Sunday, May 3, 2015

Living in the National Capital: Part 1- The Idea of Slums in Delhi

“Never try to understand Delhi as a city. You will never be able to understand it. Delhi is a country, with many societies co-existing here.” I remember a professor from university sharing these words with me years back. We were having a discussion around the development and urbanisation of the city. Commonwealth games were around the corner. It was then I tried understanding Delhi a bit closely. Over the years I am still as clueless as I was then.

Delhi is certainly an old city. In the modern times it has become home to many people from across the nation. In present times no one can claim Delhi to belong to a particular community. People have written extensively about the multi cultural aspect of Delhi. But what remains unexplored is the development of numerous slums in Delhi in last 30 years or so. “It wasn’t like this when I was young. We could see broader colonies, more trees and less people on streets. But now you find slums everywhere. If you leave few posh areas, then Delhi is a city of slums! All the erstwhile villages are so over populated that they can be termed as a slum now.”

With expansion of the city, many villages have now become part of what is today known as Delhi. Just like any other metropolis, this city has invited people from all across. But the present geography of the city fails to accommodate so many people. According to the 2011 census, population of Delhi stands at a whopping 1.68 Crores (17 Million approx.). Presently the population is estimated at 25 million, making it the second most populous city in the world after Tokyo. People from nearby states migrated to the city in order to work mainly as labourers. Without doubt these migrant workers are the backbone on which the city thrives and boosts its development. The population pressure has resulted in creation of many slums.

Understanding Delhi’s slum is not easy. These are not the stereotype slums. They are running economics of the city. The slums have concrete houses, and stagnant pools of filth. See for instance the video by National Geography which tells us that almost one third population of the city does not have access to clean water. The present Kejriwal government rose to power in the city state because it was able to strike a resonance with the long pending needs of the people of the lower section of the city. Will those needs be met?

This series ‘Living in the National Capital’ will focus on issues that are integral to Delhi. We will focus on lack of water, electricity and basic infrastructure. The promises by the present government have given hopes to the residents of the city. But will there be any change in the long run? Will the Delhi Government actually deliver on its promises? The series will focus on tracking the development in the urban lives forced to live in sub human conditions.

We hope by focusing on the capital, the needs of the city and then pushing authorities to do something, we will create a template for rest of the country. We hope people in other states will start to hold their representatives accountable and force them to create better cities.

This article was first published in LokMarg on March 30, 2015. 

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