In September, the office of the Municipal Corporation of Dharamshala (MCD) saw a sudden flurry of anxious activity. People at the MCD doorstep, now lining up to apply for affordable housing under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY), were residents of the city a few months ago. On June 17, 2016, the MCD forcibly evicted around 1500 migrant workers from the Charan Khad slums in the city where they had been living for over 30 years. As per a notice provided by the MCD on June 3, the slums had to be demolished and people evicted because of open defecation, an issue that could have been addressed simply by providing sanitation facilities.
Reports suggest that the eviction was carried out to facilitate the Dharamsala ‘Smart City’ project, a central government urban development program being carried out with support from the United Nations Development Project (UNDP). No rehabilitation was provided by the MCD, leaving about 300 children, pregnant women and the differently-abled vulnerable during the monsoons.
To make matters worse, on June 21, the MCD circulated a notice threatening those who provided accommodation to the slum dwellers with legal consequences under section 278 of the Himachal Pradesh Municipal Act. As a result, those who had found houses to rent and could afford to do so were left homeless once again.
The demolitions have left 1500 people vulnerable because of a central government project that proposes to provide better facilities for the common man. The official reason for the evictions – open defecation – continues owing to the lack of sanitation facilities and exposes the hollow reasoning employed by the MCD to grab land.
Of the displaced families, 115 have applied for housing under PMAY, a central government scheme to provide rehabilitation to slum dwellers through private participation. On being questioned about the status of the applications, Vikas Kumar, team leader/urban planner at UNDP and who is working the Dharamshala smart city project, said that houses under the scheme will be ready only after a year. He refused to answer queries about where those left homeless should live in the meanwhile and suggested the matter be taken up with the DMC. We then spoke to Sandeep Bharmaria of the DMC’s National Urban Livelihoods Mission, who directed us back to Kumar.
With no provision for accountability, the DMC and the UNDP washed their hands off the adverse consequences development projects like smart city and PMAY have on the marginalised. Meanwhile, the people remain homeless in the ‘divine city’ of Dharamshala.
Anita belongs to the denotified Sanshi tribe from Rajasthan and had been living in Charan Khad for over 30 years, like most of the other residents of the slum. Most slum dwellers were migrant workers who made a living as rag pickers, construction workers and street vendors.
For a week after the evictions, until alternative arrangements for could be made, people were living on the roadside. No rehabilitation was provided by the MCD, leaving about 300 children, pregnant women and the differently-abled vulnerable during the monsoons.
Raising slogans like ‘garibo ko ujadna bandh karo’ and ‘Charan Khad visthapiton ka punarwas karo’, the slum dwellers marched up to the MCD office on June 25, demanding immediate shelter and long-term housing facilities.
Rano Devi, one of the affected slum dwellers, sells jewellery to make ends meet and belongs to the Mangarori denotified tribe from Maharashtra. She lives with her brother and mother, who has been hospitalised since June. The housing crisis further exacerbated the financial and emotional responsibility Rano has been shouldering. The evictions prevented her and many others from showing up for work for a week.
Vikas Kumar, team leader/urban planner at UNDP, said that the organisation is providing “tactical support” for the MCD. For an organisation that claims to work in “almost all areas of human development, from democratic governance to poverty eradication, to sustainable energy and environmental management,” the consequences of its tactical support to the smart city project reflects rather poorly, raising questions over its understanding of empowerment, a motto the organisation claims for itself. A poster of the project is pinned to a board in the MCD office, where the slum dwellers are applying for houses under the PMAY.
The PMAY website says “A house is where new dreams are born and are nurtured, thus making it one of the most basic needs for survival. From dens to huts to today’s multi-storied buildings – all are screaming testimony of what really a house means”. Pity that there is no mention of tarpaulin structures, under which those evicted took shelter during the monsoons. It will be a year of getting together documents, filling forms, applying for loans and having them granted before houses can be allotted.
Laxmi Devi works as a street vendor and had to skip a day of work to fulfill the formalities required under the PMAY at the MCD office. Her husband works in Punjab. Many other women also came with their children as the men had to go to work given that their existence depends on daily wages.
Madhu, 19, is a college student who lost her home because of the evictions. She has been actively organising protests and preparing lists of affected families who qualify to apply for housing and of those who need to apply for identity cards in order to be eligible. First-generation educated young women from within the community have come forward to take up the responsibility of reminding people about application deadlines, ensuring forms are in order and of coordinating with organisations providing support.
Pavan, 14, is a student in the Sanatan Dharam Public School, which he used to walk to from Charan Khad. His family, one of the few who could afford pucca houses, has taken up rented accommodation about 10 kms away from his school. He now has to take a bus to school and back which costs him Rs 20 a day and this has only exacerbated the financial difficulties faced by his family. Out of the 115 schoolgoing children that have been affected, many have had to drop out. Pavan says “There was a field near Charan Khad where I used to play cricket and kabbadi with my friends from the neighbourhood. Now my friends are scattered and I have no field to play in.”
Several families are living under temporary tarpaulin structures in Chentudu, on the outskirts of Dharamshala city. Situated next to a stream prone to flooding during monsoons, the area is covered with wild plants. Although there was solar lighting available at Charan Khad, there is no such facility at Chentudu, making the nights particularly difficult as several snakes and scorpions have been spotted in the area. Sanjay, a differently-abled 30-year-old, walks up a steep slope to get to his house. The forceful eviction and lack of rehabilitation have heightened the difficulties faced by others like him.
Rekha, 40, works as a rag picker. She met with an accident while at work and has been bed-ridden for a few weeks. Her bed lies next to the stream, under a tarpaulin. The men haul the iron beds up steep slopes when they have to take her to the hospital for treatment. Most of the wooden furniture belonging to the slum dwellers was burnt by hooligans as people were gathering their belongings.
A young girl carries drinking water down to the slums at Chetundu. Clean water facilities had been arranged at Charan Khad, saving women long difficult walks to fetch water for cooking and drinking.
Sumit Mahar and Shazia Nigar work with Him Dhara, an environmental research and action collective.