Editor's Note: A network of 60 reporters set off across India to test the idea of development as it is experienced on the ground. Their brief: Use your mobile phone to record the impact of 120 key policy decisions on everyday life; what works, what doesn't and why; what can be done better and what should be done differently. Their findings — straight and raw from the ground — will be combined in this series, Elections on the Go, over a course of 100 days.
Chandigarh: Two deadlines, the first 2010 and the second March 2017, to make Le Corbusier’s beautiful city slum-free have come and gone, even as new slums keep springing up on Chandigarh’s outskirts. One particular eyesore beside the well-maintained airport highway falls in Anandpur Sahib constituency, which is fast turning into a major real estate hub.
“We are registered voters of this area,” said Tara Chand, who settled in these slums ten years ago. “This colony has over 1,000 shelters. Politicians visit us only before the elections. Once the elections are over, no one bothers about our presence.”
Peopled mainly by migrant labourers from rural areas, these slums have taken on some pretty names - Colony No 4, Janta Colony, Guru Sagar Colony in Maloya, Sanjay Colony, and Rajiv Colony in Sector 38. These slum dwellers number about one lakh out of Chandigarh’s total population of 10.6 lakh as per the 2011 Census.
We arrived at Rajiv colony as night was falling. Loud voices cut through the narrow maze of temporary settlements asking about lighting arrangements. A few had rechargeable LED lights; most others still relied on tapers to light their shelters. “We have been doing this every evening for the past five years,” said Rajmala as she prepared supper for her family of eight. “Sometimes, we manage to get the LED lights recharged at the places we work. On others days, candles are what we depend on to prepare our meals.”
Home to thousands of labourers, the colonies lack basic amenities, electricity, water, toilets, the last a cause of great difficulty to women residing in these slums. “We face major problems because of this,” said Shivani, a resident of Janta Nagar settlement. “Menstruation becomes a huge pain when we have no option but to wait for it to get dark. Also, women have to go out in open for toilet only at dawn and dusk and often end up hurting themselves.”
“Snakes are also a danger the in open green patches,” added Raj Bihari, another resident. A common narrative at all the big ten slum colonies in the city’s outskirts which occupy over 60 acres.
And while the slum dwellers have heard of the various schemes meant for them, like the Saubhagya (electricity for all), Ujjwala (LPG for all) and Ayushman (health insurance) schemes, they have no way or means to get access under these schemes. “We are aware of LPG scheme of government but cannot afford to invest the initial amount required to take the LPG connection,” said Prabha, a slum dweller in Sector 38(W).
The irony here is that nearly 5,000 flats have been built in Maloya to house these slum-dwellers. But they are lying vacant and getting vandalised, as the city administration waits for a date from the PMO for handing over the flats.
Pawan Kumar Bansal, the former MP from Chandigarh, mentioned how during his tenure, many slum dwellers were shifted to flats constructed under Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). But he is unable to explain how and why new settlements keep springing up.
Ajoy Kumar Sinha, chairman of Chandigarh Housing Board, the nodal agency for construction of flats under the slum rehabilitation scheme, said that out of the nearly 25,000 flats constructed, the Chandigarh administration has allotted almost half of them to the slum dwellers from settlements like Colony No 5, Nehru Colony, Kuldeep Colony and Mazdoor Colony.
Ramesh Kumar, 41, a daily wager who was allotted a flat under JNNURM at Dhanas that is a 38-acre area, says that he started paying Rs 1,050 to the government from the time of allotment of the house in 2015. He is unequivocal about how much their quality of life has improved since they moved into this permanent structure, even though there was a little delay in handing over of the keys of flat to him. "Some of my relatives who have been allotted flats at Maloya are still waiting for possession despite the fact that they have been paying the monthly amount," Kumar said.
His relative Shambu said, “We somehow manage to pay the amount that we are supposed to. Those who do not have the money have also been taking loans. So it’s a major problem when the government fails to meet the deadline. These flats should have been handed over to us long ago, but due to official delay, we are forced to live in miserable conditions in these temporary households."
In 2006, Rs 1,200 crore was sanctioned for JNNURM, out of which the Centre's share was Rs 400 crore. Construction-related activities like land acquisition began the same year but the first flats were only handed over in 2013. After 2014, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana came into effect, though only Rs 2.72 crore was sanctioned and released by the Centre in the three years until December 2018 under this scheme, in light of the work already ongoing under JNNURM. 126 flats were constructed under PMAY and construction continued on the 4,960 flats. According to a response given in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, 5,086 flats cumulatively have been completed till the end of last year.
Newly-elected Mayor Rajesh Kalia is quite hopeful that nearly 5,000 flats in Maloya, initiated under JNNURM, will soon be handed over to the allottees as “talks for the inauguration ceremony with PMO are underway. We are hopeful that the flats will be allotted before the model code of elections come into force,” said Kalia.
While the Chandigarh housing board completed construction of these flats in 2017, the Municipal Corporation could not set up the sewerage treatment plant at the site as 400 metres of land under which sewer pipes were to be laid was under litigation. Prime Minister Modi was to visit the city in May 2018 to hand over the flat keys to the allottees, but couldn't do so as the project was incomplete. Now the Chandigarh administration is trying to get a date from the PMO before February end.
But the flats are in a dilapidated state as the area is a den of drug addicts. Most window panes are broken, while taps, water meters, manhole covers and part of the firefighting system have gone missing. AK Sinha, chairman of Chandigarh Housing Board, admitted that theft and vandalisation happened as these flats had been lying vacant for quite some time. “Security has been beefed up and necessary repairs would be done,” said Sinha.
The survey to identify allottees takes time, given the forms the slum dwellers have to fill to prove their eligibility followed by the verification that the administration does. Being daily wagers, many of them are not available when the survey happens, which makes identifying the allottees a time-consuming process.
(The author is a Chandigarh-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)