On 30 October, a large force of police officers, members of the paramilitary Rapid Action Force, and Delhi Development Authority officials supervised the demolition of nearly 400 houses in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony. Situated in west Delhi’s Shadipur Depot area, the Kathputli Colony is a slum cluster comprising over 3,000 families. The area has been home to a large populous of artists and artisans for over 40 years. “We are not against the redevelopment of the colony because at this point it’s an eventuality,” Ali Zia Kabir Choudhary, the advocate representing the residents of the colony in an ongoing case in the Delhi High Court, told me. “We are against the haphazard process being followed by the DDA.”
When I visited the colony on 2 November, Haribhau, a 70-year-old resident of the colony, and his daughter Bhumika, were seated among the debris of the demolished homes. Haribhau, a rickshaw puller and a member of the Marathi Samaj—a group of Marathi speakers in the colony—told me that he had been living in the colony for 45 years now. “Of course we want a nicer house, but where is the guarantee,” he said. Bhumika, too, spoke of the concerns that the demolition of the colony raised for its residents. “People cannot honestly tell you that we were living under great circumstances here,” she said. “There was a lack of sanitation facilities. Life in this colony was not what some would have you believe.” She continued, “The problem is that nobody here knows what to think anymore. Politicians, NGOs, the DDA and the builders have all come here and divided people to the point that there is absolutely no unanimity about what the residents of the colony want.”
The demolition was conducted in furtherance of DDA’s Delhi Master Plan 2021, which proposes in-situ rehabilitation of slum areas. In October 2009, the real estate group Raheja Developers was awarded the contract for the redevelopment of the colony. As per the DDA’s rehabilitation policy, the DDA housing commissioner JP Agarwal told me, individuals residing in the area before 31 December 2014 were eligible for in-situ rehabilitation, and those who lived in the colony between January and December 2015 would be allotted alternative housing. However, the resident’s counsel Choudhary told me that this does not appear to have been strictly followed, and that there was little clarity on the procedure adopted by the DDA.
In the last week of October, the DDA put up three lists on its website—one, of 2,800 residents found eligible for in-situ rehabilitation at Kathputli, who were allotted temporary housing at a transit camp five kilometres from the colony, in Anand Parbat; a second, of 492 residents who have been allotted permanent housing in Narela, an industrial area 30 kilometres away; and a final list, of 771 residents who were found ineligible for any alternative allotment. The lists also state the date of the documents that the residents provided as address proof. Based on these dates, there appeared to be an inconsistency with the policy described by Agarwal because several residents, who appeared to have provided documents that were dated before December 2014, were allotted housing in Narela, or included in the list of ineligible applicants. Agarwal told me that these applicants were not included in the in-situ rehabilitation list because it already contained the names of their family members.