(NewsClick travelled to few unauthorised colonies to get a sense of mood of people ahead of elections on May 12. This is part 2 of a series of pre-poll reports.)
Sweltering weather, barren roads with no sign of political campaigning. This is the first look that a visitor gets while visiting the Bhalaswa Dairy, a cluster of unauthorised colonies in the North West Delhi Lok Sabha constituency. The area, known for its dairy business, is part of a large belt of unauthorised colonies which house a population of almost fifty lakh people across the national capital. The Bhalaswa Dairy colonies are among one of the many resettlement colonies and slums which have been deciding the fate of political parties in Delhi.
Deepak, a trader in Bhalaswa Dairy, looks distraught. His first complaint is regarding the nosedive business has taken in the recent times. When asked about the reason, he promptly replies, GST and Demonetisation. He says, "I can give you the names of hundred traders whose business has been hit after the goods and services tax was introduced. One after another, blunders were delivered to us. First demonetisation, then GST and now sealing. How can we look after our families in this situation?”
However, our conversation soon slips to the issues affecting unauthorised colonies – where his business is also based. Recalling the earlier times, he said that the biggest relief a person has got in recent times is freedom from paying bribe to police and corrupt officials of Municipal Corporation of Delhi ahead of construction of homes in unauthorised colonies. He said, "Presently, I am living in Rohini but we also had another property. One remarkable change I have found after the Aam Aadmi Party has come to power is that people no longer pay bribe for constructing their homes. Similarly, we have new roads and water connections in this area."
Also Watch: #DelhiElection2019: Where Is Development?
He then takes this reporter to the nearest overflowing drain, and asks, “Bharatiya Janata Party talks about Swachh Bharat. Is this Swachh Bharat? We have been paying house tax for years, and yet we hear about MCD workers not being paid salaries?" He further argues that indiscriminate construction in these areas is a severe challenge and that's why regularisation must be done to ensure that basic amenities are provided.
Bunty Singh, who hails from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, works in a shoe factory in Prem Nagar of North West Constituency, another unauthorised colony on the outskirts of Delhi. Living in a rented accommodation, Singh said that he has not made up his mind yet. “I have been living in a rented house for last seven years. The only thing, in my experience, which has improved is new water connections. Earlier, I had to go to Nangloi Railway Station to arrange water. With water connections, I am relaxed now,” he says. However, his complaint about electricity still persists. He said, “My landlord charges me Rs 8 per unit of power whereas the government rate remains at Rs. 1.45 per unit upto 200 units.”
Jagdish Kumar, another resident in his mid fifties, points out to a slew of changes that has taken place in recent months, however, problems still continue in unauthorised colonies. He questions, “Why are these colonies unauthorised even when their value is in crores. No average person can even dream to buy this property today." He further explains that new roads and gates have been erected. But sewage connections are still a big problem. One needs to call tankers to clear septic tanks of the homes. Talking about the candidates fielded by AAP, Congress and BJP, he says, “AAP candidate Guggan Singh has an advantage over Hans Raj Hans and Congress’ Rajesh Lilothia, as he is a local face. Had Congress given Raj Kumar Chauhan or Jai Kishan, situation would have been different.”
Also Read: Elections 2019: Employment Biggest Factor for Industrial Workers in Delhi
But sanitation and basic amenities are not the only issues that perturb the residents of these colonies. The issue of ownership over land still remains contested. Reports suggest that people living here cannot take loan against their property and this is where regularisation assumes a significance in the long debated issue.
Unauthorised colonies cropped up mainly on agricultural land owned by local landowners and government land. Indiscriminate construction became a major problem in regularisation. One such problem lied in the rule which suggested that 50% of the open area should not be allowed for further construction. However, land owners have been objecting to it. Owing to demands for regularisation, the centre appointed a 10-member panel on March 7, 2019 to look into the technicalities and resolve the issue. But the timing of the decision certainly raises several eyebrows. Will it resolve and bring timely relief to millions of people? Will people’s vote shift after the decision? The people’s verdict will only be clear on May 23 when results of the general elections are announced.
Read More: Urban Poor Have Set Agenda for 2019 Elections