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‘Every day feels like a festival’: Rehabilitated slum families start afresh at DDA Kalkaji high-rise

About 1,100 of 1,862 beneficiaries have already moved in from jhuggis at Bhoomiheen Camp. Teething problems such as hard drinking water are being looked after by 12 DDA officials.

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New Delhi: On a sunny March afternoon, 40-year-old Sushila Devi sat in her society’s complex, chatting leisurely with her friends while waiting for her son to return from school. Dressed in a light orange georgette saree, one of her best, she looked cheerful, her bright demeanour reflecting contentment with her new home — a one BHK in a high-rise residential building in Delhi’s Kalkaji, where she moved a month ago from the nearby slum colony Bhoomiheen Camp.

Sushila is one among a total of 1,862 beneficiaries who were moved to the high-rise as part of the Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) in situ slum rehabilitation housing project which falls under the central government’s Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban (PMAY-U). A month ago, her house in Bhoomiheen Camp was sealed and she was moved to her new flat of 25 sq m carpet area meant for economically weaker section (EWS) families.

“These days, time just flies by. Every day feels like a festival,” Sushila told ThePrint. “I was proud to start my life here. I was able to call my relatives when we did pooja in the house before moving in, which I wasn’t able to do back in Bhoomiheen Camp. I feel happy and content now.”

The high-rise colony in Kalkaji Extension is one of three projects undertaken by the DDA — the other two in Jailorwala Bagh and Kathputli Colony. This was the first to be completed and is being seen as a case study of sorts by the authorities to model the remaining two upcoming projects on.

A majority of the 1,862 allottees have moved into their new homes — as is evident from the laundry hanging from the balconies of most flats — and their lives, they say, have changed for the better.

For Sushila, the peace this new house and complex offers her five-member family is of utmost importance since they are sheltered from the fights that were all too frequent at the slum. “The cleanliness is also something I appreciate. The availability of a toilet makes things easier because in Bhoomiheen, we had to go outside to use the public, common toilets — sometimes even at night when it wasn’t very safe,” she added.

A DDA official posted at the building since the project was inaugurated told ThePrint that the process of handing out possession letters and shifting people from Bhoomiheen Camp is ongoing. “About 1,100 people of the total 1,862 beneficiaries identified for this scheme have already moved in,” said the official.

He is one of approximately 12 officials who have made the Kalkaji complex their office as their work now involves resolving issues and listening to complaints of the new homeowners. According to these DDA officials, about 400-500 people have completely emptied their dwellings back in the slums that have now been sealed.

According to DDA housing commissioner V.S. Yadav, the next major challenge in five years will be asking the beneficiaries to pay a monthly maintenance fee of around Rs 50 for the upkeep of their locality — for cleaning, garbage collection and lifts’ maintenance, among other things — since they are “not used to such a way of life”.

“It has to be seen how these EWS flats would be maintained as civic localities in the future because maintenance charges (Rs 30,000) for the first five years were already collected with the payment of the houses,” Yadav told ThePrint. The beneficiaries had to pay Rs 1.24 lakh each for the flats, while the rest of the cost was borne by the DDA.

“We don’t know if everyone will be willing to pay maintenance. Some might complain. So, this model will also serve as an experiment to understand the success of such projects.”

Yadav, however, also expressed faith in the residents, saying that despite initial reluctance, they will see how this shift will benefit them and the next generation.

Also Read: DDA okays Delhi master plan 2041, critics say layout ‘generalised’ & far from ‘ground realities’

The good with the bad

Sushila’s friend Bimlesh, who also moved into the Kalkaji Extension DDA flat a month ago, spoke to ThePrint about how much she enjoyed the Holi celebrations within the complex, playing with colours with both men and women, dancing and singing.

“During Holi, members from shareef (upstanding) families never came out because of the ruckus men generally make in slums. It wasn’t the case this time,” said Bimlesh. “Moreover, the problem of smell from open drainage has gone, which has made our lives better.”

The flats | Photo: Sukriti Vats | ThePrint
The flats | Photo: Sukriti Vats | ThePrint

At a cursory glance, the residential buildings and society appear clean and sanitary. According to residents, an MCD van comes daily to collect the garbage. Facilities for electricity and lights to keep the society bright and safe at night were plenty and operational.

However, many who spoke to ThePrint complained about the lack of suitable drinking water. So much so, that a man selling bottles of water has set up shop within the society.

Rajkumar Lohia, a wage labourer who paints houses for a living, is delighted to be living in the building, but admitted that the water supply was still an issue, saying that it was suitable for baths and to wash dishes and clothes, but not to drink.

“Most of us are spending a minimum of Rs 900 every month to buy bottles of packaged water. Though the khaara paani (hard water) can be used as much as one wants, we do hope that there will be a supply of clean, drinking water once everybody has shifted,” said Rajkumar.

Explaining that there was already a sewage treatment plant (STP) to treat wastewater on-site, the DDA official quoted earlier assured that the water supplied was potable and not “dirty or diseased”, adding that residents were free to buy water from outside or put in a filtration system (like an RO) at their own expense if they wanted.

Those left behind

When the survey was first carried out in 2021 in Bhoomiheen Camp, about 2,891 households were recognised for relocation, filling them with hope. However, soon after, the number of beneficiaries was reduced after about 1,029 households were found to be ineligible for rehabilitation since they lacked documents.

Many such cases involved families where parents and their married children lived in separate dwellings within Bhoomiheen Camp — on different floors or on the same floor in connecting homes — but had the same address on their identification cards. Some families also had a single ration card for all members. In such instances, they were not counted as eligible for separate homes.

Bimlesh and her family are one such case. Her son, his wife and three children were counted as a separate household at the time of the survey, but they were later told to get separate addresses if they each wanted a flat. Bimlesh, whose husband passed away shortly after they were allotted a flat, told ThePrint that while she got one, her son’s family didn’t.

Their documents were not deemed enough to prove a separate address. This, she said, has been causing issues because the family of six now has to share a one BHK space.

Facing a similar problem is Bittu Singh and Gauri Devi who along with their two married sons are a family of seven. While one son and daughter-in-law lived with them in Bhoomiheen Camp, their other son, who has a child and a pregnant wife, lived in a home connected to the parents’ but with a different “serial number”. However, since the ration card was made before the sons were married, there was only one card for the entire family.

“I agree that the government’s intentions are good, but we all cannot be expected to live in a one BHK flat. Forget Kalkaji, my two sons cannot buy cheap flats in all of Delhi, even in the bordering regions of Uttar Pradesh. No place would be less than Rs 12 lakh. We can accommodate one son but the other will have to live on rent somewhere else. Even if we had been given a two-BHK space, it would have been okay. We would have tried to make it work,” said Bittu.

The DDA official stance, which was also conveyed to the claimants, is that those declared ineligible for relocation can file an appeal before the appellate authority constituted by the Authority under a district and session judge. Only if found eligible, they will be considered for allotment.

According to DDA officials, they have come across cases where couples were getting divorced in order to claim two flats, or the survey responses were given in a way so as to get more flats than required.

“The land on which these slum residents were living would have to be reclaimed so more such rehabilitation projects can come up and rehabilitate more and more residents of the 376 slum clusters that exist on DDA land. If they have been found ineligible, they can’t be allowed to stay,” said Commissioner Yadav.

The article has been updated to reflect the correct amount that will be charged for monthly maintenance. The error is regretted. 

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also Read: Govt plan to make Delhi ‘beggar-free’ still distant dream with 5-yr rehab project at standstill


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