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Forcible eviction?: Protests break out in Delhi puppeteers' Kathputli Colony, world's largest, against "rehab" plan

By Our Representative
Protests have broken out in Delhi's Kathputli Colony, the world's biggest settlement of street performers, following threat of forcible eviction to 3,500 families, mainly puppeteers. Belonging to Rajasthan, Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, they have been living here for around five decades, They are being told that they would be shifted for two years to a “transit camp.”
Continuing for the last about 10 days, the protests follow what activists supporting the street performers' cause call, “illicit use of police force, presence of bulldozers, and fearful environment created by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in the name of taking consent for redevelopment of the colony.”
Situated near Shadipur Depot, the Kathputli Colony houses not just puppeteers, but also magicians, snake charmers, acrobats, singers, dancers, actors, traditional healers and musicians. DDA, responsible for carrying out real estate development in India's capital city, says that the eviction is part of its “in situ redevelopment plan” of the Government of Delhi.
DDA wants the Kathputli colony dwellers to move to a “temporary” transit camp, about 5 km away in the Anand Parbat industrial area. It contends, it has signed a trapartite agreement for this with the Kathputli Colony community heads or pradhans, the Raheja builders, under which each “legitimate family” would be given a flat after two years at the same spot.
Sharply contesting DDA's claim, the Delhi Solidarity Group (DSG), which represents the puppeteers, says, “DDA is on a rampant mission of getting consent from people of Kathputli Colony to shift them to transit camp and handover the land of 5.22 ha to Raheja builders for redevelopment.”
DSG, which is an ally of Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), India's apex land rights organization in the fight for the cause of the street artistes, insists, “The hurriedness is not even explained to people. In the presence of heavy police power, DDA officials are taking consent individually by pursuing individual families separately.”
Meanwhile, it alleges, “Public properties are being demolished without the public consent, damaging others house. Even the presence of bulldozers is unnecessary without collective public consent for shifting to transit camp.”
Alleging a “possible nexus between DDA and Raheja builders”, DSG insists, “The land which belongs to the puppeteers and other talented communities, who have made our country proud internationally since several decades, must belong to them.”
According to the scheme put up by DDA, each family would have to shift to the transit camp for two years, after which they would get a flat at the same spot, for which they would have to give Rs 1.42 lakh, which includes Rs 30,000 as maintenance for five years.
Each day, the DDA puts up a camp at the Kathputli Colony, where officials, in the presence of the police, seek the street artistes' consent. A digital TV at the camp shows the type of flats they would get, apart from a park, an open air theatre, two schools, and so on.
In between Prime Minister Narendra Modi is shown telling the slum dwellers about his resolve to free India of slums by 2022.
Activists say, the artistes' families are not told that, while on 3.4 hectares (ha) area of the 5.22 ha of Kathputli Colony flats for resettling the slum dwellers would come up, on the rest of the 1.7 ha, the Rahejas would be constructing a 190 metre high building, Delhi's highest, where 170 luxury flats and a helipad.
They further say, DDA's own 2009 survey estimated there were about 3,100 houses in the Kathputli Colony, yet Raheja is building only 2,641 flats. As of today, they claim, there are around 3,500 families living in the colony.
They wonder, from where would the poor artistes get Rs 1.41 lakh for their new flats, wondering who would give them loan, as no bank has yet been tied up. Also, there is a fear whether artistes' flats would be ready in two years' time.

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