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by Bharat Dogra

Without Warning, India Bulldozes The Great Slums Of Mumbai

(IPS) NEW DELHI, -- The livelihoods of at least two million workers have been affected by a crackdown on unauthorized commercial properties in the Indian capital that was violently opposed this past week by mobs rampaging through the streets and torching public buses and blocking traffic.

All businesses stayed shut for three days in a strike action called by traders' organizations in protest against the sealing and razing of shops and encroachments under a court order.

On Friday, the state government told the Supreme Court that it could not resume the cleanup because of public ire. Disaffection has been growing in Delhi since the large-scale closure or shifting of industries and removal of slum settlements to outlying parts of Delhi, far away from jobs, schools and essential services.

There are continuing threats to livelihoods, for instance a ban on cycle rickshaws on main roads and the eviction of hawkers from the city's pavements.

"Nearly half the workforce is threatened by loss or serious erosion of livelihoods," said Dunu Roy, who leads a joint forum of organizations working on poverty and livelihood issues in the Indian capital. "The future is grim," he warned.

At a recent public hearing for re-located slum dwellers, many complained that their net income has declined to less than half as they have to spend a lot of time and money travelling to their places of employment.

Keeping in view these factors it is a fair estimate that over the last 15 years almost half of Delhi's population, that now stands at around 15 million people, has been seriously inconvenienced, faced a serious threat of loss or erosion of livelihood.

On Sept. 20 public anger over loss of livelihoods spilled on to the streets of Delhi. There were violent confrontations with the police. Four persons were killed and nearly 100 were injured in police firing and beatings. Many policemen were also hurt.

In the last week of September the Supreme Court announced partial relief for small shops which provide goods and service of daily use in residential areas. But despite this many other sources of threatened loss of livelihoods remain.

The Economic Survey of Delhi in 2001-2002 identified 230,000 retail shops with 540,000 employees. A very significant number of these are in residential areas.

Pravin Khandelwal, general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders Association has said that the livelihoods of several hundred thousand traders (and their workers) are threatened.

In the last week of August Hirendra Rathore, a spokesperson for Delhi Trade Forum said that as most shops in Delhi are in residential areas, the sealing drive has spread tension among traders and daily trade has suffered a decline of 5 billion rupees (roughly $500 million).

On Sept. 6, the Delhi High Court ordered all cycle rickshaws to remain off the main roads of the capital. The court ordered the Delhi traffic police to impound any rickshaws violating the order. Rickshaw pullers are nearly always the poorest of poor migrant labor from eastern India.

The livelihoods and homes of many people have also been threatened by displacement caused by traffic flyovers, the Delhi metro rail and other major infrastructure projects, due for completion before 2010 when the city will host the Commonwealth Games.

A large number of houses in the Nangloi area of west Delhi are threatened by the extension of the metro. "People shifted here when the area was a wilderness. They have toiled 35 years to create this busy colony. This is all they have. If this is demolished, there is no hope," said Usman, a lawyer and social worker in the area.

When Hussain Ahmed heard that his house has been marked for demolition, to pave the way for the extension of the metro, he went into a state of shock and died a few hours later. "Papa was so upset that he couldn't say anything and passed away," said his distressed daughter Rahshana.

Gulshan, a small-scale enterpreneur had invested all his family's resources including his wife's jewellery to set up a steel-polishing business in Khyala in West Delhi. When he heard about the government's new order to shift the industry to a recognized industrial area, he became increasingly distressed and tense. He just couldn't afford the additional investment. Some days later he committed suicide. The unit shut down and all the workers lost their jobs.

Raj Kumar, a small-scale industrialist, said: "If I have to move out to a government allocated site, this will cost me at least 1 million rupees even for a small plot and I can't afford this sum. "For two years since the government order, my work has remained almost entirely closed. I would have faced total ruin but for my ability to survive by selling some ancestral property," he added.

Now tens of thousands of small shopkeepers face a similar predicament, as they cannot afford to shift their shops into commercial areas.

Sanjay Gupta is the owner of a shop that provides photocopy, lamination and related services. He employs 24 persons. "Even taking the conservative average of 4 persons in a household, 100 persons are being supported by this shop. If this shop is shut, 100 people will be on the street," he calculated.

For slum dwellers who were forced to relocate to barren lands far away from their earlier jobs in the heart of the city, the demolitions have been devastating.

According to Sapna, a social activist working in a resettlement colony Bawana, 40 km from the center of Delhi, "People had many sources of living when they lived close the heart of the city. Now they face both serious social crisis and financial ruin. Families that lived next to each other for decades have been scattered. Neither are there jobs for everyone in the new settlements. Commuting to their previous jobs is both time consuming and uneconomical."

In the Bakkarwal resettlement site where people shifted from Raghubir Nagar in central Delhi, families who were earlier able to afford a comfortable life are now on the verge of starvation. Once again the weakest have paid a price for Delhi's urban renewal plans.

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Albion Monitor   November 23, 2006   (

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