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Struggling for basic needs, 35 yrs on no respite for Delhi displaced hut-dwellers

By Bharat Dogra* 

It was about 35 years back that thousands of hut-dwellers living in prosperous parts of Delhi like Bhikaji Cama Place and Alaknanda faced demolitions and were shifted miles away to the outskirts of the city. This created a serious livelihood crisis as people’s livelihoods were integrated with the life of the prosperous areas where they had lived for several years.
However, gradually they started adjusting to their new surroundings and placed their hopes in the promises being made then to make available essential facilities to their resettlement colony, now known as Rohini Sector 20, having 2,304 plots in 9 blocks, as informed by local people.
However, 35 years later what is most distressing for the people living here is that they have still not received drinking water in their homes. It was only after several years of efforts that a new pipeline was installed, but it was inadequate to meet the needs of the colony and the water that came was of poor quality.
Hence people have remained by and large dependent on water tankers sent by the government, but the water sent in this way is so less than the needs of people that there is a daily struggle by people to get some water. Fights frequently break out while collecting scarce water in buckets from tankers.
In terms of other important needs such as health facilities/dispensary and garbage disposal also this colony remains poorly served. Rations are not available to a significant minority of households who still do not have ration cards.
An even bigger concern of the people here is that their hopes regarding various welfare benefits that they were expecting have not been realized. As most of the male and female workers here have been employed in various categories of construction work, these benefits mostly relate to those available under existing laws for these workers.
Gulab, an elderly woman, says, “I have toiled for all my work as a construction worker. I was injured several times but did not even get any compensation. Don’t you think that after all this I deserve a pension?”
There are other elderly women sitting close to her who nod strongly in agreement. Their experiences have been very similar. They relate how while working on big building projects they carried out various kinds of work which being hazardous was later mechanized.
However, in their time they did this work manually. But where did all this work take us in our old age, as we have no support, as we do not even what has happened to our applications for pensions, these women ask.
35 years later what is most distressing for the people living here is that they have still not received drinking water in their homes
In fact once we start discussing this various workers -- male and female, working and retired -- took out the papers relating to their various pending applications and forms submitted for various benefits on which no action has been taken and they have been kept waiting endlessly.
Rajesh is a mason. He says, “My health has deteriorated badly and I have fallen ill several times during the recent heat wave. However, I still kept going for work as essential needs have to be met. I’ll be grateful if someone can help me realize the help to which I am entitled for my daughter’s wedding.”
He takes out a well-protected copy of an application form running into several pages, complete with attachments included as evidence of his daughter’s marriage. For two years he has been making efforts to get the welfare benefits in the form of financial help for his daughter’s wedding, but he has not received this so far.
All this has added to the increasing distress of people. Jabbar Singh, a community leader who has been active on several fronts such as for demanding satisfactory water supply, says, “People here have to live with so many disappointments these days. 35 years after we were shifted here in the middle of too many problems in 1989, hope is diminishing fast.”
He continues, “Despite all the problems people faced after demolitions, they struggled a lot to improve their housing and livelihood. However the increasingly unhelpful attitude of the authorities in the context of resolving many pressing problems of the people has led to the people increasingly losing hope. This should not happen.”
Clearly the people here are facing immense distress and stress and the government really needs to approach their problems in a more helpful and sympathetic way.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. Books: ‘Man over Machine’, ‘A Day in 2071’ and ‘Navjeevan’

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