DELHI DEEDS

(This is an article I wrote in January of 2005. I’m re-posting it now because it is simpler to have one place to post writings.)

Even the elites among us must suffer gross injustice at the hands of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. According to this article, the top brass of the MCD have been desperately vying for membership at the India Habitat Center, one of the most exclusive clubs in the Capital. However, old MCD officials who refuse to give up their membership cards are standing in their way. But never fear: the article assures us that one new MCD official “is understood to have sent several letters… to make him a member at the earliest.” Good to see the MCD assiduously battling injustice in every corner of the city!

Meanwhile, the city’s poorest are caught in the battle between the two behemoth bureaucracies that run Delhi, the MCD and the Delhi Development Authority. The banks of the Yamuna River (called the Yamuna Pushta) in the center of Delhi were cleared of its 150,000 odd residents by the DDA in early 2004 to make way for a large park and tourist destination. Since the massive evictions, keeping this area clear has been causing nothing but headaches for the DDA. Firstly, former residents, many of whom had lived on the Yamuna banks for decades, kept returning to the rubble of their old homes. The DDA was finally forced to call in the Home Guard to keep these “encroachers” off the land.

Now, even the MCD seems out to ruin the DDA’s plans. On January 5, the MCD announced that 1,167 vendors who were kicked out of the kabari bazaar behind Red Fort after an attack on the Fort in 2000 would be given vacant land in the Yamuna Pushta to reopen their stalls. After significant opposition from DDA officials who feared that this would lead to slums being put up in the Pushta again, the MCD cancelled the allotment. The DDA was apparently prepared to fight. According to this article, the DDA hired private guards and warned the Delhi police that there might be violence if the MCD continued with their plan. Sadly, the vendors had already been given their allotments, and many of them came in the morning to set up their wares. They were blocked from the area by police and para-military personnel.

If only the DDA would pause to think for a moment about the reasons why people would continually try to return to an area covered in rubble to live under plastic sheets. It is because the location is central to their livelihoods—as rickshaw pullers, street vendors, domestic servants, etc—and their livelihoods are central to the way in which we all live our lives in Delhi.

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