land. The civic body has told the DSUIB that in 31 slum-clusters on its land there are 10,686 'jhuggis'

occupants, who can be allotted flats under the Rajiv Rattan Awas Yojna so as to remove encroachment from the civic agency's land. The MCD told the DSUIB that transfer of 31 JJ camps from its land will vacate about two lakh square metres of land which can be used for building community halls, hospitals, school buildings, parking and so on.

Though it's a good beginning that the poor will finally have their dream house in Delhi, the government has been quite late as per the JNNURM scheme to relocate slums. In fact, the DSSIDC had to construct 53,868 flats in 2008 along with 4,740 flats by the DDA and 6,896 flats by the Slum and JJ Department, which was earlier with the MCD. But just 14,844 flats could be completed by the end of 2010. Though there is no dearth of intent, various agencies are definitely late in executing their plans. Hopefully, the government agencies expedite their work so that those who have lost their shelters find some for their families.

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