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25 Feb 2014

On the 24 February, 2014, the LG of Delhi put off the demolition of the Kathputli colony till the 1st April. But demolished it will be. Nearly fifty year old Kathputli Colony, home to 3274 households comprising between 15000-17000 people will be bulldozed at the hands of a nexus between the Union Ministry of Urban Development, the DDA and the builders Rahejas. 

Kathputli Colony came up in 1965 when Pandav Nagar was built and the vacated land got settled by puppeteers from Gujarat and Rajasthan followed by other street artistes like jugglers, magicians, snake charmers etc. Jagdish from Sikar, Rajasthan, came in 1963. Islam Azad came in 1981. Some marked their arrival with a major event and recalled having come when Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister (1965-66) or when Dr Zakir Husain was the President (1967-69). Remarkably fourteen Pradhans represent 14 communities such as Gujarati, Marathi, Balmiki, Bagri, Adivasi, Yadav, Kushth, Manpupuris etc. 

An artistes’ society called Bhule Bisre Kalakar ('Long Forgotten Artistes') Cooperative Society dates back to 1978.The foundation stone of the society centre was laid by Sarthi, a non-government organisation, in 1978 and UNESCO helped with the workshop for the centre. 

Stakeholders kept in dark

According to the residents we met, it was in 2008 that they got to know something was amiss when DDA carried out a survey but refused to share any information claiming that the "final list" had not been prepared. RTI provided confirmation that on 15/12/2009 DDA had received the complaints of the residents of the Kathputli Colony. [#F5(210) WD5\2009\2223 dated 15/12/2009 the Executive Engineer  WD-5/DDA to the Superintending Engineer, Civil Circle, DDA, Jhandewalan, N. Delhi.] The Executive Engineer asserts that "So far as this office is concerned , there is no role to play for allotment of the EWS houses to the individual residents of the Kathputli Colony" and refers to a socio-economic survey as "conducted by this office to CLM vide this office letter dated 08.09.09."  DDA's  own guidelines, dated 20/04/2010, lays down that a survey must be preceded by notice being posted on the site prior to survey, a rough sketch plan , videography to be done of the survey, all families to be recorded, photographs of each family taken with thumb impressions/signatures, among others. Residents then recalled their futile attempts to get information with their RTIs eliciting vague information that there is a plan to construct houses but the number of houses mentioned was about 2800. 

All this while the residents were kept in dark about the fact that the Ministry of Urban Development/DDA had "conveyed" its decision to lay the foundation stone of the project of "in-site rehabilitation of JJ clusters at Kathputli Colony on 20.01.09. Nor did they know that a survey was carried out on 26.05.2008 by Gyan P Mathur & Associates. It was submitted on 26.08.2008. It is approved by Chief Architect on 23.09.2008. Parallel to that, viability report is submitted on 26.08.2008. Bid documents are submitted on 16.09.2008. And finally the status is noted as "awarded the project on 04.09.09 to the M/S Raheja Developers Pvt Ltd". It says that "work is under progress." 

It was only recently that they got documents that showed that the urban land measuring 5.216 hectares (around 14 acres) or 52160 sq metres, with 3274 houses, was sold to Raheja Builders for a princely sum of Rs 6 crore in 2009 as part of Public-Private Partnership. The audit report of the project by the Auditor General (Delhi) in March 2011 took a self-confessedly "moderate rate of Rs 2.00 lakh per sq mt". Thus even at the moderate value of Rs 1043.2 crore was given away at 5 per cent of its value!

Issue of Urban Land for Working Class of Delhi

Rahejas in a letter to the Lt Governor dated 14/06/2011 refer to the project as being under Rajiv Awas Yojana, which cannot be true because under RAY's model five it must be a "beneficiary led" growth.  

Rahejas' plans reveal that only a fraction of the land is meant for their housing whereas 4/5th of the land is being reserved for commercial centres and luxury apartments. Delhi Urban Art Commission is one of the three authorities who have to sanction an urban construction project. The other two are Airport Authority of India and the State Expert Appraisal Committee, which gives environmental clearance. According to Indian Express (Delhi edition, 21 November 2013) DUAC in a meeting held on 5 September 2013 refused to approve the layout and building plan and observed that:

To house a very large number of slum dwellers, they are to be accommodated in parallel multi-storeyed blocks, each 15-20 storeys high, and 15-20 metres apart. This is an architecturally and environmentally undesirable solution." And then goes on to say that "The provisions of open space, social amenities and convenience shops for low-income residents in the present proposal is inadequate. In contrast, the gated high-income condominium and shopping mall occupies disproportionately large parcels of land."  And concludes that "The objective of producing affordable homes that are socially and environmentally sustainable . . . for rehabilitation of slums does not appear to have been met." 

The environmental clearance was withheld by the SEAC (State Level Expert Appraisal Committee) in its meeting held on 30.06.2011 because "the information submitted does not meet requirement for Environmental Clearance". And they asked for further information on 20 items amongst them it asked for "Percentage land use demarcation for EWS, premium apartment, commercial block, greenery, and common facility etc in tabular form". Even the Airport Authority of India has not cleared the project. 

Apart from everything else a wall would separate the multi-storeyed high, cramped flats (21 sq metres) for residents of Kathputli Colony from the up-market condominiums and shopping mall. 

Residents wondered if the low roof houses are safe. They know their equipment and instruments will not have storage space. "Our puppets are 10 to 15 feet long. How will they fit in a flat with height of 10 feet?", some of them wondered. And what about their livelihood if they cannot store their source of livelihood safely and conveniently somewhere. 

But a more immediate problem is being shifted to Ramjas Ground in Anand Parbat to a "transit camp". They shared us with their anxiety that the temporary camps are cramped and they fear that they will not be able to return to their colony. 

Residents' Demands:  When we asked what is it that they would have liked happen, with one voice they said all they want is 25 square metres (22 square yards). "We will collect Rupees 6 crore instead of the Rahejas and all we would like is to build our colony according to our desires. We will construct our own homes. There will be sufficient land left for sanitation, drainage, roads etc. "

The experience of the residents once again illustrates the role of DDA as an agency which has failed to build even fifty per cent of the 2.36 million houses from 1962 to 2001. They built only 1.1 million. DDA has not accounted for 1.26 million homes and the residential land reserved for that purpose. This despite the fact that 320 slums spread over 640 acres have been demolished and some evictees forcibly moved to Bawana, Holambi Kalan etc and thousands rendered 'ineligible' based on spurious surveys undertaken by DDA without the knowledge of the residents.

We believe cooperative housing by the slum dwellers as part of in-site slum development is what the residents of Kathputli want. 

PUDR demands that no eviction takes place in the colony by driving people away from a land they have inhabited and developed over several years in the name of law/aesthetics/sanitation or for any other reason. We demand from DDA and the Lt Governor that the residents be consulted as equals at every step of the project through their representatives and not treated discriminatorily and dismissively as they have been so far, and that their need for 20-22 sq yards of land be accepted as right.

Ashish Gupta and D.Manjit