AAP's porta cabins may not be the best solution for Delhi's homeless

The demolition carried out by the Railways took place on 26 December and according to the residents they were given no prior warning about the demolition.

Shruti Dhapola January 03, 2014 07:15:28 IST
AAP's porta cabins may not be the best solution for Delhi's homeless

The recent demolition of slums at Mansarovar Park, in North East Delhi, where nearly 1000 people were rendered homeless in the bitter cold, has once again highlighted the plight of Delhi’s homeless.

The demolition carried out by the Railways took place on 26 December and according to the residents they were given no prior warning about the demolition. "Four bulldozers turned up in the morning and started razing everything. We weren’t even given time to collect our food, blankets or anything," said one resident.

AAPs porta cabins may not be the best solution for Delhis homeless

While AAP might have announced porta cabins and other relief measures, slum resident like Chaudhry remain unconvinced about the future. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

The newly elected AAP government has however swung into action and promised to help the homeless citizens of Delhi at large. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal passed an order yesterday saying that all the night shelters being run from plastic tents will be replaced with porta cabins within three days.

"During night time inspections by our ministers Manish Sisodia and Rakhi Birla and AAP leader Sanjay Singh, it came to our knowledge that many people are sleeping under flyovers and other such places and not willing to move to night shelters. The government has decided to provide porta cabin-based shelter to them on the spot," Kejriwal said.

While the announcement is laudable, for those living in Mansarovar Park, the future still hangs in the balance. Currently the Mansarovar Park slum has only two temporary night shelters. These have been built by the NGO called Humana People to People India, which has been working in the area for the since 2010. The NGO also runs an informal school for the children in the slum as well.

Trupti Lal Chaudhry, who has been a part of the slum for many years, told Firstpost that this is was not the first time that they had been moved from one area. He said, "First we were in Seelampur. We were driven out of there and settled here. We’ve been in this area for nearly 15-16 years."

When asked about the porta cabins and whether they were aware of the announcement, Chaudhry said he hadn’t heard about this. He told us, "All we got for now are some blankets and food. The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board did send some plastic sheets for the temporary housing, but other than that we’ve not got any help."

Jayanta Bhakat, who is co-ordinator with Humana People to People India NGO that works with homeless citizens in the area told Firstpost, "We had surveyed the people in 2010. We had then helped them get Homeless Citizen Cards, later voter ID cards and Aadhar cards. Even then the demolition took place and without any notice. For now, we have only polythene sheets from the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board for the tents."

On the issue of porta cabins, he says, "The only night shelters here are built by us. It’s not clear whether the cabins will be built in this area. The areas have not been announced till now." He was also skeptical about the three day deadline. Bhakat says, "We heard about this announcement. But I doubt whether they will be ready before a week."

And not everyone is convinced that the porta cabin issue will resolve the problem. Sanjay Kumar is who the co-director of the Ashray Adhikar Abhiyaan that has been working with the homeless in Delhi points out, "As far as the porta cabins are concerned, we’ve not yet received any information. These are definitely not enough to deal with problems faced by the homeless, especially in Delhi. We need a permanent solution and not temporary ones."

The problem is made worse by the fact that it comes to slums, very often multiple agencies and authorities are fighting it out over land and jurisdiction. "For instance MCD is not under the Delhi government. Then railways is not answerable to the Delhi government and have their own land. In the Mansarovar Park, this is what happened. Railways demolished it and didn’t even consider the winter," points out Kumar.

He adds, "Resolving the crisis requires planning and coordination amongst the various bodies of the government. You might build temporary cabins, but they can be removed in the next couple of months. This is not a problem that goes away. At least with permanent shelters, they can’t removed so easily."

While AAP might have announced porta cabins and other relief measures, slum resident like Chaudhry remain unconvinced about the future. Having been moved once before, he’s clearly worried that this could happen again, and says, “Although we have got respite till March, it’s not clear what will happen after that. In three months, if the jhuggi is allowed to stay we might get compensation in the form of land or something. If they don’t give us compensation, then we don’t really know where we’ll be packed off to.”

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