(NewsClick travelled to Jahangirpuri which falls within the North West constituency to get a sense of the mood of people ahead of elections on May 12. This is part 5 of a series of pre-poll reports.)
Uma Devi (48), sitting in the narrow bylanes of a slum in Rajasthani Udyog Nagar in Jahangirpuri has still not decided about the party to vote in the upcoming elections on May 12. Her concerns are rather focused on other important things; safety of her children and a home spacious enough to shelter her family of six.
Hailing from Begusarai district in Bihar, Devi said that she chose to stay at home unlike her neighbours who have chosen to work in adjacent factories in the area at exploitative rates. “I have chosen to stay at home to ensure that my children attend school and get education. There is no life without education. If I go to work, they will not attend school. Our lives are almost over but they are the ones who have a long life to live and without education, it will be miserable. Another reason why I stay at home is that I want my children to be safe. My younger child was stabbed in a fight by some local children. He was admitted for 10 days in Ambedkar Hospital,” she says.
But a bigger concern that perturbs her is the status of her home. “I have been living in this area for 24 years now but if it gets demolished I have no choice but to head back to my village in Bihar.” Devi's tale is different from Sunita who lives in the Prem Nagar unauthorised colony in Kirari. The area is part of North West Delhi parliamentary constituency which is witnessing a triangular fight between Aam Aadmi Party's Gugan Singh, Congress' Rajesh Lilothia and Bharatiya Janata Party's Hans Raj Hans.
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Sunita, who works in a shoe factory in Prem Nagar said that the cost of living has considerably reduced after the bills for water consumption were waived off. But higher charges of electricity by landlords is still a headache. She said, “I pay Rs 2,500 as rent. Additionally, I am being charged Rs 8 per unit for electricity whereas the government rate is Rs 1.75 per unit." On being asked about building or owning a house, she replied with a laugh, “Yahan ghar chalane ke paise nahi hai, aap apne ghar ki baat kar rahe hai. (We don’t even have enough to sustain ourselves, and you are asking about our own house). My husband and I together earn Rs 20,000. How can we afford a home worth lakhs?"
The crisis of unaffordable homes is not hitting the industrial workers alone. The discontent towards exorbitant rent in the national capital is also visible in Mukherjee Nagar area where students from other parts of the country led a week-long protest for effective implementation of Delhi Rent Control Act. Despite acute shortage of affordable homes, the issue is still missing in the speeches of leaders of mainstream parties. But is the phenomenon occurring owing to dearth of land and resources?
Reports suggest a lack of willingness on part of Delhi Development Authority, the land owning authority in Delhi, to deal with this issue effectively. NewsClick team's visit to DDA flats in Ramgarh Road area of Jahangirpuri revealed that 268 authority flats are lying vacant after the allottees found it hard to be inhabitable owing to the price and size of the flats. The authority has fixed Rs 22 lakh for flats. However, people in neighbouring areas said that the flats are overpriced. A person who requested anonymity said, “One can buy much more spacious flats in the area for Rs 12- 15 lakh. Why would anyone pay Rs 7 lakh extra for these flats? They have been lying vacant for almost 4 years now. Now, they only shelter unsocial elements instead of the needy."
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Nirmala Gorana, who has been campaigning for affordable housing said that the issue has not still got the attention of political parties. He said, “The centre had promised it will provide affordable homes to every needy person by 2022. But it is clueless about the number of homes provided. In a recent matter where scores of bonded labour were freed, there is no commitment from any of the parties to provide homes to them. As far as DDA is concerned, it is only interested in demolishing the slums instead of providing homes.”
He further added, “We must understand that it is the informal sector workers and migrant labour who are worst hit with these actions. I thought after the judgement by Delhi High Court in the Ajay Maken case, the situation will improve. But incessant demolition defeats the spirit of the judgement. So, it is political will that matters more than mere announcements."
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