The morning of December 19 was an unexpected one at Kathputli Colony in Shadipur, West Delhi. The residents woke up to find police personnel – no less than 500 – swarming in the area. A Delhi Development Authority (DDA) tent was set up in a park on the corner of the colony. The narrow lanes were crammed with confused and agitated residents. Water and power supply were cut. Many were visibly shaken as they rushed around, clutching documents.
Kathputli Colony on the morning of December 19. Image by Ishan Kukreti
The reason for the chaos at Kathputli Colony was provided by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) spokesperson, Shabnam Kundra. “The process of moving the residents to the transit camp at Anand Parbat has started,” she told Newslaundry.
While Kundra’s one liner was to the point, it barely touches upon the turbulence and emotions that colour this reality. As people stood outside their houses, uncertainty and paranoia was everywhere. The overwhelming police force was not reassuring factor. “The government did not move us when this place was a ruin. Now that we have made houses after collecting pennies, they want us to leave?” said a local resident, Baili, barely able to hold back her tears. “Give us in writing from the court and we’ll go,” bellowed an elderly resident. “Over the years, so many prime ministers have come and gone but no one has given anything to us in writing. That’s why we can’t trust them,” said Suresh, who cleans ears for a living.
Kathputli Colony, a jhuggi jhopari cluster of 5.22 hectares was the first slum to be selected by DDA for the “in situ rehabilitation” scheme under the Delhi Master Plan 2021, in 2007. The rehabilitation scheme was DDA’s new approach to slum redevelopment. These unauthorised urban spaces would be rebuilt into better Economically Weaker Section (EWS) houses by private builders. In essence, the scheme is well-meaning. Turning slums into planned housing structures for the poor is a laudable initiative. Unfortunately, in its implementation, the scheme has not inspired confidence among those whose situation should improve as a result.
At Kathputli Colony, the redevelopment is to be done by Raheja Developers. The contract was signed between the company and DDA (as the landowner) in 2009. In lieu of rebuilding the slum, the developer would be entitled to an area of 19,471 square meters. Raheja Developers have planned the ambitious Raheja Phoenix – Delhi’s tallest residential building of 54 stories – in this area. In the EWS, the colony’s residents would have to pay Rs.1,12,000 for the dwellings and be moved to a temporary shelter while their original settlements are rebuilt into improved housing units.
Since 2009, when the contract was signed between DDA and Raheja Developers, there have been three surveys to ascertain the number of residents in Kathputli Colony and two attempts to evict those residents. The first was in 2014, when the slum first came into focus in the media. Reports reminded us that Kathputli Colony had inspired the magicians’ ghetto in Salman Rushdie’s award-winning novel, Midnight’s Children. The Times of India reported that the transit camp was far from prepared for its new residents and NDTV pointed out that Raheja Developers had acquired the land at dirt cheap prices.
Two years later, in the chill of Delhi’s winter, Kathputli Colony is faced with bulldozers. If the demolition takes place, more than 1,000 could be rendered homeless. “Every good work has to start someday or the other. And it’s not winter, strictly speaking,” said DDA Principal Commissioner JP Agarwal, when asked about the need to start eviction during winters.
A DDA bulldozer near the colony. Image by Ishan Kukreti
The reason locals are resisting the DDA and Raheja Developers is that there is great uncertainty about their future and mistrust for the DDA among the people who live here. “DDA is saying that houses will be given only to 2,641 dwellings, but we have more than 3,500 families. Where will they [those who are not in DDA’s list] go?” said Dilip Bhatt, chief of Bhule Bhisre Kalakar Cooperative. According to him, the DDA has not updated the final list of Kathputli Colony’s residents. “Without the final list, how can we sign the demolition slips?” he asked.
Although demolition slips saying the land has been given to DDA have been distributed and even signed by some, there’s confusion surrounding the project. Three surveys conducted in 2009, 2010 and finally in 2011 have been challenged by residents. One of the points of contention has been the question of how long someone has to have lived in the slum in order to qualify as a resident. A petition was filed by Bhatt in Delhi High Court in 2014, urging the court to restrain the DDA from dispossessing the residents and maintaining that many families were left out from final list of people eligible for rehabilitation. The court order, issued the same year, touches upon DDA’s willingness to add residents who had been left out, to the final list. The locals are however, unaware of any additions.
Now, after two years, the DDA officials were back in Kathputli Colony with the police on December 19, 2016. Residents were asked to sign demolition slips and move to the transit camp in Anand Parbat. Those whose names were not on the list of people to be moved could sign contracts after they presented a proof of residence. Then they could shift to the camp. The locals however do not trust the contract.
“The contract doesn’t say anything in case our houses aren’t built within two years, where will we go then?” said Vijay Kumar, a local. Kumar added, “The houses they have promised are 30.5 square meters in area, including the balcony and staircase. We are going to talk to DDA about this too.”
The rehabilitation dwellings are, in fact, much smaller. The DDA Master Plan Delhi 2021 states that “area of dwelling unit for rehabilitation shall be around 25 to 30 sqm.” However, the 2009 agreement between Raheja Developers and DDA has housing structures that amount to a mere 20.9 sq metres – one room (9 square metres), one multipurpose room (6.5 square metres), one kitchen (3.3 square metres), one bath (1.2 square metres), and one W.C. (0.9 sq metre).
Even the transit camp at Anand Parbat has its own problems. “I have a family of seven. The room we have here is just a 10 by 10 feet. It is not enough for us,” said Ahmed Akbar, who moved to the camp in 2014, along with approximately 500 other families. He cannot go back to the colony as his house has been demolished. Another resident refused to sign the demolition slip because the transit camp would hamper his work of building statues. “There is no room for me to carry out my occupation in the camp,” he told Newslaundry. “There is hardly any room to live. Where will I keep my statues which are sometimes 10 feet tall?”
Water supply and sanitation are also serious issues in Anand Parbat. “The water to bathe is muddy. Cotton clothes cannot last more than a few months. Even the toilets are broken. My joints hurt and I cannot use them,” said Akbar’s mother, Anvari Begum who visited her son and daughter in law last year. She still stays in the colony.
Transportation is another added expense. Situated away from the main road, the cost of commuting to and from the camp is Rs10 on a rickshaw. For the economic demographic that these residents belong to, this regular expense makes a dent in personal finances.
While the DDA officials talked to the residents, the police maintained law and order. Image by Ishan Kukreti
The uncertainty of the rehabilitation process, the psychological pressure of the police, the cost of their promised new homes are some of the factors bearing down on the residents of Kathputli Colony. What decisions they take this December and how DDA keeps its promises, will decide the future of the area. Although it’s been stalled repeatedly, residents know that giving up their homes is inevitable. As long-time resident and puppeteer Puran Bhatt put it, “This has to happen, today or tomorrow. We have to move.” For those who call Kathputli Colony home, they’re hoping that this eventuality doesn’t leave them homeless.