The scintillating, burgeoning buildings in the technological hub of Noida, NCR, have always overshadowed the many slum areas in the district. This darker side is common knowledge, but the material conditions of the people who live in close-quartered jhuggis remain ignored. Problems of sanitation, malnutrition, low literacy, and open defecation are still prevalent in these slums.
Most people who live in slums are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. The economic conditions of the slum-dwellers have perpetually been in a dire state, but the parallel expansions of IT tech parks and corporate hubs are ever-expanding. The majority of slum areas are found in several sectors of Noida, such as in sectors 4,5, 8, 9 and 10. Due to the ever-expanding nature of the IT hub, it is obvious that the Noida Authority needs to get rid of the slums, for which they came up with the scheme Jhuggi-Jhopri Punarvaas Yojna (Slum Rehabilitation Scheme). The scheme, starting in 2011, aimed to rehabilitate the slum-dwellers of Noida in newly constructed flats.
Rajendra Pandey (65), who lives in Haraura, a slum in Noida Sector-10, recalls that he came to this slum in 1986. “The condition of this place when we arrived here was terrible. We somehow set up our jhuggi, which only later became a house made of bricks. I was very young, and since the financial situation was dismal, we were never educated,” Rajendra says. Talking about the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, he says, “The scheme has not been beneficial for anyone at all and has not been successful."
He points out that one of the reasons that people do not opt for this scheme is due to the problem of affordability. "We simply cannot afford the monthly instalments we have to pay under the scheme," he says.
The scheme allots flats to the slum-dwellers based on their applications, and they are meant to pay monthly instalments depending on the rate of the allotted flat. The apartments' prices range from Rs 4.75 lakhs to Rs 6.80 lakhs. The families who stay here primarily belong to the labour class, surviving through low-income jobs of manual work around the city. Most people also belong to the lower-castes, further indicating their socioeconomic deprivation. Thus, paying monthly instalments, from Rs 2000 to Rs 5000 over a period of 20 years is largely an impossibility.
“Another reason is the paperwork involved. Even though not many people have applied for the scheme in my area, those who did, found their applications rejected,” Rajendra says. Several documents are to be produced for a successful application, and the inability to do aggravates the usual bureaucratic inertia. As it so happened, after a decade of the scheme, the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme was shut down last year without completing its target. Only 30% of the total population of the people living in the slums of the various sectors of Noida had applied for the scheme from the year 2011 to 2018. Around 11,000 slum homes are present in the many sectors of Noida. Presently, only 10% of the constructed flats have been occupied; the rest lay empty.
Photo: A narrow hallway in Arvind's house in the slum in Noida.
However, affordability and bureaucratic red tape are not the only reasons slum-dwellers could not benefit from the scheme. Many are concerned about their self-employment; the myriad roadside stalls they put up on the periphery of the slums are very much connected to the slum economy. A lack of alternative opportunities in the new setup thus accounts for the unwillingness of the slum-dwellers to leave their areas.
Besides, there is umpteen number of problems in the slums. Saroj, a young man working as a cleaner in a company, says that access to water is a significant issue in slums. "Government gives proper water supply to the buildings constructed by the big companies, but all we get is salty water in our taps," Saroj says. He adds, "for drinking purposes, we have to buy water, or we get water from the company buildings, which have a proper supply of potable water."
Higher education has been non-existent for the previous generations. Sanitation and hygiene are also not taken care of in the slums, and usually, there are no state-mandated efforts to keep the areas clean. Arvind Kumar (45), a tailor working in the slums, says that when he came to this slum area in Noida Sector-10 in 1990, he only got the opportunity to study till the 5th class. "Later on, as my family could not afford to send me to school further, I started working in small tea shops as a labourer. This is the story of most adults of my age in our slum," Arvind says. As there has been no scope for better education and jobs for the older generation, the younger ones face a similar predicament even though parents try to send their children to school. Arvind's wife, Ruchi Devi, says that in the evenings, men returning from a day's long work are usually drunk, and it aggravates the tense situation in the slums further. "People fighting and arguing with each other is commonplace here. Husband fights with wife, neighbours fight with neighbours. Can our kids study in such an environment?" Ruchi asks.
In the past, many such incidents occurred where the government authorities demolished jhuggis without any prior notice. "Many of my friends have lost homes due to such acts of the government. Sometimes, the officials come and try to convince the people to leave the houses, but even if we refuse, they still bring up their JCBs and demolish our homes," Arvind says. The only solution for those whose houses were demolished is to move to another open space or another slum and create a makeshift home under tarpaulin sheets supported by wooden planks.
"The local MLA too is on the side of the large (real estate) companies, and never listens to our grievances. They help in all ways they can for the large company buildings but never find the time to visit us," Arvind says.
In general, be it any large scheme of rehabilitation, the people living in the slums are in a constant state of fear of an inevitable onslaught of the higher authorities that will take their homes and livelihoods away. "Today or tomorrow, our homes will be lost. And we know that most probably we will not be rehabilitated to a safer place," Rajendra said.
(Kushal Choudhary and Govind Sharma are independent journalists)