Gulpsa, a woman in her twenties, sat on a boundary wall that separated Amir Khusrao Park—situated near the dargah of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi—and the footpath next to the road that ran alongside it. The park was the site of a jhuggi-jhopri cluster—a settlement of temporary houses, which, in this instance, were made of bamboo sticks and tarpaulin sheets. The cluster was home to over 200 families. On 16 May 2017, officials from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) bulldozed the jhuggis. The evicted residents of the Amir Khusrau Park jhuggi-jhopri I spoke to said that it was a Muslim settlement. Many of its residents worked as labourers or hawkers, while some begged for a living.
At around 3 pm that day, as Gulpsa stared silently in the direction of the park, several other women sat amid the rubble of the hundreds of jhuggis that previously lay there. Some of them were wailing. Children jumped on the rubble, from one broken bamboo stick to another, to reach the site where their homes previously stood. Some men were still retrieving their belongings, such as steel boxes, utensils or clothes. When I asked Gulpsa where her home used to be, she indicated its direction with her eyes. “There,” she said, “beside the house of the mullah.” As we spoke, a bulldozer in the park continued to crush the rubble that remained after the demolition.
Several men and women sat on the footpath, surrounded by household objects—including broken almirahs, beds, utensils, stoves, gas cylinders and televisions. Nearby, police officers wearing protective gear were stationed with two riot-control police vehicles parked along the footpath.
A fire engine had been brought to the scene to douse a fire that broke out in the jhuggis earlier that day. According to the residents I spoke to, it was the police that was responsible for the fire. Gulpsa said the police beat up her father and mother when they had resisted demolition of their home. “They did not give us any time,” she added. “The police set the house on fire.” All the evicted people I spoke to repeated that the police had set fire to the jhuggis.
Outside the park on the southern side, a woman sat on a bed with her feet touching the footpath. An infant lay next to her on the bed. The sun was harsh that day and the bed was not protected by any shade. Her husband sat nearby on the footpath.“We don’t know where to go,” Sohail, her husband, told me. “We have nowhere to live but this footpath.”
Just then, a policeman approached me from behind and said, “What’s happening here?” I told him I was from the press. The policeman, who was within earshot of my conversation with Suhail, told me, “Don’t write a false report.” “Nothing has happened here, they are giving you wrong information,” he added.When I told him that I would speak to him as well, he declined to speak on the record, but said, “no police personnel has set any fire.”
Several people told me that the police had attacked them during the demolition. Among them was a group of three women—Shireen and Kajul Khatun, both of whom were middle-aged, and a young woman named Yasmin, who was pregnant—whom I approached while they were sitting amid the rubble in the park.
“Ladies, gents, kuch nai dekha, bilkul dande barsa rahe the”—They did not look whether they were hitting men or women, their lathis were raining down on everyone, Shireen told me. She said that a 10-year-old boy named Nafees got burnt and sustained severe injuries on one side of his body because of the fire that broke out. Khatun, too, said that the police burnt the houses. “They burnt it so that we cannot make them again.”
When I asked Yasmin whether she had eaten since morning, she took a deep breath and shook her head. “Pateela-bateela jitna, khana-wana, sab tod-phod diya bilkul”—Utensils, food, they [the police] destroyed everything, she said. Khatun added, “I don’t know how I will fast during Ramzan.”
Tasleema, another woman who joined the conversation, told me that she had saved Rs 15,000 to pay the school-admission fees for her children, but she could not retrieve the money in time. She said she lost it during the lathi charge. “Kutte ki tarah maar rahe the humey”—They were beating us like dogs, she added.
Vivin Ahuja, the spokesperson for the DDA, told me the demolition was conducted pursuant to an order passed by the Delhi High Court in a public interest litigation seeking action against unauthorised constructions in and around the park. The court passed the order in October 2015, and directed the DDA to remove “all unauthorised encroachments and illegal constructions inside the Park” and the Delhi Police to “provide all necessary protection for carrying the task.” It made no mention of the rehabilitation of the residents of the park and did not take into consideration the provisions of the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second Act, 2011, which protects jhuggi-jhopri clusters built on unauthorised land from any punitive action, including demolition, till December 2017, unless arrangements are made for the relocation and rehabilitation of the residents.
In Delhi, the issue of rehabilitation is particularly complicated: different bodies exist under the central and state governments with differing jurisdictions over the demolition of jhuggi-jhopris and the rehabilitation of their residents. The absence of a standard national rehabilitation policy, coupled with the non-compliance of demolition protocol that follows from the non-cooperation between central and state government bodies, has severely disadvantaged the urban poor in Delhi.
Presently, there are at least three government agencies in Delhi—the DDA, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and Public Works Department (PWD)—which carry out demolitions of unauthorised constructions in Delhi. The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), which functions under the state government, is the only government body responsible for carrying out the rehabilitation of the residents of these areas.
The state’s rehabilitation policy is governed by the DUSIB Act, 2010, which established the body. The 2011 Delhi Laws act, which is a central legislation dealing with the demolition of jhuggi-jhopris in Delhi, requires any demolition to be conducted in accordance with the provisions under the DUSIB Act. The DUSIB act mandates the DUSIB to introduce a scheme for the rehabilitation of those dwelling in jhuggi-jhopris, pursuant to which, the DUSIB adopted a protocol on removal of jhuggis and jhuggi-jhopri bastis, and the Delhi Slum and Jhuggi Jhopri Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, in April 2016.
The protocol and the policy detail the procedure to be followed before, during and after the demolition of a jhuggi-jhopri cluster. They state that no jhuggi-jhopris would be allowed to be constructed after 1 January 2015. However, the protocol and policy state that, if a person has been a resident of a jhuggi-jhopri prior to 2015, and if the jhuggi-jhopri cluster had been in existence prior to 2006, she cannot be removed from her home without being provided alternate housing. The policy adds that in case a court order directs the demolition of such a jhuggi-jhopri, any land-owning authority must obtain an approval letter from the DUSIB before taking up the demolition.
The Delhi High Court directed the Amir Khusrau Park demolition on the basis of status reports filed by the Delhi Police and the DDA. In their status report, the police stated that after the inauguration of the renovated Barakhamba monument situated nearby, the “Amir Khusrao Park is the only open space available, where large number of vagabonds have been shifted.” The DDA told the court that in 1972, it had been allotted the land in the park by the land and development office under the urban-development ministry, to develop it as a green land. According to the court’s order, the DDA report stated that the land was “illegally encroached upon in the shape of several Jhuggi Jhopries.” The order did not mention any report filed by the DUSIB.
In order to determine whether a resident of a jhuggi-jhopri is entitled to the protection under the DUSIB policy and protocol, the protocol mandates that the DUSIB must conduct a joint survey with the land-owning agencies of a jhuggi-jhopri cluster. It must inform the residents in advance and determine the eligibility of the residents under the act for alternate shelter. However, no such procedure was followed in the case of the jhuggi-jhopri in the Amir Khusrau park. I spoke to several people at the park, all of whom told me that they were not given any notice of the demolition. Shireen, Khatun and several others said the police had only informally told them. Shireen told me, “Khali munh se aake bole, ‘tumlog chale jao yahan se aaj raat’”—They just verbally said, ‘you all leave here tonight.’
Rina Begum, a resident of the jhuggi-jhopri, told me that she had been living there for the past seven years. As per the DUSIB policy, one of the criteria for determining the eligibility for rehabilitation is for a resident to possess one of the identity cards that is listed in the policy, which must be issued before 2015. Begum showed me her Aadhaar card, which was issued in October 2011 and registered her address as “Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin.” She told me she attempted to show this to the police officers, but they refused to look at it. “All the residents of the jhuggi have Aadhaar cards,” she added.
According to Kamlesh Mishra, an advocate who has been fighting cases for the rehabilitation for homeless people for seven years, the DDA and the MCD often do not inform the DUSIB before carrying out demolitions in the city. He said both agencies claim that the DUSIB regulations wouldn’t apply to them because they are administered by central government whereas the DUSIB is a body under the state government.
Bhaskar Sharma, the media coordinator of the DUSIB, told me that the “DUSIB was not informed by the DDA” and that the demolition was “out of DUSIB’s knowledge.” When I spoke to Vivin Ahuja, the spokesperson for the DDA, on 17 May over the phone, he said, “Yes, DUSIB must have been informed.”
Ahuja told me that the DUSIB carried out the rehabilitation work, before asking, “Magar isme rehabilitation ka kya hota hai?—But what is the need for rehabilitation here? “There were many stores here, so it was primarily being used for commercial purposes.” I told him that there were also families and young women and children who were rendered homeless, but Ahuja denied the same. “That is your information na. I do not have that information.”
When I pressed him further on rehabilitation of the residents, Ahuja said, “Aapke ghar mein aake koi rehne lag jaye toh aap usko rehabilitation karke nikaloge?”—If someone comes and starts living at your house, will you rehabilitate them and remove them?
I asked Sharma whether the DUSIB would consider rehabilitating the park’s residents. He told me there was “nothing planned by DUSIB on this.”
On 16 May, the DDA officials also demolished a night shelter for women and children along with the jhuggis in the Amir Khusrau park. A night shelter, or rain basera, is a temporary shelter, which aims to provide bedding, drinking water and toilets for its occupants. The DUSIB has set up several such shelters across the national capital, for homeless people to spend the night. In a petition challenging the demolition of the night shelter, which the court heard on 19 May, Mishra argued that it had rendered over 50 women and children homeless. The counsels for the DDA, DUSIB and state government, all told the court that the night-shelter residents were accommodated in three nearby night shelters.
The next day, in the case in which the court had directed the demolition at the park, the court held an urgent hearing following a report published in that day’s Times of India. The report showed several men sleeping on the divider on the road outside the park as a result of the night shelter’s demolition. The same counsels reiterated to the court that the residents of the demolished shelter had been accommodated. They added that the demolished shelter was for women and children, and that the men in the picture could not have been its occupants. In the order that it passed that day, the court noted that the counsels pointed out that “the picture of sleeping man is deliberate act to mislead the public and create a wrong impression against the court and the statutory authorities.” However, on the issue of the rehabilitation of the 200 families who resided in the jhuggi-jhopri, the court simply noted that someone had approached the Supreme Court in that regard and the high court was taking up “only the matter of the occupants of the night shelter on account of the urgency” of the matter.
According to the DUSIB’s estimates, there are around 30 lakh people among Delhi’s population of 140 lakh, who live in 6 lakh jhuggis across the national capital. The DUSIB website clarifies, however, that “no authentic door-to door survey to ascertain the slum population has been conducted by the Deptt. These are just the projected figures of population based on purely rough assessment.”
In 2007, the DDA released its Delhi Master Plan (DMP) 2021, under which it laid down its plans to achieve its vision of making Delhi into “a global metropolis and world-class city.” The DMP 2021 and DUSIB policy both provide for in-situ development of jhuggi-jhopri clusters. An in-situ development model invites private developers to use 40 percent of the land for its own purpose while construct dwelling units for the residents of the jhuggi-jhopri clusters on the remaining land.
However, in the absence of any authentic survey on the population of jhuggi-jhopri clusters and Delhi’s slum population, it is difficult to say how many people have been accommodated in dwelling units so far and how many more such units would be required. Additionally, since the 2011 act and the DUSIB regulations exclude people who settled in a jhuggi-jhopri after 2015, a large number of Delhi’s migrating workforce are not entitled to the benefits of in-situ development model.
As a result, many residents of jhuggi-jhopris appear to have neither the protection of in-situ development, nor rehabilitation and resettlement at the time of demolition. Mishra told me that it is difficult to argue for rehabilitation of evicted families after a demolition.“The guilt-conscience is gone from the minds of everyone by then,” he said. “After the demolition, the government bodies only talk of accommodation, but never rehabilitation.”
Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.